Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Instant Queue: The Hospital

While insanely striving to write the rough draft of a commissioned script in a week, I found myself drawing inspiration from 1971's "The Hospital" -- an extremely black comedy by the Academy-Award winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky.  Over his career, Chayefsky won three Oscars for screenwriting.  Other writers accomplished the same feat, but only Chayefsky won all of those awards as a solo writer.

Early in his career, Chayefsky strived for working class realism in his dialogue, as exemplified by his Oscar-winning script for "Marty."  However, by the 1970's Chavefsky hit his stride capturing the articulate musings of disillusioned elites like George C. Scott's character Dr. Herbert Bach.  Bach is the chief of staff of a large New York hospital who finds his life in shambles.  His marriage is ending.  He despises his children.  He suffers from impotency.  The only thing that gives his life meaning is his work, and now the hospital itself seems to be sinking into a sea of incompetent insanity.

George S. Scott is magnificent as Bach.  His riveting performance here rivals his performance as Patton.  Each of his monologues is a set-piece.  I have always said that the key to successful screenwriting is providing dialogue that actors want to deliver.  These are speeches actors would kill for.  One of my problems with Hollywood films today is that they rarely feature highly-intelligent characters speaking articulately about their situations.  What we have today is mainly the grunts of superheroes.  (They are easier to translate for the all-important foreign markets.)

Chayefsky lavished equal care on the smaller roles.  I have included a few segments of the film below.  I think the conversation between the nurses after the first dead doctor is discovered is a small gem.  That conversation would be cut out today simply to keep the film moving.  A pity.

The clips are definitely worth watching.  The second clip ends with Scott's Bach talking to a psychaiatrist.  It is one of the best monologues I have seen and it is played to perfection by Scott.

That said, ultimately, I don't think the film works as a whole.  To me, it goes off the rails once Bach becomes involved with the much-younger, and weirder, Barbara Drummond, played by Diana Rigg, who was most famous for playing Emma Peel in "The Avengers."  Perhaps it is my own fault.  Perhaps I am asking too much from a film which, at heart, is essentially a farce.  Still, I think the first act of the film is absolutely magnificent.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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