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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

Doctor Bull

1933 | United States | 77 min | More...
A still from Doctor Bull (1933)
  • Watched on C-: 3 stars (out of 5)
    on Wed Jun 29, 2022 via Criterion Channel

    The first of three collaborations between star Will Rogers and director John Ford. Rogers plays a country doctor battling small-town prejudice while romancing a wealthy widow.

    It’s a curious, dark story. Rogers trudges from one emergency to the next, receiving little gratitude, and incurring scandal when he allows himself the small pleasure of a local widow’s company.

    Rogers convinces as a small-town doctor struggling to manage his workload, the changing times, and his own limitations. It’s a darker, crankier role than Rogers’s usual fare and he shines. His usual humor is there, but one senses it’s serving as a defense mechanism. According to Ford, Rogers improvised most of his dialogue1, making his performance even more impressive.

    I loved the small town New England atmosphere. The sets and costumes convince, and the film proffers an impartial view into a world where everyone knows everyone’s business. A world driving distance from metropolises like Boston and New York City, yet so removed. I also appreciated the colorful supporting cast highlighted by Andy Devine as a hypochondriac soda jerk, with—maybe—two appendices.

    But the story doesn’t satisfy. It raises interesting issues like industrial exploitation and vaccination mandates, and hints at others, like abortion rights, only to drop them all for an improbable pat ending. Disappointing, as it robs Rogers’s performance of its gravitas.


    1. Peter Bogdanovich. John Ford (University of California Press, 1967), 57.