Hospital, The (1971)

The Hospital (1971), directed by Arthur Hiller.

A very dark comedy and showpiece for George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. As is often the case in 1970s cinema, the vast hospital must have a real, undressed look, but the story is in a satirical universe, grasping at social commentary. The critique never quite lands; we are dealing with characters we care about, not causes.

Scott is a burned out senior physician, separated from his family, smoking and drinking, subject to rages and thinking of suicide. Three things bring him back: (1) Rigg as a free-spirit hippy chick who likes older men, (2) a murder mystery in a long string of "accidental" hospital deaths, and (3) the needs of the hospital: frustrating and dysfunctional as the place may be, he can't abandon it.

The clever bit is that the murders are arranged so that the chaotic, callous hospital does them just in the course of normal operations: it kills people all the time anyway.

In a "reverse fiasco" our leads use that same chaos to recover and get Rigg's father out and away at the end.

The message, such as it is, is counter-revolutionary. The neighborhood activists protesting hospital expansion are lampooned as emotional showboaters. When told "Ok, you run this place", that is obviously not going to happen. In the end the old white men are left to return and make the system work as best they can.

Many familiar faces, but I want to point out Roberts Blossom as the first patient to die, which triggers the string of murders. He would later have scary old man roles in Christine (1983) and Home Alone (1990).

Written by Paddy Chayefsky.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time.