The Girl In White (1952)

John Sturges moves out of his normally macho territory to handle unusual material for the time; the tale of Emily Dunning, played by June Allyson, the first female doctor to work on the staff of a New York hospital, in the Roaring ‘90s. A moderately interesting and entertaining film, with unique detail in portraying its era, both social and medical, from Dunning rushing to the rescue in horse-drawn ambulance, setting a dislocated arm (that of James Arness, no less), and reviving a chloral hydrate poisoning victim. The familiar pattern of patronisation, ostracising, and barrier-breaking ensues, but maintained at a fair, wit-laden pace, refusing to succumb to a tone that would be inevitable if this film were made today, of pompous nostalgic nobility. Allyson’s gosh-darn-it persona is far too lightweight for her character, but she gets good support from Arthur Kennedy as her med school beau and Gary Merrill as her boss at the hospital, both of whom have to be coaxed out of institutional misogyny, but who are really swell guys. Mildred Dunnock makes a mark as Dunning’s mentor, a gifted mind who never managed to break the glass ceiling. Most impressively, and perhaps why it had so little reputation from its time, is that it refuses to overplay scenes like Allyson’s acceptance by Merrill as a good doctor or Dunnock’s death from a heart attack: surely Dunning would have appreciated a film that, like her, had no time for showing off.

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