Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive Grab Bag - Lots of Kildare! ""

Monday, February 10, 2014

Warner Archive Grab Bag - Lots of Kildare!

Many people bemoan the tragic sequelization of cinema these days and it's a fair complaint to make. While I see the business point of view and how the studios can see them as good bets, they obviously leave some of us cold who would rather see some new original ideas. That's really neither here nor there, but rather I just mean to set a context for the era that these Dr. Kildare films emerged from. The first of them, YOUNG DR. KILDARE (my favorite of the bunch), came out in 1938 and the rest all followed quickly up until 1942. This is all obviously pre-television and so these are more like continuing "episodes" in the life of Dr. James 'Jimmy' Kildare (played quite nicely by Lew Ayres). It's very much like TV in the movies, in that each movie sort of deals with 1 or two new cases and we see Kildare's continued interactions with series regulars Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) and Nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day) among others. There is a comforting familiarity to seeing these characters over and over again so it's not difficult to see why this series continued (and was even made into a successful TV series in the 1960s with Richard Chamberlain taking over the role of Kildare). Medical drama is a genre that continues to fascinate us to this very day as evidenced by countless contemporary programs on TV. I found that hese Kildare films connected with me(and I imagine other fans of the series) because of a continuity that they have throughout. Jimmy Kildare diagnoses something on Dr. Gillespie's hand early on in the series for example and it is called back a few times. We also get to see Kildare and Mary's relationship blossom throughout the films, culminating in DR. KILDARE'S WEDDING DAY (another of my favorites of the bunch). Little things like that make these movies feel more like the modern day "long arc" television we've become accustomed to these days. Also, the medical drama type setup allows for a certain mystery element to enter in to a lot of the stories. Kildare or Gillespie must diagnose some mysterious symptoms in a majority of the films. There are lighter moments in the series too, but there are also a good deal of seriousness (as you'd expect from a drama dealing with a hospital, doctors and illness). In THE PEOPLE VS. DR. KILDARE, Jimmy is sued for malpractice and in other entries he must deal with death on a couple occasions. The core characters played by Ayres, Barrymore and Laraine Day are a great bunch and really kept me wanting to see more. Barrymore is especially great as Gillespie. He is lovably cantankerous, but quite loyal and wise. He's just an amazing actor and those who've been limited to seeing him as Mr. Potter in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE are really missing out in not expanding out into his remarkable career. You can certainly see shades of Potter in Dr. Gillespie, but he brings such wonderful humanity that you can't help but love the character. Lew Ayres is an actor I was not a particular fan of until seeing him in this role. He always seemed rather bland to me and I often found myself having trouble connecting. As Dr. Kildare, throughout the course of this series, his is put through such a range of events and challenges that he is really allowed to shine. There's a whole host of great supporting actors here too including Red Skelton, Nell Craig and Frank Orth (who plays the affable cafe owner). It is really a worthwhile set and one I was happy to see Warner Archive put out. 
The films included are:
--plus, as an added bonus, the unaired 1961 pilot for the 1st DR KILDARE TV Series - starring Lew Ayres (never before seen).

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