Pre-Code Crazy: Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)

The opening scene of Mary Stevens, M.D., my pre-Code pick of the month, offers a perfect illustration of the bad-ass pre-Code dame.

As the film begins, an ambulance is called to a tenement apartment on a crowded, bustling street. A frantic resident (Harold Huber) stands at the top of the stairs, urging the doctor to hurry. He quickly learns, though, that the man he assumes is the doctor is actually the ambulance driver and that the real doctor is none other than a woman. Or, as he puts it with over-the-top dramatics, “You’re the doctor!? I need a man doctor! Please go home – my wife, she’s very sick, she’s going to die! I got to have a man doctor!” (I forgot to mention that Harold Huber’s character is Italian and sounds

Meet Dr. Stevens.

like a cross between Father Guido Sarducci and Roseanne Roseannadanna.)

The husband – Tony is his name, according to the opening credits – continues to insist that his wife’s death is imminent, and finally reveals that she’s having a baby. The doctor scoffs: “Is that all?” Momentarily floored by the doctor’s nonchalance, Tony recovers enough to grab a nearby machete (seriously), brandishing it in the doctor’s face and warning that he will kill her if his child dies. Again, the doctor is unfazed – I mean, she literally does not flinch, wince, or even blink an eye. This sister is all business. “All right, all right,” she says as she pushes Tony out of the bedroom. “Now put that knife away before you hurt yourself.”

A short time later, the doctor emerges from the bedroom with not one, but two healthy, crying babies. Tony takes one look at his twins and faints dead away. “He would!” the doctor remarks.

The salad days.

The doctor in question is none other than the title physician, Mary Stevens, played by one of my favorite pre-Code actresses, Kay Francis. Stevens is a pediatrician with a wise-cracking nurse named Glenda Carroll (played by Glenda Farrell), and shares her offices with her childhood and med school chum, Don Stevens (Lyle Talbot), who doesn’t quite share her professional dedication. We soon see that Mary’s in love with Don, but he’s more interested in getting ahead by pursuing Lois Rising (Thelma Todd), the daughter of a local politician. Before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” Lois is Don’s bride and Don is the new head of the city compensation bureau (“Well, some people work for a career and some people marry one,” Mary caustically remarks).

Don’s not exactly steady as a rock.

It doesn’t take long for Mary to realize that Don has become seduced by his newfound position, neglecting his medical duties and spending more time in the bottle than he does with his patients. “You never used to drink until sundown,” Mary admonishes him on one occasion, to which Don quips, “It’s a cloudy day!” His drinking problem becomes undeniably apparent when Don tries to operate on a patient after an afternoon of boozing and Mary has to take over.

Afterward, Mary lets Don have it, right between the eyes: “You’re at the head of the most important medical department in this country, even if it is run by a lot of dirty politicians! You were getting somewhere, and here you are, tossing it all away. I’m disgusted with you!” We are, too.  But that’s just the first 20 minutes of the movie! There’s a whole lot more drama and pathos to come, including coincidental couplings, marital infidelity, political scandals, out-of-wedlock babies, and unspeakable tragedies. Tune in to TCM on May 25th and find out what else Mary Stevens, M.D. has in store.

Glenda as Glenda.

And in the meantime, here’s a little more stuff:

Glenda Farrell, who could always be counted on as a sassy sidekick in her films, didn’t disappointment here. In one memorable scene, she shows that she doesn’t bite her tongue even when it comes to youngsters. After tussling with an especially smart-alecky young patient, she first tells him if he breaks one more thing, “I’ll give you a high temperature, just below your Mason-Dixon line!” And a few minutes later, she tells the Dr. Stevens, “I’d like to take out his adenoids – with a lawn mower!”

One of the screenwriters on Mary Stevens also wrote the script for this lost gem.

Keep your eyes peeled for a brief appearance by actress Theresa Harris. She appeared in close to 100 films during her career, with more than 30 of them filmed during the pre-Code era. Her best role was as Chico, Barbara Stanwyck’s bosom pal, in Baby Face (1933).

The film’s screenplay was co-written by Rian James and Robert Lloyd – that same year, James co-wrote the screenplay for 42nd Street and Lloyd’s other 1933 credits included Frisco Jenny, Heroes for Sale, and the famed lost pre-Code Convention City, starring Joan Blondell.

Don’t forget, Mary Stevens, M.D. airs on TCM on May 25th. Do yourself a favor and check it out. It’s a pre-Code goodie!

And be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to read about the pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending this month!

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~ by shadowsandsatin on May 8, 2018.

10 Responses to “Pre-Code Crazy: Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)”

  1. I love this one too! Fun how it’s the man who marries ‘up’ and into position, the expected gender roles are wonderfully reversed here. Glenda’s character is great (and basically has her real name, easy to remember). Yes the streak continues, amazingly!

  2. OMG this movie sounds awesome! Thanks for giving us the heads up about it showing on May 25th. I’m really looking forward to it.

  3. One of my favorites, because it is such a positive role of a woman physician. I love her scene at the end when she saves the choaking child.

  4. Hahaha… I love your pun “glenda as glenda”. Great post.

  5. I’m a bit lukewarm towards Kay Francis, but if Glenda Farrell is in this, I’m in too!

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