Mary Stevens, M.D. – 1933
Directed by Lloyd Bacon
Written by Rian James and Robert Lord
Based on a novel by Virginia Kellogg
Old friends Mary Stevens (Kay Francis) and Don Andrews (Lyle Talbot) graduate from medical school together and decide to open up their own medical office. Despite the misgivings of many close-minded patients, Mary is an excellent doctor and is also willing to treat many charity cases from around the neighborhood. Don, on the other hand, begins to date Lois Rising (Thelma Todd), the daughter of a rich political boss. Don soon marries Lois and moves to a new office with a much higher class of patients, but he brings Mary along and she opens her own office down the hall. Mary uses her new position to make a name for herself in the medical community, but Don starts to drink heavily and steals money from his practice. Don’s problems eventually drive them apart. Two years later Mary is on vacation in Paris and runs into Don, who is separated from his wife but cannot divorce her because of her father, and he is also on the run from the law. Soon one thing leads to another and Mary ends up pregnant. She must to decide whether to tell him or raise the child by herself.
Look at the date at the top of this review. That’s right – 1933. When I first saw this movie I was amazed at its willingness to tackle issues such as alcoholism and single motherhood in such an early film. With a strong, independent female doctor as the protagonist! This film was made one year before the Hays Code came into effect and it shows. The characters actually have to deal with things that happen in real life, and they deal with them in a realistic manner. Films like this would not be seen again until the late 1960s. Sure there is no swearing, nudity, or graphic violence, but in relation to the kind of movies that followed for the next thirty years this looks like Caligula.
A lot of my enjoyment of this film comes from the 1930s Front Page-style banter between all the characters. It manages to be free flowing, goofy, and a little endearing at the same time. None of the characters really stand out, except for Kay Francis as Mary. She manages to bring certain elegance to the role but is still able to get her hands dirty. It is very jarring to see such an intelligent female character in a black and white film. I have enjoyed almost every movie I have seen that was made between 1929 and 1933, these years represent the period after the introduction of sound but before the establishment of the draconian Hays Code. If you usually have problems with older movies, I urge you to see some from this era. They represent how Hollywood might have been if it was willing to take a stand for more free expression of ideas earlier on.