The Set of 400: #187 – My Favorite Inpatient Assignation

Today! Because I am the fool for Christ, and the Paraclete of Caborca, the Wrath of the Lamb, the Angel of the Bottomless Pit –

The Hospital (1971)

Directed by Arthur Hiller

Starring George C. Scott (x2), Diana Rigg, Richard Dysart (x2), Barnard Hughes, Andrew Duncan (x2), Nancy Marchand (x2), Jordan Charney, Roberts Blossom, Katherine Helmond, Frances Sternhagen, Robert Walden, Stockard Channing (x2), Lenny Baker, Donald Harron

A black comedy of the highest order, The Hospital is Paddy Chayefsky’s healthcare takedown precursor to dismantling television news five years later in Network. George C. Scott – in his second list film from 1971 in the last two weeks! – plays chief of medicine Dr. Bock who’s deeply sunk in his midlife crisis, marriage ruined, career malaise, while his hospital goes through an epic administrative, public, and lethal meltdown, with protests breaking out constantly over the hospital acquiring-to-demolish nearby slums, patients getting lost, misdiagnosed, and accidentally killed, and doctors being actively hunted by a faceless murderer. There’s also an Indian shaman and an overzealous billing supervisor in the mix. And this all takes place in about a 72 hour span.

Considering the towering rage and sheer violence of the picture, it’s surprisingly funny. Even with the humor unfolding in an excessive satirical vein, it never verges into complete unreality. The nightmare largely whirls around Bock, but he is only glancingly in its path – so scattershot are the myriad problems and surprising the train of murders that quickly escalates. It’s a hard movie to get a bead on to start, as it appears not unlike the way it was originally marketed – For people who loved MASH! – except that it gets way darker, way fast. My guess is they didn’t know how to promote this movie exactly – it’s hardly the zany romp MASH was – but critics got on board. The cast is terrific, with Scott’s outsized performance leading the way – he’s not over-the-top à la Dr. Strangelove, but does still dominate scenes somewhat effortlessly. Still, that’s the role – it’s the stolidity of those around him that becomes so increasingly infuriating as the mishaps pile up, and Bock strives for some other meaning or purpose it in all. Particular stand-outs among the cast are the great Richard Dysart as the opportunist hack Dr. Welbeck and Barnard Hughes as the demented Drummond.

Chayefsky won his second of three screenwriting Oscars for The Hospital, fully sixteen years after his first for Marty, and the movie would also nab Scott a Best Actor nomination, only a year after he refused his Oscar win for Patton no less. The Globes had the same outcomes – win for Chayefsky, nod for Scott, as well as a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Rigg, while the BAFTAs nominated Scott bundled with his fellow ’71 list film #193 They Might Be Giants, while again awarding Chayefsky’s screenplay.

Five new Two-Timers from the large cast, including Scott, future Livia Soprano Nancy Marchand (#210 The Naked Gun), Andrew Duncan (#213 Slap Shot), Dysart (#206 Being There), and Rizzo herself Stockard Channing (#273 The Cheap Detective). It’s a very brief role, but what the hell, spotlight Channing!

Coming tomorrow! It’s like the sun shines on you, and it’s glorious. And then he forgets you and it’s very, very cold –

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