Sunday, July 1, 2018

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JULY ON TCM


A pioneer is one who goes before to prepare the way for others.

Emily Dunning, who lived in New York at the turn of the century, was a pioneer.

This is her story.

Emily Dunning
1901 Graduation

Miss Dunning began her medical career in 1901 after graduating from the Cornell University School of Medicine. Despite placing tops in her class, and in the qualifying examination, Dr. Dunning's application to intern at Gouverneur Hospital in New York City was denied. The following year, with some string pulling from influential friends, she was accepted.


Emily Dunning Barringer's memoir Bowery to Bellevue published by Norton in 1950 tells of the obstacles faced by the first woman post-graduate surgical resident in a hospital. The roadblocks, prejudices, and harassment experienced by Dr. Dunning as detailed in her book were the basis for MGMs 1952 release The Girl in White.

The screenplay was written by Irma von Cube and Allen Vincent, Oscar nominees for Johnny Belinda, and Philip Stevenson, Oscar-nominated for Story of G.I. Joe. The director was John Sturges, renowned for his adventure films today, but at this point in his career at MGM, he worked on a variety of stories, from children's fare to crime dramas to this subtle drama.

June Allyson

June Allyson stars as Emily Dunning in an assured performance. She is strong and feisty without becoming precious. She is compassionate and caring without becoming sentimental. Director Sturges and cinematographer Paul Vogel don't overdo it yet make lovely use of June's expressive eyes.

Emily is confident in her knowledge and her abilities. She went into this career fully aware of the hindrances faced by women in the medical profession as she had a mentor in Dr. Marie Yoemans played beautifully by Mildred Dunnock. Dr. Yoemans had written textbooks used by medical teachers, but was constantly denied a hospital position.

Emily also faces romantic difficulties. You will note the last name of Barringer, and when you watch the movie you will see her fellow medical student and beau, despite his love, having to learn to accept a woman with a career. Arthur Kennedy plays Ben Barringer with an outer fire and an inner irony that makes him particularly appealing. 

The head of the hospital is played by Gary Merrill and his character is virulently opposed to female doctors. Before Emily even begins her first day a petition has been circulated to have her removed. Marilyn Erskine plays a delightful nurse the same age as Dr. Dunning, and before long Emily has all the nurses on her side. Her first male champion is an ambulance driver played by Jesse White.

The story of The Girl in White is an interesting one for its humanity and historical perspective. The movie doesn't rush its telling, neither does it dawdle. Our interest in Emily Dunning and her groundbreaking career is genuinely sustained.

James Arness, June Allyson

Although not named onscreen, on the credits a baby-faced James Arness is called "Matt". He is one of Emily's first ambulance cases, and the whole incident is adorable. 

Many thanks to Laura's Miscellaneous Musings for putting this movie on my radar a few years ago. Eventually (last fall) I caught the film on TCM, and now they are giving us another viewing opportunity. Laura's review is HERE.

Emily Dunning Barringer
1876-1961

TCM's primetime lineup on Friday, July 13th presents "Women in Medicine". First up is June Allyson in The Girl in White, the only biographical picture of the evening. The other movie doctors are Barbara Stanwyck in You Belong to Me, Greer Garson in Strange Lady in Town, and Kay Francis as Dr. Monica.










13 comments:

  1. Thanks for the recommendation--this way, I can plan to on watching THE GIRL IN WHITE. I'm a June Allyson fan and can see her excelling as a "strong and feisty" character. I also enjoyed learning about the real Emily Barringer and seeing what she looked like.

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    1. It was the history that first captured my attention and I found it a very worthy movie that, surprisingly, lingered in my memory.

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  2. Paddy Lee, this is the type of biographical movie that MGM excelled at and Dr. Emily Dunning's story was so worth telling. June Allyson was such a very good actress and did a wonderful portrayal. I liked your description of her performance so very much that I want to repeat it, "She is strong and feisty without becoming precious. She is compassionate and caring without becoming sentimental." Very fine, indeed.

    I hope your readers give THE GIRL IN WHITE a view, because it is worth watching and learning about a pioneer.

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    1. I'm certain that your glowing recommendation will give the added push to put The Girl in White on the watch list of anyone who reads this post. Thank you so much. It is an excellent movie but it seems to have slipped through the cracks.

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  3. I will now. Thanks for this wonderful recommendatioon. #TrailBlazingWomen

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    1. Yes. More of her/our stories need to be told. Today we take female medical professionals for granted and I, for one, appreciate them.

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  4. I'll bet June Allyson is a perfect choice for this role. Dr Dunning sounds like she truly deserved her own Hollywood film.

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    1. Junie is terrific. Warner Bros. probably would have provided a more gritty setting than MGM, but the character of Emily Dunning and the prejudice she had to overcome truly comes across. I'm a fan and I'm hoping others will take to this movie.

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  5. I saw that picture with James Arness and did a double take. I thought it was Joseph Cotten!

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    1. Ha! Wish I could've seen that double-take. Arness is just the cutest thing in this movie. Only one of many memorable scenes.

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  6. Just a note to say how glad I am you saw and enjoyed this, and to thank you for sharing the link! Very much enjoyed revisiting the movie via your fine review. This is a film which deserves to find a wider audience.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    1. Thanks so much, Laura. Time has shown that I can trust your taste implicitly and this movie is a great example.

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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