Arrowsmith (1931)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Medical Drama, Melodrama  |   Release Date - Dec 26, 1931 (USA)  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Costello

One of the director's most uncharacteristic projects, it was an enormous critical and commercial success, and although it remains an interesting film it's marred by an absence of clarity. In taking on the most complex protagonist he had attempted to date, Ford's film tries to balance a critique of the scientist's Faustian ambitions and hunger for glory with an awareness that the research he's doing is absolutely necessary. The film alternates uncertainly between condoning its protagonist's idealism and castigating his indifference to his wife, and the possible side effects of his work. Colman is also somewhat miscast, his characteristic suavity unable to accommodate the complexity of the driven, tormented physician. Helen Hayes easily handles the character of the long-suffering, possibly abused wife, and legendary stage actor Richard Bennett does the best work as the emphatic Sondelius. Particularly in the island sequence, Ford's stylized depth of focus work betrays the influence of Murnau, and his evocation of an undercurrent of paranoia in the face of the burgeoning disease is the film's most powerful effect.