One of Paddy Chayefsky's finest Oscar-winning screenwriting efforts comes to life in The Hospital, which also features impressive performances by George C. Scott and Diana Rigg with intimate direction by Arthur Hiller. Twilight Time delivers a terrific Blu-ray with a strong video presentation and a solid audio track to match. Sadly bonus features are a bit on the light side, but considering the film and the quality of the A/V presentation, it's an easy one to call Recommended.
"Is this your way of saying you'd like me to stay in town a few more days?"
"That'd be nice too."
Leave it to Paddy Chayefsky to deliver one hell of an honest-yet-quirky look at the human condition. From his breakout Oscar-winning screenplay for Marty to his seminal masterpiece Network, Chayefsky is arguably one of the finest American screenwriters, novelists, and playwrights of the 20th century. Dramatically resonant material with unique yet relatable characters were his specialties. Through humor, Chayefsky could find natural human drama like no other. With that aspect in mind, it should be no wonder that his writing efforts for 1971's The Hospital directed by Arthur Hiller and starring George C. Scott and Diana Rigg would earn him his second Oscar win. Only Chayefsky could find the humor about a sad and suicidal doctor facing the decline of his hospital while trying to solve a string of accidental deaths.
Doctor Herbert Bock (George C. Scott) has seen better days. He's middle-aged. His wife just divorced him. He lives in a hotel where he drinks himself to sleep. His two children are screwups beyond redemption. He's an overworked doctor at a city hospital that's one malpractice lawsuit away from closing. His staff is nothing short of incompetent or are so completely apathetic about their work they don't care when things go wrong - it's just business as usual. Until members of his staff start dying. One after another, various staff turn up dead without any explanation. Everything changes for Herbert the day Barbara Drummond (Diana Rigg) comes into the hospital seeking to remove her comatose father (Barnard Hughes) and reinvigorates his sense of purpose.
When you step back and take a look at Paddy Chayefsky's works, most if not all are rather bleak and sad on the surface. He explores everyday scenarios with an honest eye for characters to make them believable and relatable. But at the same time he has a unique way of making certain plot aspects fanciful and out of the ordinary and still finds a way to make everything come together in a way that works. In the case of The Hospital, it's difficult to talk about this because it's a bit of a spoiler, but you'll understand what I'm talking about when you see it. It's a plot device that if any other writer tried to tackle it, it would have been a complete and total bust. But with Chayefsky behind the typewriter, it's actually poignant and meaningful - and usually a bit funny.
One of the signature aspects of a Chayefsky story is the downtrodden man. A man who has lived a number of years and is sad and depressed and resigned to the fact that his life probably won't be getting better - even though he hopes and wishes that it would. George C. Scott is that man as Herbert Bock and he fits the role like it was molded for him specifically. When in a drunken stupor and he's at his most honest telling Diana Rigg's Barbara about his life and how he believes he has nothing left, you see it and believe that Scott is Bock in these sad and searing moments. Then after a night of passion and honest human connection, you're elated at his rejuvenation and you have a deep hope that this thin connection between two people will hold together. It's the exact same feeling you got when Ernest Borgnine meets Betsy Blair in Marty.
Director Arthur Hiller is on solid ground with this little drama comedy. Approaching The Hospital with the same whirligig flair he'd later bring to The In-Laws, Hiller masterfully manages a number of plot threads, themes, and characters without getting things tangled or confused. At first, the story starts like a knotted up ball of yarn and throughout the course of the story everything untangles seamlessly as we get to see characters meet, fall in love, a hospital besieged by social change, and the identity of a murderer all unfold. It's a lot to juggle. At times watching this I wasn't sure how it could all come together but there's a magic point where it all starts to make sense and you stop needing to try to figure it out. A great director can make a great script come to life and the pairing of Hiller and Chayefsky made for cinematic gold.
If you've yet to come across this little gem, be sure to make time on your busy viewing schedule for The Hospital. It's an impressive film that's smartly directed featuring terrific performances for its lead actors, and sports one of the finest screenplays committed to celluloid. Chayefsky earned his Oscar win with this film and in all honesty Hiller, Rigg, and Scott all equally deserved nominations - if not outright wins. I'd seen parts of this film in a screenwriting class as Chayefsky was a prominent subject, but the professor was far more interested in discussing Marty than digging into the intricacies of this film. I'm glad I finally got to see The Hospital in earnest as this one has quickly become a newfound favorite in my ever-expanding collection.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Hospital arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time and is limited to a run of 3,000 units. Pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy clear Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing stills from the film as well as a terrific essay from Julie Kirgo. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
The Hospital makes its Blu-ray debut with a strong 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Made in 1971, the image exudes all of the trappings of a late 60s early 70s film with lots of brown/tan clothes and drab color schemes. So at first glance, it may not be a real looker of films, but the image has a lot to offer. Film grain is present without ever being noisy or intrusive. Detail levels are strong and sharp allowing you to see and appreciate fine facial features, clothing details, as well as the intricate production design that went into making the hospital set look like a scene of total and complete chaos. Colors are vivid without appearing oversaturated and do feature some strong primary pop when and where appropriate - given the drab setting there's really not a lot of opportunities save for clothing or the film's few outdoor sequences. Black levels are nice and inky through most of the film. There's a midpoint scene where Scott and Rigg are talking in his hotel room where blacks are bit hazier brown, but nothing too terrible to knock the image score for. The print sourced for this transfer is in fine shape with only very slight speckling of note.
The Hospital features a strong DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono mix. Dialogue is clean and clear as the film features numerous chaotic exchanges with crowds of people talking over each other. One-on-one dialogue exchanges have a nice natural quality them. Through it all, the dialogue is never an issue and always easy to hear. Sound effects can sound a bit canned and stilted at times because of the chaotic hospital setting, but there is a rich sense of atmosphere to the mix even if it's relegated to a single channel. Scoring by Morris Surdin is clean without overpowering the rest of the mix. Levels are spot on without any need to make adjustments. Free of any age-related anomalies, this is a solid audio track that works well for the film.
Unfortunately, there really isn't a bonus feature package to speak of for The Hospital. As it sports and Oscar-winning screenplay, a nice Chayefsky retrospective would have been cool or even a Nick Redman fronted commentary track would have been nice.
Isolated Score and Effects Track While I thought Morris Surdin's score was a nice complement to this film, it's not one that I felt needs it's own isolated track like this. It's better suited for the film itself and not separated.
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:46)
The Hospital is a fine piece of filmmaking. Featuring a terrific cast with George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, and numerous others, the film is expertly directed by Arthur Hiller and is bolstered by an Oscar-winning screenplay by the legendary Paddy Chayefsky. It's a dark comedy with a lot of heart. At first, you may feel hard pressed to find the humor in what's going on, but by the film's end, you'll have had more than a few good chuckles and perhaps even shed a tear or two. Twilight Time brings The Hospital to Blu-ray in fine order with a strong A/V presentation. Sadly bonus features are a nonstarter for this release. Recommended.