Not as a Stranger (1955): Stanley Kramer’s Medical Melodrama, Starring Robert Mitchum, Olivia De Havilland, Frank Sinatra

Directed by Stanley Kramer, Not as a Stranger is a medical melodrama, adapted from the best-selling novel by Morton Thompson, starring Robert Mitchum and Olivia de Havilland.

Cast against type and older for his role, Robert Mitchum plays an ambitious medical student named Lucas Marsh.  To that extent, he marries the older not especially attractive Kristina Hedvigson (Olivia de Havilland) so that she can pay for his tuition.

Kristina loves Lucas, but he is devoted to his work. Emotionally shutting himself off from everyone, including best friend, Alfred Boone (Frank Sinatra), and drunken father, Job Marsh (Lon Chaney Jr.), Lucas goes to work as the assistant to a tough small-town doctor, Runkleman (Charles Bickford).

He also begins an affair with the wealthy Harriet Lang (Gloria Grahame). Lucas claims he needs no one, because he perceives himself as the perfect physician.

When Lucas fails to revive his mentor Dr. Runkleman during heart surgery, he realizes that he’s not infallible after all. He returns to his wife, sobbing “Help me! Please help me!”

The secondary cast includes Broderick Crawford as a Jewish doctor denied entry into medicine’s upper circles, Carl Switzer as a patient, and Lee Marvin.

The film was a huge commercial hit: Made on a budget of $1.5 million, it earned over $6 million at the box-office (1955’s eighth top grosser).


Detailed Plot

Mitchum plays Lucas Marsh, a brilliant medical student, aspiring to be doctor since childhood, whose mother is dead and father is an alcoholic who has squandered the family’s money.

In order to get the needed tuition money, Lucas marries a rich, older nurse, Kristina “Kris” Hedvigson (de Havilland). Although Kris loves Lucas and helps him, he is indifferent towards her and feels superior. Lucas often clashes with other doctors he considers incompetent, including best friend Alfred Boone (Frank Sinatra).

Kris, Alfred, and Lucas’ mentor Dr. Aarons (Broderick Crawford) try to humanize him and teach him that all doctors are bound to make mistakes. Lucas looks down on doctors who want to make money, and after his internship, he begins working with Dr. Dave Runkleman (Charles Bickford) in his practice in rural Greenville, where many patients are poor.  Overworked and frustrated with the incompetent head of the local hospital, Lucas has an affair with rich widow Harriet Lang (Gloria Grahame, motivating the pregnant Kris to leave him. When Runkleman’s heart condition flares up, Lucas performs heart surgery to save his life, but makes a mistake during the surgery and Runkleman dies. Struggling to cope with his failure, Lucas begs Kris to help him, and they reconcile.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Sound Recording: Watson Jones.

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner was Fred Hynes for the musical Oklahoma!

Running time: 135 minutes.

Released: June 28, 1955