Monday, April 23, 2007
Paddy Chayefsky could have re-written the Bible and he would still be primarily known for his incredibly prophetic and biting screenplay for 1976's NETWORK. All of the wonderful work the talented Chayefsky did before and after NETWORK has essentially become a footnote.
Chayefsky's ferociously funny screenplay for 1971's THE HOSPITAL is one of the great, under the radar, films of the seventies. Acidic, honest, touching and always extremely funny, Arthur Hiller's film of one of Chayefsky's best scripts is rarely mentioned among the best films of the seventies, but it remains a topical and brutal look at health care and just what it means to be a doctor.
George C. Scott gives one of his great performances as, the just over the edge and suicidal, Dr. Bock. Along with HARDCORE, I think this is the most underrated of Scott's distinguished career. He garnered one of the film's two Oscar nominations (Chayefsky's script got the other) as best actor but lost to Gene Hackman's astonishing performance as Popeye Doyle in Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION.
Scott is joined by an incredibly eclectic group of actors including Diana Rigg, Barnard Hughes, Richard Dysart and Nancy Marchand. Stockard Channing appears in a brief unbilled role as does Christopher Guest.
The film with its wild plot of serial killers, deadly wrong diagnoses and hard hitting political questions is handled expertly by, the sometimes pedestrian filmmaker, Hiller. Coming shortly after his smash LOVE STORY and right before the disastrous MAN OF LA MANCHA , Hiller is intelligent enough to bring a very un-showy touch to the already electric script. Chayefsky's writing is incredibly intelligent and did I mention funny? Along with THE HEARTBREAK KID and MASH, Hiller's film remains one of the funniest of the early 70s. The fact that it is also a very serious social critique is equally important, like the all out attack on the problems with the media in NETWORK, THE HOSPITAL successfully brings up some serious issues, regarding health care in this country, that continues to plague us to this day.
Scott's incredible performance controls the film but the rest of the cast is also notably good. Rigg's hippie daughter of a dying patient is especially good. Nearly unrecognizable from Emma Peel we find Rigg giving one of her most complex and engaging performances.
THE HOSPITAL is a film almost entirely built on situations and dialogue. From the iconic opening Chayefsky narration (which seems like a dry run for not only NETWORK but Paul Thomas Anderson's MAGNOLIA) to any number of extraordinary monologues by Scott, THE HOSPITAL is a film constructed on some of the sharpest dialogue ever written for a film. The dialogue and ideas of the film are indeed so complex and well organized that even after viewing it half a dozen times or so I still find myself surprised at the film's numerous plot twists.
THE HOSPITAL quietly influenced a couple of generations of medical comedies and dramas, ranging from YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE to E.R.. It is available on Dvd from MGM in a bare bones Widescreen presentation. I am happy the film is out but a special edition, to go along with the incredible double disc collection of NETWORK, would be most welcome.
For lovers of American cinema in the seventies or just cinema in general, I highly recommend this often overlooked gem of a film. It'll make you laugh, think and perhaps most importantly...it might make you question things you never would have thought to.