The Hospital

When Paddy Chayefsky was thinking about writing a movie about a news television network, he asked his friend, news anchor John Chancellor, if it was possible for an anchorman to go crazy on the air.

“Every day,” Chancellor replied.

The resulting film, Network, is one of those films that seems with hindsight to be less farce than prognostication. You know, like Idiocracy. Well, my DOD was reminded by the news of actor Diana Rigg’s death of Chayefsky’s previous effort, The Hospital. This we watched today in our ongoing Pandemic Theater series. It’s a bit more awkward a film and did receive mixed reviews in 1971, but it did win the Oscar for best original screenplay.

As Roger Ebert pointed out the film’s most confounding aspect is that it turns on a dime from farce to whodunnit. But watching this does make it difficult to argue with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin that Chayefsky was “the twentieth century’s most important screenwriter.” The studio was not altogether happy with the film’s yen for algebraic dialogue, but it’s the lines that compelled me as a viewer.

Well. That and the oddball premise that someone is lurking around a hospital murdering doctors and nurses.

So, good pick. Once again, it was better than Birdman.

One should note: It’s also fun to watch for seeing who is in this little film, starting with Nancy Marchand, who played mother of both Tony Soprano and Frasier Crane. This is not the first time Marchand had appeared in a Chayefsky project, she also played Clara in Marty. Other faces that struck me: Katherine Helmond, Stockard Channing (an uncredited brief appearance), and Frances Sternhagen (another Cheers connection, she played Cliff Claven’s mother). Apparently Christopher Guest is also somewhere in this movie as well.

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