The Story of Dr. Wassell

The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature], Docudrama, War Drama  |   Release Date - Jul 4, 1944 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 140 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Although based on a true incident, The Story of Dr. Wassell might better have been titled "The Story of How Hollywood Sees Dr. Wassell. The basic premise of the movie -- that a dedicated doctor in the Army disobeys orders to stirringly and courageously evacuate a group of wounded soldiers -- is there, but Cecil B. DeMille and his writers have tricked it out with cliché after cliché, including an entirely extraneous volcano explosion (included only because a volcano actually erupted in Mexico while they were filming there). It's a shame that the creators didn't just stick to the original story, or barring that, that they didn't come up with more original elements to add to it. Still, Wassell ends up being a good enough movie, thanks to the underlying idea, DeMille's adept way of handling over-the-top action plots and Gary Cooper's contrasting customary underplaying. Indeed, Cooper's performance is essential to Wassell's success. It's not just that he turns in a good, solid performance; it's that with Cooper in the part, we're willing to overlook a lot of the mush and nonsense that surrounds him. Cooper is well supported by a fine cast, but he's the one that keeps us engaged.