At the opening, Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum, one of my favorite actors) is an idealistic intern at a private hospital. Luke has dreamed of being a doctor since childhood, though he comes from very humble roots (his mother is dead and his father is a drunkard). His best friend is Alfred Boone (Frank Sinatra in a fine supporting role), the jovial son of a comfortable family who loves chasing women. Al comments to a classmate that though they all want to be doctors, Luke “wants it more- he has to.” Luke works as a lab researcher, usually late into the night.
While working, Luke strikes up a friendship with a Swedish-American nurse from Minnesota, Kristen (Olivia de Havilland). She even arranges it so that he and Al can watch an important surgery. When Luke’s father spends the money his mother saved for his education, he’s desperate (though he conceals it well). He gets some help from Al and his teacher, Dr. Aarons (Broderick Crawford), but it’s not enough. Dr. Aarons, who is Jewish, went through a lot of trouble to become a doctor, and sees great potential in Luke.
When Kris invites Luke and Al to dine with her friends Bruni and Oley (Harry Morgan from M.A.S.H.), Luke learns that Kris has saved quite a bit of money. It’s obvious that Kris likes Luke more than a friend, so he asks her out. (After all, she’s a fine nurse with a “pretty face” and “nice figure.”) After a few dates, he decides to propose, though Al reminds him that he doesn’t love her. They nearly come to blows (Luke has a hot temper). “It’s not like that. Things are not always black and white,” Luke replies.
They marry and move into her little apartment. They continue with their respective work; Kris helps Luke prepare for his exams and with his people skills. (Since he has such high standards, it’s difficult for him to tolerate weakness in others.)
Dr. Aarons: Marsh, you’re one of the most brilliant students we’ve ever had here. You’ll be a great physician. Stop living your life like a Greek tragedy, or you’ll muff it!
After graduation, the couple move to a small town, where Luke shares a practice with Dr. Runkleman (Charles Bickford), the most experienced doctor in the area. Dr. Marsh is pleasantly surprised to learn that the older man keeps up with the latest research. The life of a country doctor is tougher and more tiring than anticipated.
There is also temptation- a wealthy young widow, Mrs. Lange (Gloria Grahame), summons Dr. Marsh to her home late one night (to check him out). He’s taken aback by her looks and boldness. At home, Kris wants to start a family.
The secret of Robert Mitchum’s success(ful) appeal as an actor was his ability to easily combine tough masculinity and tender vulnerability in one persona, unlike any of his contemporaries ( John Wayne, William Holden, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston). One felt that Mitchum concentrated more on fully and honestly showing all sides of whatever character that he was playing, even the weak and not-so-tough moments…
–A commentor on YouTube
This film is a must-see for any fan of cinema! It has well-developed characters, great dialogue, and takes the viewer on a journey. The editing and pacing are also well done; this is important since the film clocks in at 2 hours and 15 minutes. (The director is a groundbreaker in the field, Stanley Kramer; he also directed Inherit the Wind, The Defiant Ones, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and many others.) The ending is fitting and very fulfilling- I got a bit teary-eyed.