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  Behind the Mask Physician Heal Thyself
Year: 1958
Director: Brian Desmond Hurst
Stars: Michael Redgrave, Tony Britton, Carl Mohner, Niall MacGinnis, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Bannen, Brenda Bruce, Lionel Jeffries, Miles Malleson, John Welsh, Ann Firbank, John Gale, Jack Hedley, Hugh Miller, Mary Skinner, Margaret Tyzack, Joan Hickson
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Philip Selwood (Tony Britton) appears to have a bright future ahead of him in the medical profession, and he has applied for a position as a surgeon, though has to be careful about what he says, for the head man at this hospital, Sir Arthur Benson Gray (Michael Redgrave), also happens to be the father of his fiancee, Pamela (Vanessa Redgrave). She wishes to support them both, but if word got out before Selwood was accepted that he was dating the boss's daughter, it might look a shade convenient if he manages to secure a lofty position. But that is what he seems set to do, with Sir Arthur avuncularly encouraging him, both unaware that they are about to clash when a crisis arises - more than one, in fact.

One of the biggest shows on television in the Britain of the nineteen-fifties, and indeed sixties, was Emergency Ward 10, a medical drama that had the nation hooked, while in the cinemas the homegrown blockbuster was Doctor in the House, so as the National Health Service was around a decade old at this point, this kind of hospital yarn was very popular and much in the public's minds. Therefore Behind the Mask, based on a popular book, was a shoo-in to be a success, and add to that the novelty of watching Michael Redgrave playing opposite his real-life daughter Vanessa, and this was bound to go down well with audiences. However, the point that Vanessa promptly turned her back on the movies for almost ten years afterwards may indicate she was not best served by this role.

Actually, you can understand why she might have been alarmed when she saw herself on the big screen, for there was little of the range she would be renowned for on display, she was merely required to emote with due reserve and decorum in a succession of chic gowns, all in a cut glass accent. That made her look and sound not only completely out of time with the burgeoning kitchen sink movement that was making its presence felt across British film, but almost completely different to the star of Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment that was such a hit with the counterculture in the following decade and established her as a genuine movie star. This leaves her ingenue role here as a curio, miles away from her persona as a Communist firebrand or a boundary-pushing thespian, but not one that was likely to prompt laughter, she merely slotted in with a certain fifties "type" in weirdly anonymous fashion that didn't suit her.

Elsewhere, Britton was ideal for this, indeed one of his best-known roles in the future would be as a doctor in eighties sitcom Don't Wait Up, and this looked like a younger version of that part, so you got the idea, everyone was terribly polaite until the stresses and strains began to crack the fa├žade of a supposedly smoothly running service. Actor fanciers would have a field day spotting well-kent faces in the supporting cast, from Ian Bannen as a cigarette-nicking doctor with a line in gallows humour, or Lionel Jeffries and Miles Malleson as members of the hospital board, though in small roles up-and-comers like Judy Parfitt and Margaret Tyzack were also appearing. If it was like Doctor in the House without the laughs, it was at least an insight into the medical system, with careful emphasis on the international element that saw staff from all over the world studying at British hospitals, though the actual crisis for Selwood, thanks to Carl Mohner as a drug addict doctor messing up his plans through no fault of his own, was rather creaky, especially to modern eyes. Music by Geoffrey Wright.

[Network release this as part of The British Film on Blu-ray, with an interview with John Gale, one of the supporting cast who is very entertaining, starting off describing the director as a "voracious homosexual" and ending up with his opinion of the film when he finally saw it, which is very funny. Also on the disc: the trailer, an image gallery, and subtitles.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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