Thursday, February 13, 2014

Doctor in the House: Reviews of All Seven Films

Richard Gordon's semi-autobiographical Doctor novels provided the basis for this seven film series that started with 1954's Doctor in the House. The films were immensely popular in Great Britain and spawned several TV series, the best-known being the 1969-70 Doctor in the House (with some episodes written by Monty Python members John Cleese and Graham Chapman). All seven films were produced by Betty E. Box and directed by Ralph Thomas. Dirk Bogarde starred in four of them, while James Robertson Justice appeared in every film. Below are capsule reviews of each movie:

Simon (Dirk Bogarde) goes on a date.
Doctor in the House (1954) - This introductory film focuses on the exploits of four medical students at St. Swithin's Hospital in London. Amid the pursuit of nurses and various pranks, they spend a little time actually studying medicine. The most promising of the four is Simon Sparrow (Bogarde), who becomes romantically involved with a young nurse (Muriel Pavlow). The bane of each student at St. Swithin's is Sir Lancelot Spratt (Justice) the loud, quick-tempered--but very respected--chief of surgery. With Kenneth More also getting significant screen time, Doctor in the House is an ensemble piece composed of short episodes. While there are some amusing scenes, others fall flat and the end result is a mixed bag. Still, it's obvious that Bogarde is a star in the making.

Bardot and Bogarde.
Doctor at Sea (1955) - To avoid the amorous advances of his landlord's daughter, Simon Sparrow (Bogarde) signs onto a cargo ship as its medical officer. He fits right in with the other officers, who are all highly interested in the opposite sex--except for the gruff Captain Hogg (James Robertson Justice). Hogg is a nautical version of Sir Lancelot and that's not a bad thing, especially since it provides Justice with a larger role. The amusing voyage gets better when the ship takes aboard two passengers played by Brenda de Banzie (Hobson's Choice) and Brigitte Bardot. The former is a perfect foil for Justice while the latter--who has never looked lovelier--pairs up nice with Bogarde. It's one of the best films in the series.

Shirley Eaton and Bogarde.
Doctor at Large (1957) - The third film ignores Doctor at Sea, serving as a direct sequel to Doctor in the House. In addition to Bogarde and Justice, Muriel Pavlow and Donald Sinden reprise their roles from the first film (Shirley Eaton also returns from the first film, but in a different role). When Simon is passed over for a surgeon position at St. Swithin's, he expands his experience by taking jobs with a country doctor, a physician who specializes in wealthy clientele, and a penny-pinching doctor with an unchaste wife. This entry starts slowly, but builds to a pleasant conclusion that implies a happily-ever-after for Simon. My only complaint is that Sir Lancelot is limited to a few brief appearances.

Leslie Phillips and Michael Craig.
Doctor in Love (1960) - The first entry without Dirk Bogarde introduces Leslie Phillips as Dr. Tony Burke and Michael Craig as Dr. Richard Hare (as in Burke and Hare, the murderers who provided corpses to an Edinburgh physician). Tony flirts with practically every female in sight while Richard moons over a nurse who apparently jilted him for another guy. His mood picks up considerably, though, when he meets an attractive female physician. Meanwhile, Sir Lancelot barks at everyone in sight--except his wife. In the film's funniest scene, he walks into a strip club thinking it's a medical conference. Doctor in Love is a modestly amusing outing, but Bogarde is missed and there's still not enough of Lancelot Spratt.

James Robertson Justice as Sir
Lancelot Spratt.
Doctor in Distress (1963) - The best of the Doctor movies finds both Simon and Sir Lancelot coping with love troubles. Simon gets involved with a model (Samantha Eggar) who wants to become a film star. Meanwhile, Sir Lancelot, after claiming himself immune to the opposite sex, falls for a physical therapist while recovering from a slipped disk. Much of the humor is derived from Sir Lancelot's attempts to: lose weight; ensure that his beloved isn't seeing another man; and propose marriage. James Robertson Justice has his most screen time to date and that's a very good thing. One minor distraction is that this entry ignores events from the previous films. For example, Spratt was married in Doctor in Love and Simon had proposed marriage to Joy in Doctor at Large. Also, sadly, this was the last of Dirk Bogarde's appearances in the series.

Justice makes this entry watchable.
Doctor in Clover (aka Carnaby, M.D.) (1966) - Leslie Phillips returns to the series as a different character--in name only, since his chief activity is still ogling the female hospital staff. Sir Lancelot picks up Gaston Grimsdyke (Phillips) after the latter departs from his job as a prison physician. It's never clear why Sir Lancelot wants the unimpressive Grimsdyke working at St. Swithin's. The plot (which is even more episodic than usual) focuses principally on Grimsdyke's efforts to look and act younger to woo a pretty physical therapist. Phillips is a talented comedian and Justice's Dr. Spratt is always a joy. However, Dirk Bogarde is sorely missed in this weak outing. There's no one to ground the comedic antics, so Doctor in Clover evolves quickly to a broad, mildly amusing farce.

Leslie Phillips and friend.
Doctor in Trouble (1970) - The final film in the series has Leslie Phillips (as Tony Burke this time) sneaking aboard an ocean liner to propose to his would-be girlfriend. Naturally, the ship leaves port with Tony aboard and much of the film's hijinks revolve around him trying to avoid being caught as a stowaway. James Robertson Justice has a brief cameo in one of the opening scenes. Tony's adversary is played by Robert Morley as the ship's captain--who happens to be Sir Lancelot's brother. The comedy is a little cruder this time out (though tame by today's standards). Despite some laughs, it's the weakest of the Doctor entries. Still, it's fun to spot some familiar faces in the supporting cast, such as: Monty Python member Graham Chapman as a gay fashion photographer; Yutte Stensgaard (Hammer's Lust for a Vampire) as one of the models; and Pink Panther series semi-regular Graham Stark as a steward (reminding me very much of Peter Sellers).


  1. Excellent run down of the features and the perfect guide for a newbie. The winning formula is simple - just give us more James Robertson Justice.

    Yours truly,
    Mrs. Rivington Lomax

    1. That was a great name. Donald Sinden was quite fun as Tony Benskin in both of his appearances. It would have been nice to catch up with his character later in the series.

  2. This is a nice, light-hearted British series. I really like the scene stealing James Robertson Justice but think Dirk Bogarde added a lot to the films he was in as well. I'm glad you posted on this series because so many people aren't familiar with it. Well done!

    1. Toto, until viewing the whole series again recently, I had forgotten how much Dirk Bogarde added to his films. He grounds them with a fresh charisma that's a perfect counterpoint to JRJ's blustery Spratt/Hogg.

  3. Wow! I had absolutely NO IDEA these films (or TV series) even existed! They sound like a lot of fun.