Dr. Newell Paige is a dedicated surgeon and physician who is devoted to his patients and to the ethics of his profession. Covering for his mentor, Dr. Endicott, who is consumed by personal problems, Paige operates on a wealthy donor to the hospital, Mrs. Dexter. However, Dr. Endicott rushes in at the last moment and in his haste botches the surgery. Mrs. Dexter dies. An inquiry ensues and Dr. Endicott refuses to take or pass blame. The presumption of guilt then falls on Dr. Paige, who resigns rather than blame his mentor. By accident, Paige meets and falls in love with Mrs. Dexter's daughter Phyllis. When they each learn the other's true identity, Paige leaves rather than cause Phyllis pain, since she blames him for her mother's death. Paige travels to a rural settlement to join his friend Dr. Stafford in a dangerous experiment intended to eradicate spotted fever, which has decimated the local population. Influenced by the religious and ethical expoundings of church dean Harcourt, Paige risks his life in hopes of giving something of value to mankind.
Errol Flynn ... Dr. Newell Paige
Anita Louise ... Phyllis Dexter
Margaret Lindsay ... Frances Ogilvie
Cedric Hardwicke ... Dean Harcourt (as Sir Cedric Hardwicke)
Walter Abel ... Doctor John Stafford
Henry O'Neill ... Dr. Endicott
Spring Byington ... Mrs. Dexter
Erin O'Brien-Moore ... Pat Arlen
Henry Kolker ... Dr. Lane
Pierre Watkin ... Dr. Booth
Granville Bates ... Sheriff
Russell Simpson ... Sheep Man
Myrtle Stedman ... A Nurse
If I should choose one American director for the twenties/thirties,I would take Frank Borzage any day.
This is a film of a believer ,but a believer who never falls into the trap of bigotry:the "green light" of the title is the light that comes from the sky,the light of hope which should enlighten everyone.His early silent movies (particularly "Humoresque" ) displays a strong faith in a divine intervention provided that you are worthy of it."Seventh Heaven" ,"Little man what now" ,to name but two,featured characters who had nothing,nothing but their love for each other and their faith in providence.It would culminate in 1940 with Borzage's masterpieces,"the mortal storm" and "Strange cargo",particularly the latter where Cambreau becomes some kind of messiah.
Eroll Flynn,cast against type ,-but portraying a physician who predates his role in Walsh's "Uncertain Glory" where he finally sacrifices everything- ,gave all:first he took the blame for an operation which cost a patient her life;then he acted as his own guinea pig for his vaccine.It often recalls "magnificent obsession" (the first version by J.Stahl was released two years before):both works feature a man of God : the man who tells the hero of "obsession" a man died on the cross for man's salvation,the priest in "green light".The choir in the church which we heard at the beginning returns for a canticle which climaxes the movie .Be prepared to sacrifice anything and do not ask anything in return,there will be a reward anyway.
Warner Bros. occasionally gave ERROL FLYNN a break away from his usual swashbuckling roles but should have paid more attention to finding a better source material. The Lloyd C. Douglas novel is an uneven mixture of religion, psychiatry and sudsy melodramatics, never quite sure what the net results ought to be. Flynn is not the problem. He turns in a fine performance as a doctor who nobly sacrifices his own reputation when a medical mistake made by an older doctor could ruin the man's life. He looks as handsome and fit as ever.
If this were made in the '50s or '60s, no doubt Ross Hunter would have persuaded Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson to have a go at it, as they did in Douglas' THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, another story about a doctor who pays for his mistake, all done up in glossy technicolor.
But it soon becomes clear that this is a weak tale, full of platitudes and moralizing by a preacher (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) who neatly sums up his philosophy of right and wrong with simplistic slogans. The message is poured on pretty thick before the story reaches the point where Flynn takes a medical risk in order to prove his theory about spotted fever.
It's all very obvious, slick and artificial, but at least the performances are earnest. Anita Louise and Margaret Lindsay can't do too much with the pallid female leads but Walter Abel does nicely as a dedicated physician and Henry O'Neill is believable as the medical man who makes a serious error during a critical operation.
Frank Borzage directs the proceedings with dignity but gets little help from a stagnant script. Max Steiner contributes one of his lesser scores, more subdued than usual in providing any melodic themes.
Interesting only in the fact that it provides Flynn with an offbeat role as a physician.
Though not a 'period piece' "Green Light" dates much more than its Errol Flynn-starring predecessors "Captain Blood" and "Charge of the Light Brigade". And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The film was made when the Art Deco-1930s were in full flower. Frank Borzage's direction and the cinematography are beautifully impressionistic and occasionally artsy in a then-modern way as well. Flynn's smiles a bit too broadly and too often in early scenes, in a seeming bid to bring across a likable character. When he shifts attention to others he is much more natural and believable in the film.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke is well cast as the venerable Anglican reverend Dean Harcourt. His booming baritone voice put across his character's appeals for faith and other Christian virtues which are immediately believable (though his pipe-smoking is a bit incongruous with such a character).
One drawback of the film is that its script literally contorts to AVOID the direct mention of Jesus Christ, or the quotation of any recognizable Scriptures (until the finale), substituting semi-mystical pieties and somewhat vague aphorisms of encouragement. It is strongly implied that Flynn's character has undergone a conversion by the time the picture concludes, but it is never expressly stated.
Anita Louise, a lovely blonde, plays one of the women vying for Flynn's affections. Playing the role of her mother is Spring Byington, a delightful busybody in "Charge of the Light Brigade", but here a radiant Christian woman, full of faith, hope, and love which Flynn's initially-skeptical character comments upon long after her scenes are over.
The screenplay and film editing are not as sharp as those of Flynn's most beloved films, and Max Steiner's music is beautifully romantic but oddly unmemorable---which is hard to believe considering his catalog of work (the rousing "Charge of the Light Brigade", for instance, or the classics "The Wizard of Oz" or "Casablanca"). The choristers (boys) of St. Luke's Episcopal Church effectively lend their voices to a few scenes, and would do so in Flynn's follow-up film, "The Prince and the Pauper".
"Green Light" is a diamond in the rough, a neglected gem, and somewhat of a spiritual cousin to Hollywood's "One Foot in Heaven" which starred Fredric March as a minister some four or five years later. It is aired on occasion on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), but has yet to be officially released on videocassette or DVD.
In retrospect it is a bit of surprise choice for an Errol Flynn role, as the film is not nearly so high-budgeted as his preceding pictures. But he desired to prove himself as an actor, not just an action hero in the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. mode, and this was his first non-swashbuckler in which to essay the sort of role Ronald Colman took on in "Arrowsmith" six years earlier.
Green Light is beautifully directed, has a first rate score, and has a melodramatic mood throughout that makes it wonderful to watch. It relates the story of a young doctor who takes the fall for an elder doctor's mistake. Errol Flynn delivers a fine performance as does Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Margaret Lindsay, and Walter Abel.
It is a terrible reality that so many fine classics are not yet available on DVD. In my opinion, better than its rating. Fans of Flynn will not be disappointed.