“The Doctor Takes a Wife,” released in 1940, was the first of three movies Loretta Young made at Columbia Pictures.
Young had made more than 60 films by this point. When 20th Century studios formed in the early 1930s – which soon became 20th Century Fox – Young was signed by studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and became one of his top female stars. Unfortunately, she had been unhappy at 20th Century Fox, and her animosity toward Zanuck was growing. When her contract came up for renewal after she finished “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell,” she refused to sign another one and became a freelance artist. Although she made “Eternally Yours” with independent producer Walter Wanger, no offers were coming her way.
Her agent, Myron Selznick, confirmed that the major studios were steering clear of her in a gentleman’s agreement with Zanuck, whom they did not want to cross. According to the book “King Cohn,” Selznick told Young the only major studio head willing to go against the others was Harry Cohn if he felt he was getting a bargain. Young said to negotiate a deal because she wanted to work, and a deal for half of her asking price was made.
“The Doctor Takes a Wife” is a romantic comedy, and Young plays June Cameron, the headstrong, independent-thinking author of the best-selling “Spinsters Ain’t Spinach.” When she needs to return to New York from a vacation in New England, June cannot find transportation and instead talks her way into a ride from a medical school instructor named Timothy Sterling (Ray Milland). During a stop on their journey, a “just married” sign is mistakenly affixed to the back of their car, leading to immediate gossip that the proud single author and champion of the single girl had secretly wed.
When the press finds out, June’s publisher, John Pierce (Reginald Gardiner), encourages her to confirm the marriage and write a book on marriage. Meanwhile, Timothy discovers that his so-called marriage is leading to a promotion. When John proposes they live together while the book is written and then get a divorce after its publication, the two agree, and Timothy moves in with June.
Young initially seems miscast. With the film made at Columbia, the role feels ideal for another of the studio’s top actresses, Jean Arthur. And the first 15 minutes or so, Young seems shrill as June continually asserts her superiority over Timothy. Arthur would not have made June so insufferable.
However, as the movie progresses, Young tones down the harsher edges of June and finds the character’s appeal. Ultimately, Young is appealing in the role and you understand the attraction between June and Timothy. It helps that the brisk pacing, fun situations and a strong cast add to the fun.
Milland is a fine comic leading man, and here he’s clearly enjoying himself, especially in a fine scene where he manages to host a party at his and June’s apartment while climbing out the window to the apartment next door to make dinner for his fiancé Marilyn (Gail Patrick), who thinks she’s at his residence.
Director Alexander Hall keeps the story moving. He would actually helm all three of Young’s films with Columbia.
After a bumpy start, “The Doctor Takes a Wife” is a fun romp. It misses greatness, but it is likable and fun, with several laugh-out-loud moments.
Next up for Young at Columbia was “He Stayed for Breakfast,” which I cannot find to watch, unfortunately. Her third film was “Bedtime Story,” which I will review next.