Girl in White, The (1952): John Sturges’ Melodramatic (and Feminist) Biopic, Starring June Allyson as Pioneering Surgeon

Made at the height of June Allyson’s popularity as a popular star, The Girl in White is a melodramatic biopic, loosely based on the memoirs of the pioneering female surgeon Emily Dunning Barringer.

John Sturges, better known for his male-driven actioners and adventures, directs smoothly and functionally this lightly feminist yarn, though the focus is on the storytelling rather than personal style or vision, which are manifest in his more fully realized films.

When the story begins, her pregnant mother is in labor and in need of a doctor, but young Emily Dunning is new to the neighborhood and knows no one. When someone suggests a Dr. Yeomans (Mildred Dunnock), she is shocked to discover the doctor is a woman.

It is the turn of the century in New York and times are changing, but women are still not welcome in the male dominated field of medicine. Thus, Emily is so impressed by Yeomans that she decides to enroll in Cornell’s med school.

Fellow student Ben Barringer is one of the few who encourage Emily, and they also fall in love. Ben plans to continue his education at Harvard, but upsets Emily by asking her to abandon her studies and accompany him.

Emily instead moves to New York, where she and Dr. Yeomans share an apartment. Hospitals deny her an internship until a reluctant (and sexist) Dr. Seth Pawling (Gary Merrill) is persuaded to accept her, although he confines her to ambulance duty.

Ben, it turns out, has become an intern at the same hospital.  Turning point occurs when a patient is pronounced dead prematurely by a Dr. Graham, but is resuscitated by Emily. A nurse informs the press of Emily’s heroic act, irritating Graham but impressing Pawling, who recognizes Emily’s committed determination and rofessional skills.

When a typhoid epidemic breaks out, Dr. Yeomans is asked to help. She earns the respect of the hospital’s men, but soon after dies of weak heart.

Ben leaves to Paris for work, and Emily, trying to have some personal life, promises that their careers will not keep them apart.

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