Captain Newman, M.D.
Release Date: Dec. 25, 1963

Captain Newman, M.D.
The vicissitudes of war create psychological problems, and  it is the job of  Captain Newman, M.D. (Gregory Peck) to repair the mental damage and get the men back in fighting form. But healing sick minds only to send the soldiers back out to die creates a philosophical conundrum for the doctor himself.  "We cure them. Make them strong so they can go out and get killed", Capt. Newman says after imbibing in one too many drinks with Lieutenant  Francie Corum (Angie Dickinson).  The tensions caused by the contradictory demands on the wartime doctor are revealed further by the impatient attitude of the commanding generals. They give short shrift to the non-physical ailments of the soldiers, and encourage the doctor to release the men for combat as soon as possible. Using a bit of reverse psychology, Newman tells the brass that "One of these men may turn out to be another Eisenhower."

Based on true stories from the Beaumont Military Hospital in Texas during WW II, the movie focuses on  three soldiers: Cpl. Jim Tompkins (Bobby Darin) who agrees to a sodium pentothal injection to enable him to express his feeling of cowardice  for deserting a comrade in a burning plane; Col. Norval Algate Bliss (Eddie Albert) who has gone berserk after sending men on hopeless missions; and Capt. Paul Cabot Winston (Robert Duvall) who has plunged into a catatonic state to avoid his feeling of guilt for hiding instead of fighting. Cpl. Jackson 'Jake' Leibowitz (Tony Curtis) lightens the mood as Newman's  neurotic orderly who winds up playing Santa Claus in the closing scene of the movie.

Director David Miller's other efforts include Lonely Are The Brave (1962), Hammerhead (1968) and  Executive Action (1973). Captain Newman M.D. was nominated for three Oscars in 1964 including best supporting actor (Bobby Darin), best sound and best writing/screenplay based on material from another medium. Surprisingly, a DVD version is not yet available, and the VHS is out-of-print. Although some scenes sparkle, there is an inconsistency about the film that leaves one less than satisfied. The comedy scenes just don't seem to mesh with the intense psychological breakdowns of the soldiers. The last scene leaves you smiling, but after a few minutes you start to wonder why you are smiling. After all, Cpl Tompkins' mind was healed, but he dies in combat only  days after returning to duty.  One finds Newman's justification that "at least his life had meaning" somewhat troubling. Yes, the final smile fades fast.


Copyright: Peter Fokes (2004)
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