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Captain Newman M.D. (1963)

Captain Newman M.D. (1963)

Gregory Peck plays an Army doctor (the title character) that heads up Ward 7 the psychiatric unit at a U. S. Military base in Arizona in 1944. Not unlike Operation Petticoat (1959) before it nor MASH (1970) after this story uses war as a backdrop for a comedy with dramatic elements. Though this one is set far from enemy lines it incorporates many of the same elements & themes by telling the stories of the patients combat weary soldiers and those that treat them in order that they might fight again one day. Tony Curtis plays an orderly working for Peck and provides most of the comic relief even borrowing on the “person who can obtain anything surreptitiously” character he played in Operation Petticoat (1959). Another thing that holds one’s attention while watching this particular film is the plethora of recognizable actors (particularly from television) who appear in many of the scenes.

James Gregory (from TV’s Barney Miller) plays Colonel Pyser the officer that runs the hospital who’s skeptical about the work Peck et al do even suspecting that he may be conspiring to help the patients avoid returning to active duty. In fact Dick Sargent (from TV’s Bewitched) has arrived to investigate the alarming increase in the number of soldiers receiving psychiatric treatment. However after following the doctor (Peck) on his rounds Sargent’s character becomes a believer. He witnesses Newman administer both “kids gloves” and “tough love” whichever is required to the patients which include Ted Bessell (from TV’s That Girl) uncredited. Larry Storch (from TV’s F Troop) also plays an orderly and the straight man for Curtis’s antics.

Angie Dickinson plays a Lieutenant in another ward (3 I believe) that Peck recruits to work in Ward 7 because he says she’ll “remind them (the patients) what they’re fighting for” though it’s clear he respects her professionally even if he’s attracted to her personally. Jane Withers plays the other competent nurse Lieutenant Blodgett. Like an extended episode of (TV’s) M*A*S*H the movie follows several patients from beginning to end (?). There’s Eddie Albert as Colonel Bliss a troubled officer who serves as an intellectual “opponent” for Peck as he tries to figure out what’s caused him to split into “Mr. Past” and “Mr. Future”. Also Bobby Darin plays a country boy who’s slow to admit he has a problem but reveals it under a Sodium Pentothal induced retelling. And then there’s Robert Duvall appearing with Peck again in his second film (after To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)). Duvall’s character was recently discovered behind enemy lines in a cellar where he’d been for 13 months. However all the techniques which normally work have failed to bring him out of his vegetable-like stupor. When Peck sends for his wife (Bethel Leslie) it seems to make things worse.

Curtis’s character who is “stolen” by a desperate Newman needing orderlies from Dickinson’s ward initially becomes a quick study and shows himself to be an entrepreneur when it comes to obtaining things for Ward 7. He befriends and helps the patients in ways Storch’s character could not. He’s from the streets of New York so naturally he can speak 6 languages which comes in handy when Colonel Pyser assigns some Italian P.O.W.’s to the ward because it’s the only one in the hospital where the patients are locked up. Naturally Vito Scotti (from TV’s The Flying Nun among others) is the officer among the prisoners.

The screenplay was co-written by Henry & Phoebe Ephron parents of Nora and Richard Breen (Titanic (1953)) and received an Oscar nomination. Darin received his only Academy Award nomination (Supporting Actor) for his role; the film’s Sound was also nominated.

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