Monday, April 16, 2018

Bing Crosby Tends to Dr. Cook's Garden

Bing Crosby as Dr. Leonard Cook.
Leonard Cook is a kindly small-town physician who has delivered most of the residents of Greenfield. Approaching age 70, he still makes house calls, works long hours, and is always willing to help raise funds for the community. There's just one problem: Dr. Cook may be a murderer.

Made in 1971, Dr. Cook's Garden stars Bing Crosby in his final leading role. Sporting gray hair and a beard, Crosby delivers a nuanced performance that's different from anything else he's done.

Even though the film's premise is established in its opening scenes, the actor's sincerity keeps one guessing about whether Dr. Cook could be killing selected patients. His best scene has the good doctor offering plausible, though far-fetched, explanations about why he stores so much poison and places the letter "R" on certain patients' cards ("R means rest or repeat," he insists, when asks if it means "remove").

Frank Converse and Blythe Danner.
Frank Converse co-stars as Jim Tennyson, a young medical intern who returns to Greenfield after a five-year absence. Jim, who lost his parents as a boy, views Leonard Cook as a surrogate father. But the loving reunion starts to slowly sour when Jim notices all the "nice people seem to live to a ripe old age and the mean ones seem to die off." There almost seems to be a correlation with Dr. Cook's garden in which certain plants are removed to provide a healthier environment for the rest. Could that be what Leonard Cook is doing in Greenfield?

Burl Ives and Keir Dullea.
The teleplay for Dr. Cook's Garden was based on a Broadway play of the same title by Ira Levin. The stage version ran for just eight performances in 1967. It starred Burl Ives as Dr. Cook (I imagine he was excellent) and Keir Dullea as Jim. Ira Levin is probably best known for his novels Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, with the latter's idyllic town somewhat reminiscent of Greenfield.

Dr. Cook's Garden appeared on ABC's Movie of the Week during what I consider to be the Golden Age of made-for-TV films. It's a clever, well-acted movie, but don't take my word for it. In Stephen King's Danse Macabre, his 1981 analysis of horror in literature, film, and television, the famed author wrote about Ira Levin's works: "Less known is a modest but chillingly effective made-for-TV movie called Dr. Cook's Garden, starring Bing Crosby in a wonderfully adroit performance."

Well said, Steve.


  1. I remember it well. Chilling and moving performance/movie. A Golden Age for the TV movie indeed.

  2. Frank Converse: Coronet Blue!

  3. This is a really good one, one of many from 1970-1972 that deserves a wider audience.

    1. I keep hoping for a MOVIE OF THE WEEK boxed set, so I guess film rights will keep that from ever happening.

  4. I've said for years it was Bing's best performance as an actor!