Peppered with a plethora of black and white stills, this book is a compilation of a physician's film reviews and reflections on how movies have mirrored the changes in medical care and in society's attitudes towards doctors and medicine over the last sixty years. Ten chapters blend a chronological approach with a thematic perspective: Hollywood Goes to Medical School; The Kindly Savior:

From Doctor Bull to Doc Hollywood; Benevolent Institutions; The Temple of Science; "Where are All the Women Doctors?"; Blacks, the Invisible Doctors; The Dark Side of Doctors; The Institutions Turn Evil; The Temple of Healing; More Good Movie Doctors and Other Personal Favorites.

The appendices (my favorite) briefly note recurring medical themes and stereotypes ("You have two months to live," "Boil the Water!"). Formatted as a filmography, the appendices reference the chapter number in which the film is discussed, the sources of the photographs, and a limited index.


The introduction is subdivided into three sections that suggest a chronology: "The Golden Age of Medicine" discusses the early thirties and forties when doctors were admired (Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, the Drs. Kildares, Arrowsmith, and their television counterparts, Marcus Welby and Ben Casey); "Doing Better and Feeling Worse" cites three films-- Critical Care, Coma, and Extreme Measures--that focus on the exploitation of technologies by unscrupulous doctors and scientists; and the present state of the art levels physicians and sets the lens on institutions (hospitals, HMOs, and insurers) as "Medicine Disorganizes and Doctors Get Knocked Off Their Pedestals" (films MASH, Hospital, and As Good as It Gets).

Dans grants that movies may have contributed to the current moral confusion, but, paraphrasing Shakespeare, reminds us they didn't create it: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars [or the movies they make], but in ourselves" (247). Dans, a film buff and internist makes no claim to scholarship in film technique, though for the past ten years he has written "The Physician at the Movies" column for The Pharos, the journal of the medical honor society. His enthusiasm for black-and-white "movie hokum" is contagious.

His choice of visuals and his commentaries are sharp-witted. See, for example, Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman) insisting that student nurse Leora (Helen Hayes) stand up when she addresses him. "Note that she has been scrubbing the floor (as a penalty for being caught smoking) in her high heels" (86). (See also annotation of film, 0093, in this database). Or the medical student Philip Carey (Leslie Howard) in Of Human Bondage, studying in his suit and tie, refusing to "abandon his books to accompany Mildred Rogers (Bette Davis) to bed" (41).

This is a welcomed source for short clips to focus and trigger classroom discussion particularly of doctor-patient communication and medical ethics topics.

I would have liked the chronology indicated by some charts or graphs and the themes (sexism, racism, abortion, blindness) referenced in an expanded index. All in all this is a useful survey, a good read and just plain fun.


Dans is a 1961 graduate of the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He is currently on the faculty of John Hopkins School of Medicine.


Medi-Ed Press

Place Published

Bloomington, Ill.



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