Rachel Roberts, Janice Rule, Cara Williams, Marian McCargo and Dyan Cannon want a second opinion on the state of their marriages in "Doctors' Wives" (1971).
Think it's easy being the wife of a rich, socially prominent doctor?
Think again, movie lovers.
Those rich, socially prominent doctors spend so much time being rich, socially prominent doctors they have no time for their wives, who married them because they were rich, socially prominent doctors.
So what do the wives of rich, socially prominent doctors do?
They hit the bottle, take drugs, make half-hearted suicide attempts, sleep around and play cards at their snooty country club.
The prim doctor's wife Elaine (Marian McCargo) wears a constant expression of suffering. Perhaps her pantyhose are too tight?
At least that's according to 1971's "Doctors' Wives", a cheesy, sleazy (but rather breezy) combination of "Peyton Place", "A Letter to Three Wives", "General Hospital", Valley of the Dolls and Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.
When the staff at the elite, state-of-the-art, cutting edge hospital/teaching college known as the Weston Clinic aren't performing life saving operations or discovering new miracle drugs, they're acting like a pride of lions in heat (FYI: lions can mate up to 100 times a day according to the Insider Monkey website). Even super star doctor Pete Brennen (Richard Crenna) declares, "I don't like to talk about (sex). I like to do it!"
"God, I feel horny," sighs Lorrie Dellman (Dyan Cannon) during one of the doctors' wives' regular card parties. "I mean it! I'd really like to make it, right now, this minute!"
Then the former Mrs. Cary Grant inquires, "Would any of you like to slip out to the parking lot for a while?"
The surprised recipients of Lorrie's request are doctors' wives Maggie (Cara Williams), a high school drop-out who drinks like a fish and is divorced from urologist Carroll O'Connor; tense Brit Della (Rachel Roberts) who seems unusually obsessed with golf; Amy (Janice Rule) who complains endlessly about her "migraines" and the prim, pained Elaine (Margo McCargo), married to George Gaynes, who's as frigid as the North Pole.
Doctor's wife Lorrie Dellman (Dyan Cannon): The last honest tramp?
When Lorrie has no takers, she complains that her gal pals are suffering from "sexual malnutrition." Her solution? Lorrie will sleep with each of their husbands, diagnose "what they're doing wrong in bed" and then prescribe "a treatment."
"Darlings, I'm not bluffing!" she exclaims. "In fact, I've covered 50% of the territory already!"
If the Dyan Cannon character sounds like fun, that's because she is. Lorrie is that classic Junk Cinema archetype, the unapologetic tramp (or as Maggie explains, "She's just an honest tramp"). Although she's married to world renown brain surgeon Mort (John Colicos), he alone can't even begin to meet her "needs". That's why Lorrie is always on the look out for nooky opportunities.
"Some people are stage struck," Lorrie says. "Some people are clothes struck. I'm sex struck."
She's got plenty of company. Take, for example, randy intern Mike (Anthony Costello). Not only is he hitting on ditzy med student Sybil (Kristina Holland), he's also scored with the prim Elaine. Unfortunately, that close encounter wasn't as satisfying as he hoped.
Randy intern Mike (Anthony Costello) gives ex-cuddlemate Elaine a negative performance review.
"I don't mean to be insulting, babe," Mike drawls. "But I've had more action in a rocking chair."
Meanwhile, charity volunteer Amy, married to Dr. Brennen (Crenna), suffers from "migraines" that apparently lead to long sexual droughts in their union. That changes when Amy starts shooting morphine. Not only does the crippling pain go away, but the morphine causes her to act like a hose monkey on Ecstasy.
That's clear when Dr. B arrives home from work and is greeted by his wife in hilariously ugly Pop-Art PJs. Slinking up to hubby, Amy pants, "How long has it been, Pete?"
The stunned Pete replies, "I didn't mark it in my calendar."
Then Amy starts rolling around on the floor and wonders, "Why do people stop doin' it?" Soon after, she suggests to Peter they make whoopski on the floor, instead of in bed.
Amy (Janice Rule) wants to play doctor with her husband. Dig those far out jammies!
"People do," Rule says. "In paperbacks, anyway."
Her delighted hubby quickly assents.
"Doctors' Wives" really gets cookin', however, when gun shots suddenly ring out. Cut to Mort Dellman (Lorrie's better half and renown brain surgeon) coolly informing the police he's just killed his wife--although the fellow caught in the sack with her might still be alive.
Who could that unfortunate man be? Remembering Lorrie's plans to bed their husbands, the horrified wives rush to the Weston Clinic. One by one, the gals are relieved when their husbands are A-OK--except for the prim, pained Elaine. It was her husband Paul caught in the act with Lorrie when the bullets started flying. And Elaine's not the only one shocked: after Paul's been admitted to the hospital, randy intern Mike takes one look at the patient and exclaims, "I just scored with that man's wife and at the same time he's ballin' the hottest thing in town!"
It really is a small world, isn't it?
The doctors' wives interrupt their regularly scheduled drinking for an important news bulletin.
Now, for a normal movie, these assorted dramatic conniptions would be more than enough plot points to ponder. However, "Doctors' Wives" isn't a normal movie. So, while Dr. Paul clings to life, subplots start to sprout up like mushrooms after a rain shower.
Remember Pete, the doctor with the morphine addicted wife? Well, it turns out he's having an affair with head surgical nurse Helen (Diana Sands). She's a widowed ma with an adorable little boy. Helen's getting tired of waiting for Pete to leave Amy, so when Crenna admits he's having sex with his spouse, she flips out. "You're just not with it!" Helen rages. "I don't appreciate you sleeping with your wife!" Finally coming to her senses, Helen breaks things off. "I want to get married again...to somebody who isn't already married," she explains wearily.
Further down the cast list, golfer Della has been stewing...about something...and she's taking it out on her hip, jargon-spouting husband, Gene Hackman. When he suggests they have another child ("Every marriage needs a psychic energizer", he points out), Della goes ballistic. Shrieking in 1970's American slang that "the scene's passin' me by, man! I can feel myself getting older!", she says more people need to be shot like Lorrie. When Hackman insists his wife tell him what's upsetting her, Roberts drops this bombshell: she and Lorrie had an affair! It happened when the sex-struck Cannon helped get a cinder out of Della's eye. It was also "a hot day" and she wasn't wearing a bra. After his wife confesses all, it's Hackman's turn to go nuts, which he does, smacking Della repeatedly with a rolled up newspaper. She then collapses in hubby's arms, sobbing. Can this marriage be saved?
Helen and Pete, meanwhile, are drawn back together when her adorable son is found to have a rare brain aneurysm. The tyke needs surgery right away, but there's only one doctor qualified to do it: Mort. Unfortunately, he's been arrested for murder. He's also blackmailing the hospital for big bucks to fund his getaway (he plans to relocate to Beirut) or he'll spill the beans about all the hanky-panky going on at the elite Weston Clinic.
"You know, your problem Pete is your an ethical man," Mort says. "Therefore, you assume the next fellow is. But I'm not."
Dr. Mort Dellman (John Colicos): Brain surgeon, murderer, blackmailer, SOB and comb-over expert.
Pete is so disgusted he seethes, "Mort, you're a brilliant surgeon. You're also a son-of-a-bitch."
Unfazed, Mort announces he wants $100,000 to finance his new life ($100,000 dollars in 1971 is worth $742, 814.81 in 2023 values, in case your interested) or he goes to the press.
Seething even more, Pete declares, "You're not a son-of-a-bitch, Mort. You're a loathsome son-of-a-bitch"--and stalks off.
Have I forgotten anything? How about med student Sybil tape recording all her sexual encounters? Or Lorrie's irate father (Ralph Meeker) cutting Mort out of his will? Or the elaborate switcheroo where meanie Dr. Mort tries to give the police the slip after performing brain surgery on Helen's adorable son---only to discover he can't find his car keys? D'Oh!
"Doctors' Wives" is based on the novel written by Frank G. Slaughter in 1967. It's directed by George Schaefer ("the winner of 13 Emmy Awards" according to IMDb)) from a script by Slaughter and Daniel Taradash. Despite the histrionics of the cast, (more about that later), the script is the real star of the show. It presents an endless stream of outlandish, faux-hip, trite howlers that will stick in your brain forever, taking up space that could've been used for more pertinent information, like your WiFi password or your blood type. Some of my favorites are:
"Testing! 1-2-3! This is a recording!": Ditzy intern Sybil (Kristina Holland) prepares to add another tape to her collection.
*Randy intern Mike taunting the prim, pained Elaine: "You're failure to fertilize has got to be strictly psychological. Enter Big Daddy. Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm flattered, 'cause I got the feeling I'm the first."
*Randy intern Mike explaining why he and Elaine should have more sex: "All I'm prescribing is a booster; you can't be sure with just one injection!"
*When the deeply offended Elaine calls randy intern Mike "the most vulgar young man" she's ever met, he replies, "Well, Elaine, it's the vulgarity in you old people that brings out the vulgarity in us young people!" (And don't trust anyone over 30, too!)
*Here's the late, lamented Lorrie explaining her philosophy of life: "An orgasm a day keeps the head shrink away!"
*Tense Brit Della on Lorrie: "She's not the major league slut she seems; she's more dangerous than that." Husband Gene Hackman's response? "That's what I call 'nailing down a point.'" For extra measure, Della also calls Lorrie "an over-sexed kook" (but in this movie, who isn't?!).
"Hey, baldy! Down in front! You're blocking my view!": Carroll O'Connor struggles to get a good view of the Weston Clinic's latest blockbuster surgery.
*When boozy Maggie believes it's her husband that's been shot, she races to the hospital to give blood exclaiming, "We're both group A-B! That's hard to find!" When O'Connor chides her for thinking he'd sleep with Lorrie, Maggie fumes, "Next time, get your own blood!"
*After ditzy Sybil explains that her "whole slew" of taped interviews with unwed mothers were the basis of her graduation thesis in sociology, she announces, "Professor Reed gave me an A double plus". Pause. "And then I taped Professor Reed!"
* Della orders her husband to send their son some money at camp because "he hates the food" and "he's living on candy bars". When hubby Hackman seems miffed, Della snaps back, "Well, it's better than pot!"
When you have dialog like that, performers can't help but go over the top--and the cast of "Doctors' Wives" does not disappoint. In fact, with all the eye-rolling, teeth-gritting, chin-jutting theatrics on display, you begin to wonder if the Weston Clinic should rename itself the Royal Hospital for Over-Acting (after the Monty Python sketch).
John Colicos, for instance, appears to be channeling the ghost of George Sanders from "Rebecca" (1940), complaining about how tacky the D.A.'s office is ("If I were the D.A., I'd hire a decorator"), insulting the staff ("I wouldn't say the art of the interrogation was his bag") and bragging about his many interests ("I'm an authority on first editions, I published a book on West Indian cooking..."). For the brief time Dyan Cannon's on screen, she acts like a participant in a hormone experiment. "I want to know about the length of (your hubby's member)!" she asks one of her friends. When lush Maggie counsels Lorrie, "Keep your body stocking on, baby, until you and Mort get home", Cannon blathers, "This is Wednesday! Mort thinks God gave it to men only for Saturday night!"
Doctor Pete (Richard Crenna) discusses his marital problems with mistress Helen (Diana Sands).
Randy intern Mike, meanwhile, spends so much time playing doctor with the ladies, his buddy Lew is worried he's suffering from satyriasis (what they called sex addiction before they came up with the term sex addiction).
"Man, don't you ever get enough?" Lew asks.
"Enough?" Mike replies. "What's that?"
"Like, how many yesterday?" Lew inquires.
Randy intern Mike thinks for a moment. "Uh...four."
Med students Sybil and Mike also play doctor.
"You're sick!" Lew announces. "It's a sickness--it really is!"
"Let's hope it's incurable," smirks randy intern Mike.
"Doctors' Wives" ends, as all over-wrought soap operas do, with meanie Mort carted away by the police. Shaking his head, D.A. Richard Anderson (from "The Six Million Dollar Man") says, "I always believed doctors were special. A breed of their own."
"No," Richard Crenna replies. "No, we're not. We're just like lawyers."
What does that mean?
"Doctors' Wives" proves doctors (and lawyers) aren't purrfect.
The filmmakers don't tell us. They also don't tell us if lush Maggie follows up on her promise to join AA or if Elaine has sought treatment to deal with her frigidity or if Peter has confronted Amy about her morphine addiction or if Della has left her husband since admitting her affair with the late Lorrie or if randy intern Mike has decided to reduce his screwing schedule. Is that because the producers were hoping the world would be clamoring for "Doctors' Wives 2"? Or because they didn't know how to end this over-flowing, fetid stew of medicine, murder and mendacity?
I think it's a little bit of both. Of course, you don't have to take my word for it; you can get a second opinion (rim shot).
And so movie lovers, please always remember, and never forget, bad doctors and bad movies can both make you sick, but only bad movies about bad doctors aren't fatal.
Thank you! Goodnight! I'll be here all week!
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