Citadel, The (1938): King Vidor’s Version of Cronin’s Novel, Starring Robert Donat in Oscar Nominated Performance, with Rosalind Russell and Ralph Richardson

This screen adaptation of A. J. Cronin’s best-selling, semi-autobiographical novel represents MGM’s classy productions at their best and most literal. The film is full of speeches about idealism, professionalism, and disillusionment, which are made more tolerable by the smooth and grounded direction of King Vidor,

Produced by Victor Saville, The Citadel was one of MGM’s prestige British productions, just like A Yank at Oxford, which had successfully preceded it.

As Andrew Manson, the dedicated doctor who goes from treating poor Welch miners to rich London patients, Robert Donat gives a dignified, Oscar-nominated performance. He captures vividly the figure of a doctor, who begins as a dedicated professional motivated by lofty goals of treating the poor who live in the slums of a mining town to a spoiled and privileged one who take care of the rich and famous in London.

In due time, he forgets his early ideals and is reproached by his wife, who reminds him why he became a doctor in the first place, and the efforts of a close friend, Denny (Ralph Richardson), to raise and “correct” his conscience and consciousness.

Donat is surrounded by an excellent ensemble that includes the vet stage actors Ralph Richardson and Emlyn Williams (a playwright who also contributed uncredited to the script), as well as the young Rosalind Russell, as his devoted and idealistic wife, and Rex Harrison, as another doctor.

Robert Donat had appeared in “The Private Life of Henry VIII,” which boasted Charles Laughton’s Oscar-winning turn, and then in the adventure “The Count of Monet Cristo,” both of which were commercially popular. “The Citadel” was shot on location, in England, where Donat lived and performed at the time, before returning to Hollywood for “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” the following year, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar.

Russell was mostly known then for playing supporting roles in dramatic features, but her screen image and career would change in the following two years as a major comedic actress in such hits as Cukor’s all-star cast The Women and Hawks’ His Girl Friday.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture, produced by Victor Saville.
Director: King Vidor
Actor: Robert Donat
Screenplay: Ian Dalrymple, Elizabeth Hill, and Frank Wead.

Oscar Context

“The Citadel” competed for the Best Picture with nine other films: Frank Capra’s “You Can’t Take It Away,” which won, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Boys Town,” “Four Daughters,” “La Grande Illusion” (“Grand Illusion,” by Renoir, the first foreign-language film in this category), “Jezebel,” “Pygmalion,” and “Test Pilot.”

The two studios that had the largest number of nominated films were MGM and Warner, each with three.

The most nominated film was Columbia’s “You Can’t Take It Away from Me,” surprisingly a comedy, with 7 nods, winning 3.

Co-screenwriter Ian Dalrymple won the Screenplay Oscar that year for another honorable adaptation, George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.

Spencer Tracy won a second consecutive Best Actor for “Boys Town,” thus becoming the Oscar-winner to achieve that, following Luise Rainer, who won the Best Actress in 1936 and 1937.

Frank Capra became the first filmmaker to win three Director Oscars in a very short period of time (1934, 1936, 1938).  Vidor would be nominated again, but would never win a legit directing Oscar; in compensation, the Academy bestowed on him an Honorary Oscar.

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