“Your work isn’t making money — it’s bettering humanity, and you know it.”
An earnest new doctor (Robert Donat) meets his wife (Rosalind Russell) when working and researching tuberculosis in a hard-scrabble Welsh mining town. With assistance from a friend (Rex Harrison), he soon finds himself living a more luxurious existence serving wealthier clients — but when his old friend (Ralph Richardson) suffers grave consequences from medical neglect, Donat begins to rethink his goals.
King Vidor’s adaptation of A.J. Cronin’s semi-autobiographical novel tells a compelling tale of how easily youthful idealism can shift to settled complacency within the medical field. As noted in TCM’s article:
In many ways, The Citadel is the missing link between idealized medical biographies like The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) and strong, socially conscious films like John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). The only reason American doctors didn’t raise a fuss over the film’s often negative view of the medical profession is probably because the story takes place in England and not the United States.
However, despite being very specifically about a doctor, The Citadel’s take-aways can easily be translated to countless other spheres. When faced with the choice between a hard-scrabble life fighting for social justice versus enjoying a career of ease and comfort, it’s hard to say how many would willingly pick the former. Donat imbues his complex role with authenticity and pathos, and Russell is admirably resolute as his loyal (and razor-sharp) wife. This one is worth a look.
Note: It’s impossible not to notice the parallels between this and the previous year’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Life of Emile Zola (1937), also about tensions between the comforts of fame and fighting for what’s right.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Robert Donat as Dr. Manson
- Rosalind Russell as Donat’s supportive wife
- Fine b&w cinematography
Yes, for Donat and Russell’s performances.