“The incompetence here is absolutely radiant!”
A suicidal doctor (George C. Scott) finds his faith in life renewed by a free-spirited young woman (Diana Riggs), whose father is a patient in his dysfunctional New York hospital; meanwhile, doctors and nurses throughout the hospital are mysteriously dropping dead.
Paddy Chayefsky’s darkly humorous look at the dysfunction inherent in enormous urban hospitals — patients are wrongly diagnosed and poorly cared for while general chaos abounds — never quite reaches the satirical heights it aspires towards. The problem is primarily one of the erratic tone: the films opens with a voiceover, explaining to us how the chain of fatal events that eventually transpires was initiated by the admittance of an elderly man, whose untimely death is symptomatic of deeper problems inherent in the hospital’s day-to-day functionings. After this, however, the voiceover disappears, and we’re left to our own devices as the story toggles between random murders, satirical jabs at the inner workings of the hospital (many of which ring humorously true), and the central somber story about an existentially dissatisfied doctor (Scott) who finds his joy for life (surprise, surprise) awakened through sex with a young woman (Rigg) who has a “thing” for older men; their conversations together are smartly written, but seem to belong to a different film entirely. By the end of the film, the ongoing mystery of how and why so many doctors and nurses have been killed is satisfactorily resolved — but the shift back to dark comedy feels jarring. Scott and Riggs’ fine central performances make this film worth a look, but it’s not quite must-see viewing.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- George C. Scott as Dr. Bock (Peary nominates him as Best Actor of the Year in his Alternate Oscars book
- Diana Riggs as Barbara
No, though it’s worth a look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book — most likely because of its Oscar-winning screenplay.