Sober, moving and surprisingly funny, David Miller’s 1963 classic CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. heads to DVD
More than 50 years after its release, triple Oscar nominated psychological war film CAPTAIN NEWMAN M.D heads to DVD this month.
Set during WWII in 1944, CAPTAIN NEWMAN M.D tells the story of an eccentric doctor, Captain Josiah J. Newman (Gregory Peck) who runs the psychiatric unit of a U.S. Military Hospital in Arizona. Oversubscribed and under staffed, Newman recruits newly arrived neurotic orderly Corporal Jackson Leibowitz (Tony Curtis) and beautiful nurse Lieutenant Francie Corum (Angie Dickinson) to work on his ward. Together, the team help a variety of patients with war related psychological traumas, while they themselves struggle with the dilemma of healing these soldiers so they can be sent back into battle to face possible death.
Sober, moving and surprisingly funny, CAPTAIN NEWMAN M.D. is a poignant and funny story about the trauma of war. Much like OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959) and M*A*S*H (1970), the story uses war as a backdrop to mix comedy with drama. The film follows the stories of several patients from beginning to end, including a guilt-ridden airman (Bobby Darin), a suicidal officer (Eddie Albert) and a captain rendered near catatonic after 13 months in hiding behind enemy lines (Robert Duvall). Screenwriters Richard L. Breen, Henry and Phoebe Ephron take Leo Rosten’s 1961 novel and brighten up the otherwise controversial material with a few laughs, earning an Oscar nomination for their efforts.
The story is driven forward by an all-star cast including Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis and Angie Dickinson. Peck plays the eccentric doctor Captain “Joe” Newman who uses unconventional tactics to treat his patients. While Peck delivers a strong performance, his character’s straight and officious manner actually makes him the least interesting character of the film, which is surprising considering he is playing the title role!
In fact, it is Tony Curtis who steals the show as Newman’s neurotic orderly Leibovitz, providing most of the comic relief with his scheming, humour and questionable entrepreneurial skills which quickly turns life inside the ward upside down.
Angie Dickinson plays Lieutenant Francie Corum who is recruited by Newman because he believes her beauty will soothe the patients’ psyches. While Dickinson radiates beauty and warmth, disappointingly she is given very little to do other than to smile sweetly and look good on screen.
The cast are joined by a plethora of TV and film actors who play the supporting roles including James Gregory (BARNEY MILLER) as Colonel Pyser, Dick Sargent (BEWITCHED) as Lt. Alderson, Ted Bessell (THAT GIRL) and Larry Storch (F TROOP) all of whom all add a level of legitimacy to the film.
While CAPTAIN NEWMAN M.D. is considered ahead of its time, the film isn’t without its faults. The biggest problem is that it lacks a central character arc or plotline, bouncing from funny and ridiculous to sober and serious. There are also too many characters jammed into the story, none of whom are very well developed.
That said, most of the performances are compelling and memorable, with Duvall and Darin in particular turning in some fine work, earning Darin an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The cinematography is also impressive with director David Miller making wonderful use of light and shade as well as tight angles to take advantage of the location.
If you’re a fan of funny war films, CAPTAIN NEWMAN M.D is certainly worth a watch. An entertaining and thought provoking classic about the psychological effects of war, despite its flaws.
CAPTAIN NEWMAN M.D is released on DVD via Screenbound on 11 April 2016