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Star of the Month: Fredric March
Remind Me
,The Young Doctors

The Young Doctors

The Young Doctors (1961), a drama of medical politics shot in and around four actual New York area hospitals, was endorsed by the American Medical Association for its "excellent portrayal of American medicine, almost unmatched in authenticity." This surprised leading man Fredric March, not because of any issue he had with the film's great attention to detail but because the story depicts the behind-the-scenes clash of old and new medical ideas, as represented by the conflict between veteran pathologist Dr. Joseph Pearson (March) and outspoken young newcomer Dr. David Coleman (Ben Gazzara).

As March told Newsweek at the time: "I was a little leery about The Young Doctors at first. I got concerned that it wasn't such a good idea to throw out to the public that doctors disagree among themselves. Then I said to hell with it, they probably do. I was astounded when the AMA gave it their recommendation."

The property had a curious evolution to the big screen. Joseph Hayes' screenplay was based on a novel by Arthur Hailey called The Final Diagnosis, but that novel was itself an adaptation of Hailey's own television play No Deadly Medicine, which was produced for the CBS "Studio One" television program in 1957. The TV production was directed by Sidney Lumet and starred Lee J. Cobb and William Shatner in the March/Gazzara roles.

The Young Doctors received glowing reviews, especially for Fredric March. "This aging and waning physician [is] played so finely by Fredric March that you have more regard and sympathy for him than anyone else in the film," said The New York Times. Variety called it "brisk, literate and substantial... Again March proves he's one of the finest actors to be found on the contemporary screen. It is a tribute to this man that one is barely aware or conscious of the fact he is acting."

As production was starting in January 1961, March described his character to The New York Times as "a kind of crusty old Joe who's been around for years, realizes a young doctor should take over for him, hates his guts and gives him hell." March said he planned to "play it scruffy and broad." But when the film came out, he said that he ultimately toned his performance down after director Phil Karlson told him to "play it like The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)... I guess this is the most held down I've been in a long time," March added.

March appeared in only five more features after The Young Doctors. Co-star Ben Gazzara, on the other hand, was just starting in movies, though he'd been working in television for ten years. Gazzara was thrilled to be working with one of his idols. He later wrote: "Here was an actor in command of his craft. I felt like a boxer in the ring with the champion. I had to go the distance and show what I had while doing so.

"When I played my first scene with him, I couldn't help watching his performance so intensely I almost forgot what I was doing. He had all the moves. The way he threw a line away was often more interesting than when he framed one. He knew how to use the camera; it was his friend. I on the other hand was still having trouble with it. I was comfortable when the camera was placed some distance away, but when it got too near, I felt nervous.

"March seemed to have blinkers on when he played a scene. His eyes zeroed in on me as though they would never look away. Everything else around him was shut out. When I told him that I had trouble concentrating when the camera was up close, he suggested I think of the camera as another piece of furniture. I started to do that and it helped a lot."

Also in the cast are veteran character actress Aline MacMahon, familiar to TCM viewers from any number of popular 1930s titles like The Mouthpiece (1932), The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933) or Heroes for Sale (1933), and radio/television personality Dick Clark in a rare film appearance as a young intern.

Clark later said of working with March: "Things that appeared to be so natural and unstudied were obviously meticulously planned by him. His tone of voice, his physical movements, his bits of business were all crafted to perfection. In addition to his professionalism, I appreciated how kindly he dealt with me, knowing I was scared to death."

Elmer Bernstein's fine score was one of several he composed in 1961. Not yet 40, Bernstein had already scored dozens of movies and TV shows since starting his career ten years earlier, and he'd just been nominated for an Academy Award for The Magnificent Seven (1960) -- one of 14 nominations throughout his career. He won the Oscar® once, for Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).

Watch for the scene of March performing an autopsy in front of several students. At one point, he holds up a brain and speaks several lines of dialogue. March had rehearsed the scene with a fake brain, and assumed it would be used for the actual take. But when it came time to shoot, Karlson informed March moments before the cameras rolled that a real brain had been acquired and was now sitting in front of him. According to observers, March was unfazed and, if anything, brought his performance up a notch.

When asked by Newsweek in 1961 if he had ever before played a doctor, March replied, "No. Wait a minute! One. Dr. Jekyll!"

Producer: Stuart Millar, Lawrence Turman
Director: Phil Karlson
Screenplay: Joseph Hayes, based on the novel The Final Diagnosis by Arthur Hailey
Cinematography: Arthur J. Ornitz
Production Design: Richard Sylbert
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Film Editing: Robert Swink
Cast: Fredric March (Dr. Joseph Pearson), Ben Gazzara (Dr. David Coleman), Dick Clark (Dr. Alexander), Ina Balin (Cathy Hunt), Eddie Albert (Dr. Charles Dornberger), Phyllis Love (Mrs. Elizabeth Alexander), Edward Andrews (Jim Bannister), Aline MacMahon (Dr. Lucy Grainger), George Segal (Dr. Howard), Arthur Hill (Tomaselli).
BW-103m. Letterboxed.

by Jeremy Arnold

Ben Gazzara, In the Moment: My Life as an Actor
Deborah C. Peterson, Fredric March: Craftsman First, Star Second



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