Hospital, The (1971): Chayefsky’s Oscar-Winning Film, Starring George C. Scott and Diana Rigg

“The Hospital,” arguably the only good film that director Arthur Hiller had made, is a darkly humorous satire, centering on Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott, well cast), a bitter, suicidal surgeon in a New York hospital.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

The Hospital
Hospital cover.JPG


Paddy Chayefsky’s screenplay captures the chaos of everyday life in an urban hospital.  Patients at the hospital die, often due to carelessness, ineptness, and malpractice of the staff.

In a subplot, Bogg, a lonely man, falls for Barbara Drummond (British actress Diana Rigg), the daughter of a patient (played by the Broadway actor Barnard Hughes).

Meanwhile, a crazy, mysterious killer is stalking the hospital, killing staff members.

The secondary cast includes Nancy Marchand as the head nurse, Andrew Duncan, Stephen Elliott, and Tessa Hughes.

Fresh off of his Best Actor Oscar for Patton, George C. Scott plays Dr. Bock, the Chief of Medicine of a “typical” New York hospital,  whose life, both professional and domestic, is in a complete disarray: he has left his wife, his children don’t talk to him, and his once-beloved teaching hospital is falling apart, literally and figuratively.

The hospital is dealing with the sudden deaths of two doctors and a nurse, which some attribute to coincidence, while other reason they are the unavoidable failures to provide accurate treatment.

At the same time, administrators must deal with a protest against the hospital’s annexation of an adjacent and decrepit apartment building. The annexation is to be used for a drug rehabilitation center; the building’s current occupants demand that the hospital find them replacement housing before the building is demolished, despite the building being condemned.

Dr. Bock admits to impotence and has thoughts of suicide, but falls in love with Barbara Drummond (British actress Diana Rigg), a patient’s daughter who came with her father from Mexico for his treatment. This temporarily gives Dr. Bock something to live for, after Barbara challenges and engages with him.

Soon, the the deaths seem to have been initiated by Barbara’s father, a retribution for the “inhumanity” of modern medical treatment. Drummond’s victims would have been saved if they had received prompt, appropriate treatment, but they did not.

Dr. Bock and Barbara then use a final, accidental death of a doctor at the hospital to cover up Drummond’s misdeeds.

When Barbara makes plans to fly with her father back to Mexico, Dr. Bock intends to go with them, but at the last minute, his conscience bothers him.  Motivated by a deeper sense of obligation and commitment, he decides to staying behind at the hospital in order to prevent it from descending into total chaos and destruction.

In addition to Chayefsky’s Oscar, “The Hospital” garnered a Best Actor nomination for Scott, who had won the Oscar the year before for “Patton.”

Chayefsky’s acclaimed scenario (also winning the Writers Guild and the Golden Globe Awards) may be too theatrical for the big screen.  The actors, especially Scott and Rigg in the film’s second half, are given lengthy speeches and monologues to deliver, which border on hysteria and madness.  Scott’s Dr, Brock exclaims at one point, “We cure nothing! We heal nothing!

The satire’s pacing is also uneven: in the first reel, it’s impressively fast, with the camera moving swiftly from one character to another, and from one room to the corridors and back, reflecting the continuous chaos that prevails in a “typical” day at a “typical” urban hospital.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Original Screenplay: Paddy Chayefsky

Actor: George C. Scott

Oscar Awards: 1

Original Screenplay

Oscar Context

The winner of the Best Actor Oscar was Gene Hackman for “The French Connection,” which also won Best Picture and Best Director.

Rating: PG.


Directed by Arthur Hiller
Produced by Howard Gottfried
Written by Paddy Chayefsky
Narrated by Paddy Chayefsky
Music by Morris Surdin
Cinematography Victor J. Kemper
Edited by Eric Albertson
Distributed by United Artists

Release date: December 14, 1971

Running time: 103 minutes
Box office $14,142,409; $9,042,000 (rentals)

DVD: September 16, 2003



George C. Scott as Dr. Herbert “Herb” Bock
Diana Rigg as Miss Barbara Drummond
Robert Walden as Dr. Brubaker
Barnard Hughes as Edmund Drummond (credited) and Dr. Mallory (uncredited)
Richard A. Dysart as Dr. Welbeck
Stephen Elliott as Dr. John Sundstrom
Andrew Duncan as William “Willie” Mead
Donald Harron as Milton Mead
Nancy Marchand as Mrs. Christie, Head of Nurses
Jordan Charney as Hitchcock, Hospital Administration
Roberts Blossom as Guernsey
Lenny Baker as Dr. Howard Schaefer
Richard Hamilton as Dr. Ronald Casey
Arthur Junaluska as Mr. Blacktree
Kate Harrington as Nurse Dunne
Katherine Helmond as Mrs. Marilyn Mead
David Hooks as Dr. Joe Einhorn
Frances Sternhagen as Mrs. Sally Cushing

Critical Status:

In 1995, The Hospital was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry as being deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.