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  Windom's Way The Doctor Is In
Year: 1957
Director: Ronald Neame
Stars: Peter Finch, Mary Ure, Natasha Parry, Robert Flemyng, Michael Hordern, Gregoire Aslan, John Cairney, Marne Maitland, George Margo, Kurt Christian, Martin Benson, Sanny Bin Hussan, Burt Kwouk
Genre: Drama, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alec Windom (Peter Finch) is a medical doctor in Malaya, with his hands full as he has scores of patients to attend to, even in this village which caters for the local rubber plantation workers, the source of the country's wealth. Not that the workers see much of that wealth, as they are reduced to growing their own rice in paddy fields to survive, and the authorities feel they are neglecting the rubber in the process. Meanwhile, in this atmosphere of growing political unrest, who should show up to try and make a connection with Windom but his wife, Lee (Mary Ure)? She has wanted to rekindle their marriage for some time after they separated, but he has lost himself in his work - could she be what he needs to get back on track?

This was a British film based on a book by once-popular novelist James Ramsey Ullman, who usually produced mountain climbing-based thrillers, yet with this story opted to place colonial issues under his literary microscope, with the backdrop of Malayan unrest breaking through into the life of the titular doctor character. Finch was a dependable presence in British movies from the nineteen-fifties onwards to his premature death in the seventies, demonstrating an easy, intelligent charisma in thinking man's hero roles, and that was what was on offer here; in truth, he lifted what could have been rather dry by focusing the audience's attention on what was happening to Windom as a lens through which we viewed the problems of an entire nation, and by extension, half the world.

Nevertheless, there were issues from a modern perspective that were not thought about back when this was released, mainly that the political matters of a non-white country could only be made sense of from a white perspective, and while it was actually a very fair and balanced examination, it was in a style that nowadays would have been presented with more stress on the locals than the "visitors". Indeed, it may even have been produced by the country it was based in rather than somewhere in the West, and certainly would not have featured white actors in brownface such as Scots performer John Cairney, who rather embarrassingly has to deliver lines in the local lingo (though it was not shot in Malaya) while genuine Asian extras stand around him, possibly wondering why they were not given the opportunities for a main role as Cairney had been.

His character is the initially reluctant leader of the insurgents (spot Burt Kwouk among them in his first screen part, albeit uncredited), whose sister, played by the also whiter than white Natasha Parry, is secretly in love with Windom. You can imagine how she ends up as the bullets start to fly, as miscegenation was still underrepresented in cinema, even in the immigrant-heavy Britain of the fifties, and the blonde, pale Ure was back in Windom's life anyway, so there was no question of a divorce on the cards. This makes the project sound very conservative, but in its way, it was fairly progressive, despite the caveats, acknowledging that the introduction of white overseers was not going to provide a solution to some entrenched ill-feeling and internal matters. Actual Asian actors Gregoire Aslan and Marne Maitland had more to do than usual in their films, too, and the need to understand why all this was happening was clearly fed into by some well attended storytelling. It may seem hopelessly out of date, but you may be surprised by what it had to say, and Finch was excellent. Music by James Bernard.

[Network release this in The British Film on Blu-ray with the trailer, a gallery and subtitles as extras. It is in colour, incidentally.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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