Robert Donat gives a brilliant performance—leagues beyond his Oscar-winning one the next year in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Sam Wood, 1939)—as Andrew Manson, an idealistic young doctor who, investigating the linkage between silica inhalation and lung disease, is opposed by miner-patients and mining board members. After his research laboratory is deliberately destroyed, Andrew and wife Christine relocate to London, where the private practice he opens struggles until Andrew falls in with a crowd of mercenary doctors who minister to the self-indulgent rich, who cultivate hypochondria to make themselves the center of attention. On his way up, Andrew leaves more and more of his humanity behind. Whereas after he delivered his first baby, who seemed doomed but under his care survived, he said, aloud to himself alone in the street, “I’m a doctor,” his eventual career poses this question: What is a doctor?
Intelligently written by Ian Dalrymple, Frank Wead, Elizabeth Hill and Emlyn Williams (who also enacts an important role), The Citadel (best film, New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review) is based on A. J. Cronin’s popular 1937 novel, which in turn was partially based on Cronin’s own experiences as a medical doctor beginning in his twenties. In 1924, Cronin was appointed Britain’s medical inspector of mines, in which capacity he published research such as Manson pursues.
King Vidor directs—in spots, with bravura skill. Memorable indeed are Andrew’s soul-searching walk at night, interrupted by piercing slivers of flashback, following the death in surgery of a dear friend, and Andrew’s stirring speech before the medical board, both of which contribute to a coda of reintegration following a fissured narrative structure correlative to Andrew’s moral disintegration.
The heart-walloping close consists of Andrew and Christine—a couple—walking toward us and their future.
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