Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum), an intern bent upon becoming a first-class doctor, not merely a successful one. He courts and marries the warm-hearted Kristina (Olivia de Havilland), not out of love but because she is highly knowledgeable in the skills of the operating room and because she has frugally put aside her savings through the years. She will be, as he shrewdly knows, a supportive wife in every way.
She helps make him the success he wants to be and cheerfully moves with him to the small town in which he starts his practice. But as much as he tries to be a good husband to the undemanding Kristina, Marsh easily falls into the arms of a local siren (Gloria Grahame) and the patience of the long-sorrowing Kristina wears thin. She reasons he no longer needs her and asks for a divorce. A calamity now brings Marsh to his senses. Dr. Runkleman (Charles Bickford), Marsh's gruff and wise employer, is stricken with a heart attack and requires emergency surgery. Marsh is forced to operate.
Olivia de Havilland ... Kristina Hedvigson
Robert Mitchum ... Lucas Marsh
Frank Sinatra ... Alfred Boone
Gloria Grahame ... Harriet Lang
Broderick Crawford ... Dr. Aarons
Charles Bickford ... Dr. Dave W. Runkleman
Myron McCormick ... Dr. Snider
Lon Chaney Jr. ... Job Marsh (as Lon Chaney)
Jesse White ... Ben Cosgrove
Harry Morgan ... Oley
Lee Marvin ... Brundage
Virginia Christine ... Bruni
Whit Bissell ... Dr. Dietrich
Jack Raine ... Dr. Lettering
Mae Clarke ... Nurse Odell
"Not as a Stranger" is an old fashioned medical melodrama. The basic plot involves a young man (Mitchum) who is obsessed with becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, his obsession causes pain and unhappiness for the people around him.
Naturally, much of the medical material is out of date. Some commonplace matters in 1955 now strike us as incredible: a medical class with no women in it; doctors and nurses casually smoking; doctors who ride on ambulances.
The "small town" to which Mitchum moves after graduating from medical school is portrayed as isolated and rural. What we see is clearly a small city--bad choice of location.
In the context of the film,we have to accept Olivia de Havilland as plain and unsophisticated. Quite a suspension of disbelief.
However, Mitchum is excellent as the young physician who expects perfection from himself and all those around him, and Frank Sinatra is a good choice as Mitchum's cynical--but caring--friend.
Broderick Crawford as the medical professor Dr. Aarons, and Charles Bickford as Dr. Dave Runkleman, Mitchum's senior partner, both turn in solid performances.
Gloria Grahame is perfect as the wealthy widow, Harriet Lang, who oozes sexuality out of every alcoholic pore.
Watch for the dramatic scene when Crawford throws Grey's Anatomy at Sinatra. (Although beware the message that great medicine is synonymous with great memory. Memory is where great medicine starts, not where it ends.)
Two scenes need special comment:
When Mitchum tells a patient with a facial mole, "This kind is best left alone," he is wrong, wrong, wrong.
When Mitchum takes over the care of a critically ill patient of another doctor, Mitchum is right, right, right.
This movie is dated, but it is still worth seeing.
Many have panned Robert Mitchum's performance in this film, but I think that his lack of expression and emotion, other than anger, suits the character very well.
Mitchum's Marsh is a completely self-absorbed individual. He's committed to medicine and can't understand human failings, especially his own. His character's cold demeanor perfectly reflects the fact that Marsh has no outer life. If he often appears robotic, it's largely because he's programmed himself to shut out everything human, ironically in service to humanity.
Of course he's a great doctor, but he's pure hell to work or live with. Bursting with pride, insensitive to the point of cruelty, Marsh is unreachable and, in more than one sense of the term, untouchable. Mitchum conveys all of this very naturally, perhaps because so much of his performance is rooted in the dark world of film noir, where the actor first made his mark. He's a physician from the neck up, but he has the heart of a contract killer. That he heals instead of kills is his patients' good fortune, though of little solace to his friends or his wife.
Although Mitchum's interpretation remains controversial, many of the other performances in `Not as a Stranger' are beyond criticism. Olivia deHavilland, as his suffering spouse, is superb as always. Charles Bickford, an actor who deserves a much greater reputation, is the epitome of a small town doctor. And surprisingly, Broderick Crawford is excellent as a gruff professor of pathology.
On the other hand, Frank Sinatra's pediatrician isn't as strong, though he has some good scenes when he tries to help Mitchum see the error of his ways. Gloria Grahame, unfortunately, is stuck with a seductress role that just as well could have been cut.
There are other weaknesses. George Antheil's score, by way of Wagner and Richard Strauss, is pretty hard to take. The script and direction are uneven. Many scenes are compelling, such as when Crawford literally throws the book at Sinatra or when deHavilland and Mitchum have one of their confrontations. Others fall flat and there is a tendency, typical in most of Stanley Kramer's work, to keep making points at the expense of the story. For example, the med school sequences with Whit Bissell's greedy and unethical Dr Dietrich (interesting choice of name there) cover a darker side of the profession very well. There's really no need for Jesse White, terribly miscast as a lawyer who cozies up to Grahame, to bring up ethical issues much later in the film.
Recommended as an above average melodrama and as an interesting time capsule of mid-50s medicine. (Though I found it hard to believe patients were allowed to smoke in the wards!)
With a cast including Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Broderick Crawford, Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame, you'd expect hard-boiled crime drama. If so, you might want your money back after seeing NOT AS A STRANGER. One Hollywood wag remarked of the Mitchum-Sinatra-Crawford-Marvin lineup, "That's not a cast, that's a brewery!" and the actors lived up to their rowdy reputations, turning the shooting into "ten weeks of hell" for director Stanley Kramer. Mitchum described Crawford swallowing Sinatra's hairpiece with a vodka chaser (Of course, you never know when Mitchum is putting you on. But I like to believe he did call up Sinatra in Palm Springs to say, "Guess what? The Crawdad just drank your wig.") Sinatra took to calling Mitchum "mother" after he nursed Ol' Blue Eyes through a hangover. It's too bad Kramer didn't film these on-set antics; the footage would have been more entertaining than the plodding and earnest medical melodrama he did produce.
The casting is spectacularly misguided; for a start, everyone is almost twenty years too old. The film opens with the 40-ish Mitchum, Sinatra and Marvin as medical students observing a dissection, and right away credibility is strained. (If I walked into a doctor's office and saw Lee Marvin in a white coat, I would run.) And whose idea was it to cast the famously jaded, take-it-or-leave-it Mitchum as the rigid, idealistic, driven hero? Only top-billed Olivia de Havilland seems to belong in this type of movie, and she suffers from a platinum dye job and a mediocre Garbo accent. I waited more than an hour for Gloria Grahame to show up, and then she was wasted on a throwaway subplot that's over almost before it begins.
No cast could have made the movie much good. It's overlong, and the script is both obvious and underwritten; a few minutes into every scene I could predict what was going to happen by the end, and I foresaw the final plot twist about halfway through the film. The first half follows Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) through medical school. For reasons never entirely clear he is obsessed with becoming a doctor, though his father (who drank up all the money his mother left to pay his tuition) tells him, "I don't think you'll make it. It's not enough to have a brain, you have to have a heart." Thus in the third scene we get the message of the movie, and have a pretty good idea of everything that will follow. Desperate for money to stay in school, Luke woos and marries Kristina (Olivia de Havilland), a frumpy Swedish nurse who—for reasons never entirely clear—is madly in love with him. (We know because she keeps telling him, "I love you SO MUCH!") It's made abundantly clear that Luke is brilliant and noble-minded—he despises the other students who just want to make a lot of money—but arrogant and intolerant of human frailty. In his first practice, assisting a kindly and intelligent small-town doctor (Charles Bickford) he does a wonderful job, but his marriage disintegrates as he falls for a seductive wealthy widow and his wife can't bring herself to tell him she's pregnant. You just know that sooner or later he's going to falter at the operating table and be shattered by the realization that He Too is Only Human.
To this oppressive script, add heavy-handed direction that hammers each point home with obvious symbolism and simplistic montages (and a few--but not enough--moments of unintentional hilarity like the whinnying stallion underscoring the first big Mitchum-Grahame clinch), and the most relentlessly overwrought music I've ever heard. No one except Sinatra, playing the only light-hearted role, manages to crawl out from under the lead blanket of this movie. My admiration for Robert Mitchum knows no bounds, and I wouldn't say he's bad here, but he's certainly been better. It's not that he's incapable of playing characters who care deeply or zealously pursue a goal (See HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON or NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.) The problem is that Lucas Marsh is humorless, uptight and self-righteous, devoid of that perceptive, ironic, compassionate distance that's essential to Mitchum. Marsh is hot tempered, intolerant of others and blind to his own flaws—in other words, it's a Kirk Douglas part. Kirk would have been perfect, but Mitchum never really connects with the character. Maybe it just didn't seem worthwhile: Mitchum never gave more to a movie than it deserved. He does have some nice moments: the encounter with his pathetic father gives some explanation for why he's so disgusted by weakness; he plays well with Sinatra, strikes some sparks with Gloria Grahame, and excellently delineates Luke's feelings for his wife, a mix of boredom, admiration and guilt. He's pretty convincing in the doctoring scenes (there's way too many of these, at least for someone like me who gets woozy at the sight of a hypodermic needle.) But he seems a little bored most of the time, not that I blame him. Maybe I should have taken my cue from the actors and had a few drinks on hand.