Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Hospital (1971)

Paddy Chayefsky's 1971 black comedy is a story with multiple facets, or should I say a facet with multiple stories. This slow decline to an apocalyptic state is told with at least three differing stories with the same setting. However, this should not suggest The Hospital as a multiple narrative comedy a la MASH (1970), but a single narrative unsure about where to concentrate.

George C. Scott plays the inspirational suicidal doctor - a role tailor-made for him and he is, as always, amazing. He is trying to find a meaning for his miserable life - he just left his menopausal wife for the umpteenth time; he is having sexual problems that he refuses to admit - but a serial killer, who murders doctors guilty of malpractice, gets in his way.

There are seriously funny moments, such as the cold reaction of the nurse who finds the first victim or the fussy patient who tries to convince everyone that there was a "naked Indian" in his room the previous night. It is at these moments that the movie shines. Unfortunately, this is not a prototype of George Lucas' seriously mishandled Radioland Murders (1994). When Scott starts his expository monologues about his life and the introduction of Diana Rigg's sultry faux-hippy (with a rather lightly-handled rape scene), the film takes a downward plunge. For long stretches of the film, we get a duel of monologues with strong sexual underpinnings that are fascinating on their own, but add nothing to the story. What about the chaos in the hospital? Does anybody care about the dead doctors?

To make things more complicated for redundant reasons there is also a socio-political unrest brewing underneath all this in the shape of people protesting the hospital for kicking out poor families from a tenement building to build a new drug rehabilitation center. It is unclear what Chayefsky is trying to say here. Were the free love of the '60s and early '70s a catalyst for the apocalypse? If so, how come his main character is rejuvenated by a raunchy night with a young woman? In fact, Scott's character refuses to leave the hospital in the end. He justifies his decision by stating that the hospital needs him. Is he the answer to all the society's problems? By letting a murderer go free after killing people in the name of an apparition, the film gives a very negative solution to an aching society.

I have to admit, though, that George C. Scott gives one of the best performances I have ever seen. He seems to have been stuck in some very bad movies. The Changeling (1980) anyone?

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