Not as a Stranger (1955) - Robert Mitchum and Olivia DeHavilland in a Medical Drama

Med school dramas of the mid-twentieth century often take one of two tacks : doctors as gods or doctors as gods with Achilles heels. Not as a Stranger (1955) takes the latter.

Robert Mitchum's character is an impoverished medical student with a singular focus - he will become a doctor at any cost. Wooing Olivia de Havilland  for her savings, Mitchum matches in avarice the gold-digging suitor in another of de Havilland 's films: Morris Townsend in The Heiress (1949).

In The Heiress, the audience is never sure of the suitor's motives. In Stranger, the audience is privy to his confession of greed.

Stranger is bent on portraying those in the medical profession as something less than divine, but actually, the problems in the plot could have occured in any industry. We are there when he loses his temper several times with fellow physicians, we are there when he seems pestered by the patients, we are there when he uses his practice as an excuse to stay out late and cheat on his wife. In all of it, Mitchum's character seems obsessed with the process of becoming a doctor, but isn't particularly thrilled when he finally becomes one.

Supposedly his boredom is enough to start a liaison with the town horse breeder played by Gloria Grahame. The only time I laughed like crazy in this drama is when Mitchum lets an aggressive horse out of a stall then makes violent love to Grahame. I haven't laughed that hard with such a pun since Hitchock's  train and tunnel euphemism in North by Northwest. 

Stranger is at times a hard-bitten, cynical take on the medical profession. There' s a random disquieting scene with a drunk lawyer, played by Jesse White, who rails at doctors for not being omniscient (again, the demigod assumption). White and Mitchum get into an argument of stereotypes - they accuse each other of being shysters who overcharge the public. There is no resolution of the argument; it just lies there and is never discussed again. What is the point of that scene?

Frank Sinatra turns in an admirably sober performance as Mitchum's classmate, best friend and accountability partner. He's the voice of reason, the shoulder everybody cries on. Sinatra's character actually has a conversation with de Havilland. He respects her. Why didn't Olivia's character marry the Sinatra character in the first place? He never asked, I guess.


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