Wednesday, December 07, 2005

THE HOSPITAL (1971) - Arthur Hiller

“This hospital is suffering under a plague of irony.” – George C. Scott as Dr. Herbert Bock
And that’s not all it’s suffering from. Rampant malpractice. Interns stealing free patient beds for midnight nookie sessions. Doctors switched with patients, then winding up dead. A group of protestors picketing outside. A chief of staff who’s admittedly suicidal, when he’s not eloquently sloshed.
I need 40 cc’s of biting satire and social commentary. STAT!
And that’s just what Paddy Chayefsky’s wonderfully caustic and typically verbose script serves up. Whereas Network was his attack on a media out of control, The Hospital is Chayefsky’s attack on a medical industry that, perhaps, never had control in the first place. George C. Scott plays the suicidal Chief of Staff trying to simultaneously deal with the breakup of his 25 year marriage, an impotency problem, a loss of faith in the medical profession, and a hospital that’s ethically and procedurally crumbling right beneath his feet.
This being a Paddy C. script, it’s a cerebral and very self-aware pandemonium, Scott at one point even remarking on the virtual Pompeii of incompetence that he’s standing on: “I’m in the middle of a Roman farce.”
Much of the movie has to deal with a series “accidental” deaths involving doctors mistaken for patients and then given medicines that end up sending them into cardiac arrest. In a hospital where the doctors frequently use patient beds for sex and sleep, it’s not too hard to see how such accidents can happen. Of course, we find out later that what’s happening is no “accident,” but this plot contrivance, while funny and well though-out, is simply no match for the movie’s biggest asset -- those Paddy C. monologues.
And there’s a doozy of one between Scott and Diana Rigg (that’s right, the Avengers hottie) wherein Scott basically breaks down his mental break-down, defending his impotence, and why it’s futile for her to come onto him using the hippie protestors’ own lexicon (“Power to the Impotent!”). It’s a scene that rivals Chayefsky’s later “I’m mad as hell…” speech in Network, but in this one all the rage is directed inward. Until of course, Diana Rigg responds with what amounts to “That’s okay, I still want to fuck you” and Scott is forced to rise to the occasion, so to speak.
Why have I not mentioned director Arthur Hiller so far? Because I don’t really need to. This is all Paddy C.’s show and the script plays like great theatre. Not that Hiller’s direction is bad -- it’s fine enough, but it’s more in service of the script. The only thing that didn’t add up for me was the continuing presence of the protestors outside the hospital, which were really just a distraction. Honestly, I’m not even sure exactly what they were protesting, though they were a multitude of wrongs to protest in that particular hospital. I guess when you make a movie in the ‘70s, it’s a prerequisite you have protestors somewhere in the movie. Even if chanting from afar outside.

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