Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Doctors’ Wives (1971)

          Pure trash that’s bearable only because of the lurid storyline and the presence of many skilled actors, Doctors’ Wives is a melodrama about the problems of wealthy surgeons and their long-suffering spouses. Somewhat improbably, the movie revolves around a murderer’s elaborate scheme to escape police custody and flee to Europe. And if that makes you think that perhaps a thoughtful examination of the medical community is not the real goal of this movie, then congratulations, you’ve cracked the code. Even with two lengthy surgery scenes that integrate bloody documentary footage, this movie’s about the healing arts in the same way that the 1980s TV show Dynasty was about big business. The nominal milieu is nothing but an excuse for depicting people with too little compassion and too much money.
          The main characters are Dr. Brennan (Richard Crenna) and his estranged wife, Amy (Janice Rule); Dr. Gray (Carroll O’Connor) and his self-loathing wife, Maggie (Cara Williams); Dr. Randolph (Gene Hackman) and his embittered wife, Delia (Rachel Roberts); and Dr. Dellman (John Colicos). In the opening scene, Dr. Dellman’s horny wife, Lorrie (Dyan Cannon), announces her plan to sleep with all of the doctors in order to report back to the women on each man’s sexual failing. When Dr. Dellman catches Lorrie in bed with a surgeon, he shoots her dead, wounding the surgeon in the process. Dr. Dellman confesses and surrenders to the police, but then he contrives a plan. He uses dirty secrets to blackmail his fellow doctors for getaway money, and when he’s asked to perform emergency surgery on a boy who requires Dr. Dellman’s specialized services, Dr. Dellman makes arrangements to slip out of the hospital, avoiding the cops who are watching him. Also thrown into the mix is a tawdry subplot about Dr. Brennan’s extramarital affair with an African-American nurse, Helen (Diana Sands), as well as a separate subplot about a doctor’s wife stealing his meds in order to feed her appetite for morphine.
          Suffering from one-dimensional characterizations and trite dialogue, Doctors’ Wives is so generic that even the best actors in the cast operate, no pun intended, while handicapped by the material. O’Connor and Sands wring some pathos out of key scenes, but otherwise everyone is stuck delivering obvious lines amid predictable scenarios. At least the flmmakers keep things moving along quickly, so viewers never have to linger on any particular scene very long. It says a lot that Cannon, the liveliest actor in the cast seeing as how Hackman is hamstrung by the limitations of a small secondary role, disappears from the movie after the first 10 minutes. When a movie that’s largely about sex loses its principal sexpot early, that’s a sure sign of trouble.

Doctors’ Wives: FUNKY

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