Dr. Socrates (1935)

Dr. Socrates (1935)

Just before Paul Muni got his chance to play the titled doctor in The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935) the role which earned him his Best Actor Academy Award he played the title role in this crime drama as Dr. Lee Cardwell. William Dieterle directed both films; their other two collaborations were also titled roles for the actor: in the Oscar winning Best Picture The Life of Emile Zola (1937) and as Juarez (1939). This film’s story was written by W.R. Burnett who’d provided continuity for an earlier Muni title role Scarface (1932); Mary McCall Jr. adapted it and Robert Lord (One Way Passage (1932)) who provided the story for Muni’s Bordertown (1935) wrote the screenplay.

Dr. Cardwell (Muni) now lives in Big Ben “the biggest small town” in an Ohio county because as a big city surgeon he’d lost his nerve when he couldn’t save his fiancée’s life; she’d been critically injured in an automobile accident after a fight with him. Despite the urging of two of his former colleagues (one played by Samuel Hinds) he refuses to return to his practice instead continuing to “hide out” in a small town community “run” by another gregarious doctor named Ginder (Robert Barrat) making it difficult for moody Cardwell to find patients. Dr. Ginder has dubbed him Dr. Socrates because his nose is always in books written by foreign scholars. Cardwell lives with Ma Ganson (Helen Lowell) who treats him like a son and allows his rent to be overdue.

The action really begins when a local boy now big city gangster Red Bastian (Barton MacLane) returns home to hide out and have Cardwell treat his bullet wound. Though Cardwell refuses payment Red leaves him a C note ($100) which because of his desperate financial condition – especially with the grocer Cardwell deposits. Banker Ben Suggs (Raymond Brown) doesn’t particularly like Ginder and befriends Cardwell who agrees to visit Suggs’s hypochondriac daughter Caroline (Grace Stafford) and helps to “cure” her. While Red and his gang are on their way to another job they pick up a hitchhiker named Josephine ‘Jo’ Gray (Ann Dvorak) but she escapes during the holdup making some think she was a moll even though Red had shot her in the shoulder after she’d run. Cardwell helps her and takes her to his office to treat her wound against Ginder’s protestations. Later when Jo is cleared by the Sheriff et al Cardwell asks her to stay because he’s formed an affection for her one which is mutual.

When Red’s arm that had been shot starts to hurt again per an infection he has his gang kidnap the doctor and bring him blindfolded to their hideout. Afterwards though Cardwell sees Bob Catlett (Olin Howland) and vice versa and figures out where he’s been. This is important because Red in turn has Jo kidnapped such that Cardwell decides that he must save her (from the fate of becoming a moll and) for himself. This happens at virtually the same time that G-man Greer (Henry O’Neill) et al have arrived in town to find and apprehend or kill while trying Red and his gang. Ma pleads with Greer to wait until 1 AM to rush the Catlett place; meanwhile Cardwell is inside because he’d convinced Red that the Feds were after him per the C note from Red they’d traced to him. Because Catlett had questioned him about typhoid fever per one of his neighbor’s earlier Cardwell persuades Red and his gang to submit to an injection which is ostensibly a vaccine but will really put them to sleep for 12 hours. Of course there’s a last minute raid and gun battle with the G-men. Red is killed in the shootout whereas Jo and Cardwell survive so that they can be together in the end; Ginder and the rest of the town sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Cardwell.

Hobart Cavanaugh plays a busybody pharmacist-soda jerk and Mayo Methot plays Red’s moll Muggsy; Dick Elliot and Grady Sutton as a grocery clerk appear uncredited as does Marc Lawrence as the gangster named Lefty.

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