At a tightly budgeted New York hospital, young pathologist David Coleman arrives to join the department head, Joe Pearson, who is burned-out from years of fights with hospital administration, and who is set in his ways and not up-to-date. Callow, egotistical and cutting-edge, Coleman constitutes a challenge for Pearson. Two cases in particular find them opposing one another. One is contrived and soap operatic, and revolves around the bone tumor diagnosis of the young nurse with whom Coleman has fallen in love. Coleman says “benign”; Pearson, “malignant,” in which case Cathy’s leg should be amputated quickly. Cathy’s leg is amputated, and Coleman at least tells Pearson that his, Pearson’s, call was correct—but in a situation too complex to admit certainty of motive. We never learn whose call was correct.
The other case is more compelling. Coleman has ordered a particular test for a baby who may be suffering from a rare blood disease. The issue is how soon the newborn should receive blood transfusions. Pearson overrules the test. The parents, intern Alexander and wife Elizabeth, have already lost their first child to the disease.
Perhaps the film’s title, The Young Doctors, was a gimmick to draw in young patrons. Pearson is not “young.” But the title fits. After considerable sparring, Pearson tells Coleman that he, Coleman, reminds him of himself thirty years earlier (when Pearson was young): “I was right back then, and you are right now.” Aren’t these the “young” doctors?
Fredric March is superb as Pearson; saddled with an unconvincing love story, Ben Gazzara is not so good as Coleman. But Aline MacMahon as Lucy Grainger, who commandeers the surgery on Cathy, and Phyllis Love as Elizabeth are both excellent. Dick Clark is deft and sensitive as Alexander.
Phil Karlson directed.
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