Saturday, 23 January 2016

My Review: Doctor In Love

I decided late last year to treat myself to a few guilty pleasures. There are several films associated with the Carry Ons that I have never seen so I've decided to put that right. I have purchased copies of Doctor In Love, Please Turn Over, Not Now, Comrade and the vintage television sitcom Our House. As I'm a first time viewer of all of these classics, I am going to review each title for the blog. Today I'm discussing Doctor In Love.

Doctor In Love was the fourth entry in the Doctor series of films, produced by Betty Box and directed by Ralph Thomas. Released in 1960, it was the most successful British film of the year. The Doctor films followed a similar line as the Carry Ons although they were not produced as quickly, they had slightly bigger budgets and did not rely quite so much on innuendos and double entendres. 

I must admit straight away I did not enjoy this film nearly as much as I thought I would. The Doctor films were very much a starring vehicle for the wonderfully suave, talented Dirk Bogarde and his absence is keenly felt here. Despite the ensemble cast and colourful antics I think this film is really too much of a hotch potch and doesn't satisfy for some reason. 

As with most of these films, the cast is bulging with familiar and highly talented comic actors and  for the most part the film is carried along by their collective charms. The script for Doctor In Love came from Nicholas Phipps, a recognisable character actor of the era who also appears in the film as Dr Cardew. Phipps also contributed to the scripts for Doctor In The House, Doctor At Sea, Doctor At Large and Doctor in Distress. 

Much of the film is carried by Michael Craig as the new romantic lead, replacing Bogarde. Craig does well in the role and makes for a solid leading man. Raffish, comic support comes from Leslie Phillips in the first of his three Doctor films. The duo play young doctors Burke and Hare and the film follows their various misadventures, mainly with members of the opposite sex. There are some funny moments but its not as solid an offering as some of the previous Doctor films and I could do without the coy, twee romantics. Regular Doctor actor James Robertson Justice is on fine form as the bombastic Sir Lancelot Spratt however he is frustratingly limited to a supporting turn.

The main leading ladies in the film are played by Virginia Maskell and Carole Lesley, both putting in fairly strong, confident performances. The best female roles in the film however are taken by the gorgeous Joan Sims and Liz Fraser, who pop up throughout as a pair of hilarious strippers. They first encounter Burke and Hare at a flu research institute, run by a rather butch and bizarre character played by the great Irene Handl. The scenes which see Sims, Fraser, Craig and Phillips all get squiffy on gin are great fun. It's great to see Sims and Fraser working together on screen. You can tell they get on and the pair became lifelong friends in real life. During the flu research scenes the audience also gets to see a bit more of Michael Craig than perhaps the censor had bargained for....(!)

As with so many of the other films or this era, the great joy is spotting so many familiar faces amongst the supporting cast. Of particular note are Ambrosine Phillpotts as Lady Spratt, Nicholas Parsons playing a young doctor at the start of the film, Michael Ward as Irene Handl's rather camp second in command and Fenella Fielding in a rather glamorous, breathy cameo as Mrs Tadwich. There is also blink and you'll miss them cameos from the likes of John Le Mesurier, Esma Cannon, Patrick Cargill, Bill Fraser, Rosalind Knight, Norman Rossington, Marianne Stone and Peter Sallis. Also watch out for a quick few lines from a young Sheila Hancock as a rather prim librarian! 

Unfortunately the two leading ladies from this film both had really sad ends. Carole Lesley, a blonde bombshell originally from Chelmsford had fallen on hard times by the early 1970s. Despite other starring roles in films such as What A Whopper and Operation Bullshine, Carole didn't quite achieve the success expected of her. She died of a drug overdose in February 1974 at the age of just 38. 

Virginia Maskell, who played Dr Barrington in the film and the love interest for Michael Craig's character, went on to success in films such as The Wild and The Willing, Happy Is The Bride and The Man Upstairs. Maskell took a break from acting in 1962 to concentrate on raising her two sons, however she returned later in the decade with appearances in television series such as Danger Man and The Prisoner. Sadly she was unable to recapture the success of her early career and this, coupled with post-natal depression led her to take an overdose in 1968. She died shortly afterwards at the age of just 31.

Doctor In Love is definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of classic British comedy and the wealth of talented, comedy actors who star here, although it is in my opinion, not the best in the series and it doesn't rival some of the Carry Ons that were being produced at the time. It's a shame Michael Craig didn't make further appearances in the series or cross over for a Carry On or two as he is really very successful in the lead role. Thankfully, Dirk Bogarde would return for the next film the series, Doctor In Distress in 1963, although by then he would be rather frustrated with the films and his pigeonholing as a young romantic lead in light comedies.

So not the best film I've ever seen, by still enjoyable froth for a wet Sunday afternoon!

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