The Warner Archive has released the 1972 MGM thriller The Carey Treatment. James Coburn has one of his best roles as Dr. Peter Carey, a rebellious but esteemed pathologist who moves to Boston to take a prominent position at one of the city's most esteemed hospitals. The charismatic Carey loses no time in gaining friends, alienating top brass and bedding the comely chief dietician (Jennifer O'Neill). However, he soon finds himself embroiled in a politically volatile investigation when a fellow surgeon is arrested for performing an illegal abortion on the 15 year old daughter of the hospital's crusty administrator (Dan O'Herlihy). (The movie was released a year before the landmark Roe V. Wade decision that legalized abortion in America.) Coburn believes his friend's protestations of innocence and decides to launch his own investigation into the matter. The case soon unveils a lot of skeletons that some prominent people would prefer to be kept in their closets and Carey finds himself subjected to blackmail and physically assaulted as he comes closer to discovering the shocking truth behind the young girl's death.
The film was a rather low-key affair for director Blake Edwards and there is nothing particularly exceptional about the screenplay, which resembles a rather well-done Columbo episode. However, Coburn has a field day in the role of Carey. He's all teeth and smiles on the exterior but internally he harbors a healthy suspicion of authority figures. Carey can turn on the charm one minute and pummel a thug the next. Refreshingly, he's no superman. He makes mistakes and misjudgments that almost cost him his life. Edwards tries a bit to hard to sandwich some action into what is essentially a methodical mystery story and his instincts betray him in one silly sequence in which Carey virtually kidnaps a teenage girl and subjects her to a death-defying high speed car ride to induce her to reveal information. Nevertheless, the film remains engrossing throughout and Coburn benefits from his chemistry with some fine supporting actors including O'Herlihy, Pat Hingle and Skye Aubrey. He also generates some genuine sparks with O'Neill, who is largely inserted into the screenplay for pure sex appeal. There's also a fine score by the great film composer Roy Budd.
The movie takes on a rather sobering social relevance when viewed today. With abortion being virtually outlawed now in some American states, the film reflects a period when the nation was torn apart by the debate- an occurrence that is happening again today. The movie reflects a time when unwanted pregnancies resulted in desperate girls and women bribing unskilled people to perform back alley abortions. No matter where you stand on the issue, no one would overtly welcome such scenarios returning and it's doubtful this film won't bring back some disturbing memories of a particularly contentious period in America's social consciousness.
The Carey Treatment is not high art, nor does it pretend to be. However the film reconfirms why Coburn was one of the most charismatic leading men of his day. The fact that he had such a long and distinguished career is something all movie fans can be grateful for.
The DVD contains the original theatrical trailer.
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