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  Outsider, The Getting Better All The Time
Year: 1939
Director: Paul L. Stein
Stars: George Sanders, Mary Maguire, Barbara Blair, Peter Murray-Hill, Frederick Leister, Walter Hudd, Kathleen Harrison, Kynaston Reeves, Edmund Breon, Ralph Truman, Ballard Berkeley, Roddy McDowall
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Anton Ragatzy (George Sanders) is a doctor who claims to heal the lame and crippled, but to the medical establishment he is nothing more than a quack exploiting the disadvantaged and making them look bad, for when they decide there's nothing that can be done for a patient, the afflicted seek out his services as he believes there is no such thing as a lost cause. Well, most of the time, as he is not as opportunistic as the Harley Street physicians would have it, and the fact is with his unorthodox treatments he does get positive results. To rub the other doctors further up the wrong way, he also has an unusual pricing system for his services: if the patient is poor, he waives his fee, only to make the rich patients pay more instead...

This remake of a British hit from earlier in the nineteen-thirties which itself was an adaptation of a reliable stage play was made before the creation of the National Health Service around ten years later, but its suspicion of private medicine was not something that would go away any time soon, giving the production legs (so to speak), especially as the whole shebang was what used to be called a "weepie". That was a melodrama specifically designed to send the audience into floods of tears, or at least bring a lump to the throat anyway, and if The Outsider wasn't quite as shameless at aiming for the emotions as some of those, that was patently the idea behind the telling as the leading lady was introduced.

She was Mary Maguire as the improbably named Lalage Sturdee, or Lally for short, a rich heiress with a bad leg and hip, meaning she can only walk with a cane and as we see in her first scene, is sad because she cannot dance with her friends, as if to spite her proficiency on the piano (she's a composer). It doesn't take an Einstein to work out that soon Lally and Ragatzy are on a collision course, but her father is the surgeon leading the charge against unregistered doctors like the Eastern European (Sanders puts on a thick accent throughout) and wants him sent home before he can do any more damage. Initially his daughter agrees with him, resigned to her condition, but Ragatzy has ways of persuasion.

He also has a science fiction contraption, a special chair complete with dials and lights which if Lally is strapped into for a year of stretching then she will in his theorising be cured and able to walk normally from then on. To add more pathos, her boyfriend is the silly ass Basil (Peter Murray-Hill) who she fears will have his head turned by the actress and singer and all round celeb Wendy (Barbara Blair) who is a more sparkling proposition than a woman who is lying down practically immobile for a whole twelve months. So can Lally keep her chin up while the rest of her is horizontal, and is there any chance this special chair can work? Let's say it's not too much of a shock when the denouement arrives.

A bandleader in the New Year's Eve segment proclaims grinning to the guests and those radio listeners (including Lally) that "Today's cream is tomorrow's cheese!" and never was a truer word spoken in a movie like this, though to its credit does demonstrate a degree of self-awareness from the makers this was pretty kitschy. Yet never underestimate the power of cheap music, and just as this did nice business back as the Second World War was beginning and audiences wanted escapism, so it is that modern audiences can ease themselves into the silly drama and forget their troubles for a while. It didn't matter if you felt superior to it, if you were willing to submit to its daft charms as something they really don't make (much) anymore, then you might find yourself unexpectedly absorbed by its tearjerking machinations. It's doubtful you're actually going to cry at it at this stage, unless you're feeling fragile, and the late on romance was hard to believe, but it was a cosy little movie purely because of its optimism through hardship. Music by Kenneth Leslie-Smith.

[Network's Blu-ray looks very nice, though there are no extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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