Robert Donat seems to me to be severely underrated these days. He’s best known for The 39 Steps and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, for which he won an Oscar. Quite an accomplishment in the year of Clark Gable and Gone With the Wind, which swept nearly everything else. I never saw him in anything where he was less than excellent. But he died all too young, age 53, of a chronic asthma attack.
Ironically, here he plays a young doctor getting his start in a Welsh mining town, and he is seeing a lot of lung problems, a lot of what might be Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. (Okay, most people just call it silicosis these days, but I couldn’t resist the chance to use that word in a sentence.) He gains confidence in his abilities, marries Rosalind Russell (and what is this American doing there? It’s never explained), and they get some lab equipment and guinea pigs and start experimenting.
Heaven help us! You’d think it was Dr. and Mrs. Frankenstein! The villagers are happy in their ignorance, and so is the medical establishment. Their lab is destroyed and they are more or less run out of town. He sets up a practice in London, but he’s getting nowhere. Then he meets dashing, persuasive old classmate Rex Harrison, and soon is lured into the business of making pots of pounds by treating wealthy old hypochondriacs who can certainly spare the money, but still, where did your idealism go? He learns to pad the bills, and work with doctors he knows are incompetents.
And he loves it! He buys her furs, buys himself fast cars, forgets the people who helped him on the way up. Then he gets a shock that sets him back on the right path.
In the course of the movie his old friend, reformed drunk Ralph Richardson, proposes that he come in on some new idea that’s being pioneered in America. Small regional clinics with all the best equipment and the best specialists, and patrons would be charged a set monthly fee, just enough for the doctors to make a decent living, and that payment would cover you for EVERYTHING. Basically a medical collective. Probably socialism. What Obamacare might have been without all the compromises. How did we go so wrong since 1938, and Britain get it so right? Insurance companies, that’s how. And I don’t think we will ever get their filthy buzzard claws out of our body politic.