Dr. Bull (1933)

Dr. Bull (1933)

“We’re ashamed of your goings-on in this town… It’s a shame and a scandal in the community!”

A country doctor (Will Rogers) dating a widower (Vera Allen) must endure the mean-spirited gossip of his dissatisfied small-town clients.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Doctors and Nurses
  • John Ford Films
  • Small Town America
  • Will Rogers Films

In the first of his three collaborations with director John Ford, famed showman and journalist Will Rogers (the “most popular actor in America” in 1934) embodies the homespun persona so beloved by his many fans: a down-to-earth, quick-witted individual who must fight quietly yet insistently against provincialism. His Dr. Bull is a well-meaning, laid-back physician whose refusal to indulge the whims of his small-minded patrons — or care much about their incessant gossip — ultimately puts his career in jeopardy; while he eventually “saves the day” (in classic Hollywood fashion), he’s never portrayed as anything other than a three-dimensional, flawed human being. Far from heroic, Dr. Bull is in fact boyish and immature in many ways: he still lives with his elderly aunt, is unable to get serious with his long-time “acquaintance” (Allen), and enjoys — perhaps a bit too much — tweaking the sensibility of his priggish female neighbors (when passing by a group of churchgoing women standing near a graveyard, he nonchalantly mortifies them by asking, “What’re y’all gathered here… Whatsa matter — somebody get out?”). While Dr. Bull is widely considered to be the least of Rogers’ three films with Ford, it will — naturally — be of interest to fans of this early American icon.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Will Rogers as Dr. Bull

Must See?
No, unless you’re a Will Rogers fan or a John Ford completist.


One thought on “Dr. Bull (1933)

  1. First viewing. Not a must, but an interesting little film in several respects – not the least of which is star Rogers.

    Although he underplays a bit heavily – to the degree that you have to strain to absorb his character for the most part, Rogers remains fun to watch. I esp. like the film’s centerpiece, in which Rogers doesn’t underplay at all: when, at a town meeting, he tells off the entire crowd – all of whom have been his patients at one time or another. (This scene echoes several years later in Ford’s ‘How Green Was My Valley’ – my favorite of his – when Walter Pidgeon, in church, tells off a congregation largely comprised of hypocrites.)

    Unfortunately, the film has a number of drawbacks: most of the characters are paper-thin; the fact that most of them are small-minded or idiotic in some way seems a bit much; Andy Devine’s hypochondriac routine is annoying within minutes and stays that way; the film’s conclusion seems bizarrely rushed (the film clocks in at a mere 77 min.), etc.

    Overall, though, it’s not a bad little film, esp. as it goes along. And as stated here, esp. if you’re a Ford fan (how many ffs these days have reason enough to remember Rogers?), you’ll want to check this one out.

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