Captain Newman, M.D. (1963): David Miller’s Serio Comedy, Starring Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson, and Bobby Darin in his Oscar Nominated Role

Bobby Darin, better known as a singer (“Mack the Knife”), was Oscar nominated for playing a shell-shocked G.I. in this serio comedy, directed by David Miller and starring Gregory Peck as an army psychiatric.
 
The excellent cast includes Tony Curtis, Eddie Albert, James Gregory, Angie Dickinson, Jane Withers, and Robert Duvall in his second film role (after auspicious debut in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the year before).
 
Co-produced by Peck’s company, the film is based on the 1961 novel by Leo Rosten, loosely based on the WWII experiences of Rosten’s friend Ralph Greenson, M.D., while Greenson was captain in the Army Medical Corps supporting the U.S. Army Air Forces and stationed at Yuma Army Airfield in Yuma, Arizona.

Greenson is well known for his work on “empathy” and was one of the first in his field to seriously associate posttraumatic stress disorder (years before that terminology was developed) with wartime experiences. He was a director of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute and was a practicing Freudian. Greenson is perhaps best known for his patients, who included Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis and Vivien Leigh.

Major filming took place at the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca complex in southern Arizona, with the co-located Libby Army Airfield used to portray the fictional Colfax Army Air Field.

The story was used as a 1972 television pilot of the same title produced by Danny Thomas Productions starring Jim Hutton in the title role and Joan Van Ark as Lt Corum.

In 1944, Captain Josiah Newman is head of the neuro-psychiatric Ward 7 at the Colfax Army Air Field (AAF) military hospital, in the Arizona desert. He explains to a visiting VIP: “We’re short of beds, doctors, orderlies, nurses, everything … except patients.”

He uses unconventional tactics to treat his patients and to recruit much needed personnel, as when he hijacks a new and very reluctant orderly, Corporal Jackson Leibowitz, a wheeler-dealer from New Jersey. Leibowitz promptly has the entire ward participating in a sing-along of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

Newman takes great pains to court nurse Lieutenant Francie Corum on what she thinks is a date… until he asks her to transfer to Ward 7. Their ‘date/fight’ is cut short by a phone call: Colonel Bliss has forced his way into Ward 7 looking for Dr. Newman with a 6-inch knife, because Newman blocked his return to active duty after witnessing Bliss’ erratic behavior. After watching Newman’s handling of this situation and other patients on the ward, Corum transfers in.

Newman treats shell-shocked, schizophrenic and catatonic patients, facing an especial challenge from the traumatized Corporal Jim Tompkins, an Eighth Air Force air gunner whose mind has been shattered by his war experiences. He is bedeviled by Colfax AAF’s “old-school” base commander, Colonel Pyser, who ultimately saddles him with a complement of injured Italian POWs because his is the only secure ward in the hospital.

A flock of straying sheep (kept for the medical lab) find their way to the airfield, and some feuding orderlies keeps life interesting up to Christmas 1944.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Supporting Actor: Bobby Darin
Screenplay (Adapted): Richard Breen, Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron
Sound: Waldon O. Watson (Universal Sound department)
 
Oscar Awards: None
 
Oscar Context:
 
The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was Melvyn Douglas for “Hud,” starring Paul Newman.
 
The winner of the Adapted Screenplay Oscar was playwright John Osborn for “Tom Jones,” which won Best Picture, Director and other major awards.
 
The Sound Oscar went to the anthology “How the West Was Won,” which was also nominated for Best Picture.

Cast
Gregory Peck as Capt. Newman, M.D., MC, USAR
Tony Curtis as Cpl. Jackson Leibowitz, USAAF, de facto boss of the orderlies
Angie Dickinson as 1st Lt. Francie Corum, NC, USAR
Eddie Albert as Col. Norval Bliss, USAAF
Bobby Darin as Cpl. Jim Tompkins, USAAF
Robert Duvall as Capt. Winston
Bethel Leslie as Helene Winston
James Gregory as Col. Pyser, USAAF
Dick Sargent as Lt. Alderson
Larry Storch as Cpl. Gavoni
Jane Withers as 1st Lt. Blodgett
Vito Scotti as Maj. Alfredo Fortuno, Italian POW Senior Officer
Gregory Walcott as Capt. Howard

Recycling:

An unsuccessful attempt was made to turn the film into a TV sitcom by Thomas-Crenna Productions, the company of Danny Thomas and Richard Crenna. A pilot written by Frank Tarlof aired on August 19, 1972.  In the TV pilot, Jim Hutton was cast as Captain Newman, Joan Van Ark as Lt Francie Corwin, and Bill Fiore as Captain Norval Bliss.

Note:

TCM showed the movie on July 13, 2020.