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The Doctor's Dilemma (1958)
Warning: The full synopsis contains "spoilers" which describe key plot points. If you don't want to know the plot and outcome of this film then please don't read any further.

Nucirorm Sac or Haircut?

Doctor's Dilemma Newspaper Headline

The film begins on Harley Street, the home of the English medical profession. Sir Patrick Cullen wanders down the street on his way to visit Sir Colenso Ridgeon (who has just been knighted for his consumption "cure") and contemplates each of the doctors surgeries as he passes, making rather disparaging remarks about the effectiveness of each doctor/surgeons treatments and corresponding fees. He encounters Cutler Walpole (Alastair) entering his surgery and comments upon his discovery - the removal of the nuciform sac for 500 guineas - as a remedy for all illnesses as being no more effective than a hair cut (see Memorable Quotes 1 ). Although Alastair is delightful in his role as Cutler Walpole I am sure he would have also reveled in the role of the world-weary yet wise Sir Patrick (beautifully acted by Felix Aylmer).

Ducky Diamond

Jennifer Dubedat in Studio

On arrival at his house/surgery, Sir Patrick congratulates Colenso but is somewhat skeptical of the claim that he knows how to cure consumption because people still seem to be dying from it (see Memorable Quotes 2 ). The housekeeper, Emmy, is also rather disparaging about the standing of the newly knighted Ridgeon and treats him as her little "Ducky Diamond" who needs to eat his breakfast (he's a growing boy after all) and keep his hands clean to entertain visitors (see Memorable Quotes 4 )

The camera then cuts to the beautiful Jennifer Dubedat who is reading the newspaper article relating to Ridgeon's knighthood for curing consumption, whilst posing as a model for her husband's painting. The arrival of the butcher demanding payment of unpaid bills quickly discloses the precarious financial position of the Dubedats.

The Monomaniacs Gather

Alastair as Cutler Walpole

Ridgeon confides to Sir Patrick that he is currently experiencing strange symptoms - such as scraps of tunes going through his head which he finds quite pretty even though they are merely quite commonplace. Sir Patrick tells him that he is not going to die but may be about to make a fool of himself. It would seem Ridgeon is in the mood for love but has not yet alighted upon the appropriate object for his affections. At this precise moment his housekeeper announces the arrival of Jennifer Dubedat. Alastair now makes his appearance as the somewhat irrepressible Cutler Walpole who has come to congratulate his colleague on his award. Walpole informs him that he deserves the award if only to reflect that his personal qualities have been "officially recognised" even though his "discovery" is simply nonsense.

Ridgeon also tells Walpole that he is feeling a little under the weather. Walpole immediately diagnoses blood poisoning and identifies the source of this malaise as Ridgeon's nuciform sac being full of decaying matter. We see as we are. None of the doctors seem able to look beyond their own specialty. Walpole wants to remove Ridgeon's nuciform sac and believes that everyone should have this organ removed. When challenged by the wise Sir Patrick whether he has had his own nuciform sac removed he states that he is one of the fortunate 5% of people born without one. Sir Ralph Bloomfield-Bonnington then arrives to congratulate Ridgeon. There is a great friendship and good-natured rivalry between all of the doctors. The rather poor and undistinguished (compared to the rest of the knighted company) Doctor Blenkinsop also arrives by bicycle to offer his congratulations. Blenkinsop was once a student colleague of these great men but has been sucked-in to the rather unglamorous bedside practice of a general practitioner and no longer moves in the same circles. It also turns out that Blenkinsop is ill. Sir Ralph Bloomfield-Bonnington then announces his cure-all as nature itself in the form of the "white corpuscles" - the fagocites as he calls them. "Stimulate the fagocites" is Sir Ralph's cry. Walpole and Bloomfield-Bonnington lock horns intellectually and Bloomfield-Bonnington announces that Walpole lacks intellect and is merely a "manual" surgeon (see Memorable Quotes 3 ).

The Beautiful and the Good
Leslie Caron Doctor's Dilemma Lobby Card

As Ridgeon's guests depart he finally grants an audience to Mrs. Dubedat. For Ridgeon, it is quite obviously love at first site. He has now found an object for those strange bachelor symptoms he has been experiencing. Ridgeon informs Mrs. Dubedat that he can on no account take on any more than his current overwhelming case load of ten patients; he uses the analogy of a life raft from which he will be forced to evict one of his existing patients if he is to take on board another survivor. She informs him, however, that her husband (who has consumption of the left lung) is like no other case in the world; for Louis Dubedat is an artistic genius. Mrs. Dubedat, in desperation, shows Ridgeon her husband's work and he is awestruck: "This is the real thing". (It would seem that in times-gone-bye, that the upper strata of society consisted of renaissance men who could move in the world of science as well as being endowed with a superb aesthetic sensibility!). He wishes to buy one of Dubedat's paintings of Jennifer but is immediately offered all the works in the portfolio if he will only take up the case. But he is, in effect, being asked to kill another man in order to save her husband. He invites her and Louis Dubedat to a dinner he is holding with some friends and eminent colleagues as an opportunity to convince him that her husband's life is worth more than another man's.

Bohemian or Scoundrel

As Mrs. Dubedat returns we see Louis Dubedat in the process of pawning the gown that both he and his wife profess to love. Louis Dubedat is wonderfully acted by Dirk Bogarde as a charming yet amoral "scoundrel". The role is played so well that we are continually torn between despising and admiring the aspiring artist.

Minnie Reveals Her SecretWe next see all of the characters that met within the first scene at Harley Street re-appear for the special dinner at the Star & Garter where they meet Louis Dubedat for the first time. They are all easily charmed by his Bohemian character and Ridgeon agrees to take on his case. Sir Patrick is more cautious in his judgment of Dubedat's character. When asked what could possibly be wrong with him, he prophetically replies that they need to observe Dubedat's behavior in relation to women and money (see Memorable Quotes 5 ). Almost immediately, Walpole interjects that he was actually impressed as to how nice Dubedat was in accepting Walpole's loan of 20.00 (a considerable sum at the time the play was written). Sir Ralph then declares that Dubedat had only just borrowed 10.00 from him. They are also somewhat deluded in their belief that Mrs. Dubedat has taken a fancy to both of them. However, worst of all, it seems that Dubedat has conned Doctor Blenkinsop out of his last half-a-crown (to tip the cloakroom). Blenkinsop does not even have the money to get home. To round the evening off, the maid (Minnie) asks the doctors if they could give her Dubedat's address as it seems that she is his wife. It would appear he married her, led a dissolute life for three weeks spending her savings, and then abandoned her.

The Doctor's Dilemma
Doctor's Dillema Poster

Blenkinsop now reveals that he too has consumption of the right lung but does not have the means to seek treatment or recuperative rest. However, to avoid an embarrassing scene he quickly moves the conversation on; it is now we discover that Dubedat has also walked off with Walpole's gold cigarette case. On leaving the dinner party Sir Patrick asks Ridgeon the key question - is he to save a good, useful man or an amoral genius (see Memorable Quotes 6 ). Ridgeon also confides to Sir Patrick the added complication of the fact that if he lets Dubedat die he will go on to marry his widow. He is at his limit. He might squeeze in one more case but not two. To Sir Patrick it is a plain choice between a man and a lot of pictures.

The Devil's Studio

Dubedat's StudioSir Ridgeon arrives at Dubedat's studio the following day. He is plainly upset by Dubedat's unscrupulous behavior but Dubedat seems blissfully unaware of this and continues to try to obtain a further loan, get Ridgeon to give him a portrait commission or, send his friends to him to commission work. He even suggests that Ridgeon should blackmail some of his clients in to sitting for Dubedat portraits. Ridgeon is enraged but luckily the remaining doctors arrive as part of Dubedat's consultation. Dubedat arranges his guests in the studio as if they were sitting for a portrait. Ridgeon forces Dubedat to repay his debt to Blenkinsop of a half-crown. But Dubedat borrows the money from Walpole to give to Ridgeon. When approached about Minnie, his wife, he insinuates that he is not a bigamist because he is not married to Jennifer. The doctors are scandalised. He then insinuates that they are actually married and that the doctors should be ashamed of thinking ill of Jennifer. He justifies his treatment of Minnie by saying she has had three glorious weeks to brighten up her life plus she will have a page in his biography. Dubedat's speech in this studio is dazzling and questions both the doctors' and our morality. They know they cannot inform the police without destroying Jennifer's life. Sir Patrick and Ridgeon are so outraged they refuse to treat Dubedat but Walpole is still willing to take him on. Walpole, unsurprisingly, diagnoses blood poisoning due to the nuciform sac. However, Dubedat sees that it will be an interesting case for Walpole and believes that Walpole should pay him for doing the operation. Walpole is now scandalised. This now leaves only Sir Ralph who has yet to withdraw from the case. Sir Ralph remains unabashed and promises to cure Dubedat by "stimulating the fagacites". Mrs Dubedat calls upon Ridgeon later in the day to confide that she is worried that he will not be taking the case. Ridgeon informs her that his final place (in the life raft) has been taken by Blenkinsop. To her discredit she refers to Blenkinsop as that "silly" man. When challenged by Mrs. Dubedat to tell her of one ignoble thing her husband has done, he feels unable to mention the bigamist relationship in case he destroys her life. Mrs. Dubedat is totally absorbed into her husband's life to the detriment of her own. She makes an impassioned appeal for Ridgeon to take the case and save her husband's life. In a bizarre twist, Ridgeon swears to her that in his desire to obtain what is best for her and her "hero" that his best chance of being saved lies not with him, but with Sir Ralph.

The Clever Brute's Revenge

A short while later Sir Patrick calls upon Ridgeon to inform him of Dubedat's progress: "He got through three months galloping consumption in three days". Sir Ralph has been using Ridgeon's treatment to cure Dubedat but believes he may have over-stimulated the fagacites. Cutler Walpole states that it is the worst case of neglected blood poisoning that he has ever seen. Each doctor's monomania can clearly be seen. Mrs. Dubedat suggests that she should take him to Brittany to recover; Sir Ralph concurs. There is a wonderful scene where Alastair, as Cutler Walpole, shows his complete contempt for the newspaper profession when he is trying to prevent the now dying Dubedat being harassed by the press. On his deathbed Dubedat makes Jennifer promise that she will not be a widow for long and quickly remarry to show how happy she has been married to him ("People who have found marriage happy always marry again"). Ridgeon seems to take particular interest at this stage. Dubedat's deathbed scene, although sad, does confirm him as the huge egotist we believed him to be as he makes various requests to consolidate his "immortality". "Don't talk about me too much to the other fellow. I shall be your lover all the time but it will be a secret from him, poor devil."

Dubedat expires in their presence. Mrs. Dubedat then dresses herself in her finest, most colorful gown and jewellery in order to satisfy one of his dying requests. Mrs Dubedat feels she must shake hands with "his friends" and proceeds to shake the hand of each of the doctors but declines to shakes hands with Ridgeon. After his death we see Doctor Blenkinsop visit Mrs. Dubedat. She, rather insultingly comments that he looks the picture of health and prosperity. He has been promoted and seems cured of his consumption which he attributes to ripe greengages rather than Ridgeon's "cure". Blenkinsop has visited to ensure her that he did not know that it was a straight choice between his own and Dubedat's life. He nobly suggests that the decision was wrong because a great artist cannot be replaced whereas he can (we are left to make our own decision on this).

The coda of the film shows us Louis Dubedat's memorial one-man exhibition where he is celebrated as a great artist. Sir Colenso attends the exhibition and whilst viewing one of the paintings is overheard by Mrs. Dubedat to declare "Clever brute". A fine two word summation of Louis Dubedat. In spite of her hostility towards him, it is clear that Sir Colenso Ridgeon still harbors the idea of marrying Dubedat's widow. However, he is shocked when she declares that the painting he wished to buy has already been bought by Jennifer's new husband. She has indeed honoured Dubedat's final words.

 

Sir Patrick Cullen: Cutler Walpole, he's got hold of something he calls the nuciform sac, which he's made quite the fashion. People pay him 500 guineas to cut it out. They might as well get their hair cut for all the difference it makes.

Sir Patrick Cullen: Well, I've known over thirty men who've found out how to cure consumption. Why do people go on dying of it, Colly? Devilment I suppose!

Sir Ralph B.B.: Walpole has no intellect. A mere surgeon. A wonderful operator but, after all, what is operating? . . . . Manual labour.

George Bernard Shaw Doctor's 
	Dilemma Poster

Emmy: Have you finished your two eggs, Sonny? That's me ducky diamond. Now keep yourself tidy and don't go dirtying your hands as people have come to congratulate you.

Sir Patrick Cullen: There are two things that can go wrong with any man. One is a check and the other is a woman. Until you know a man is sound on those two points you know nothing about him.

Skeleton Model from Dubedat Studio

Sir Patrick Cullen: Well, as the saviour of lives, which is it to be? That honest, decent man Blenkinsop, or that blackguard of an artist, eh?
Ridgeon: It's a difficult case to Judge. Blenkinsop's an honest and decent man, but is he of any use? Dubedat's a rotten blackguard but he's a genuine source of pretty and pleasant good things.
Sir Patrick Cullen: What'll he be a source of for that poor, innocent wife of his when she finds him out?
Ridgeon: Yes, that's true. Her life will be a hell. Still it's a dilemma. Yes, it's a dilemma.

Sir Ralph: Poor young fellow, he died splendidly.
Sir Patrick: How the wicked die. When you're as old as I am, you'll realise that it matters very little how a man dies; what matters, is how he lived. No. matter, it's no concern of ours. He's in another world now.
Cutler Walpole: Probably borrowing his first five pound note.