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  Doctor in the House Say Ha-Ha
Year: 1954
Director: Ralph Thomas
Stars: Dirk Bogarde, Muriel Pavlow, Kenneth More, Donald Sinden, Kay Kendall, James Robertson Justice, Donald Houston, Suzanne Cloutier, George Coulouris, Jean Taylor Smith, Nicholas Phipps, Geoffrey Keen, Joan Sims, Harry Locke, Shirley Eaton, Joan Hickson
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Simon Sparrow (Dirk Bogarde) has chosen a profession in life: he wishes to be a doctor, but first he must have someone tell him where to go. On arrival at St. Swithin's Medical School, he has the most awful trouble in seeking the correct location for the students to attend, and ends up traipsing through the grounds and halls in the hope that someone will offer him good advice, which he does not get when a nurse mistakes him for a patient, and sort of gets when he asks a group of other nurses; one of them, Joy Gibson (Muriel Pavlow), gives him exact, if complicated instructions - in spite of laughing when his suitcase falls open.

Although it looks pretty quaint now, Doctor in the House was a groundbreaking item of British comedy which in its day was regarded as saucy stuff, and about as risque as it was possible to get in cinema. Thus from there you could chart the progress of the Carry On series, as without this it's hard to imagine, say director Gerald Thomas, who was an editor on this production, seeing much demand for the sort of jokes you would not get on the radio in 1954, and once that audience was established, the sky was the limit. A line like "What's the bleeding time?" might seem comparatively mild today, but back then it was progressive, near the knuckle material.

Watching it now you can understand the observation of the time that the quartet of students we follow - Bogarde, Kenneth More, Donald Sinden and Donald Houston - were plainly far too old for their roles, but also that they represented the cream of British comedy talent along with their co-stars, including many soon to be recognisable faces in bit parts. They were all playing to a type of one kind or another, with Bogarde showing the way for Hugh Grant decades later as the right way to play a reticent, posh but very nice Englishman and making a career out of it, though Dirk famously dropped those roles as quickly as he could for more challenging works. And More was well on his way to being one of the top British stars of the fifties himself.

Basing the script on Richard Gordon's bestselling books - he had a hand in adapting the source for the screen here - this attempted to relate all the horror stories one had heard about medical students, but making them palatable for the public in a funloving form, accompanied by romance, both comic and more sincere. A series of linked sketches was evidently settled on, with the theme of Simon and Joy's relationship as the theme to hold it all together, starting off frosty then developing into something more earnest, though not exactly passionate, after all there were rules of what you could show back then. The cast threw themselves into the hijinks with more enthusiasm than the serious moments, but it fashioned an agreeable mix.

Stealing scenes out from under everyone's nose was James Robertson Justice as the superbly named Sir Lancleot Spratt, an ill-tempered, gruff and stern fellow who naturally turns out to have a heart of gold underneath that bluff exterior. He provides most of the mirth for contemporary viewers as he doesn't give the students an inch until they get into trouble saving the school rugby mascot from their rivals, whereupon he steps up and saves the day - not only once, but for Simon, twice. Elsewhere it was always nice to see Kay Kendall, here as an upper class lady who prices herself out of Simon's league, and if most of the jokes were of the rather obvious variety, it was the expert playing of such scenes which guaranteed the mood remained upbeat, even when sentimentality reared its head. Such was the blockbuster nature of Doctor in the House at not only the U.K. but foreign box offices that it was inevitable a whole series and a long-lasting television show would follow; they didn't match the original, but comedy fans had much to thank it for. Music by Bruce Montgomery.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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