The Carey Treatment (1972; dir. Blake Edwards) is an obscurity that should stay one. It’s blander than bland. Based on the Michael Crichton novel, A Case of Need (which he wrote as Jeffery Hudson, a pseudonym), the movie is competent. But it doesn’t go anywhere. It stokes no suspense; it doesn’t feed into our fear of medical malpractice.
Meet Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn), a pathologist who’s just transferred to a Boston hospital where the head doctor’s daughter dies in the ER. The cause? An illegal abortion. The culprit? Carey’s friend and colleague, Dr. Tao (James Hong), who insists he’s innocent. Believing him, Carey investigates. Ever the cocksman, he also begins an affair with a married beauty (Jennifer O’Neill). So, he gets up to his ears in ‘doo-doo’ and… I’ll stop there in case you want to see the movie.
Edwards, the comic maestro behind the Pink Panther films, is in a straitjacket. Then-fresh off the disasters of Darling Lili and Wild Rovers, he’s not at home with this story. Though he directs with care, the attempt to rotate his crops back to more dramatic fare (cf. Experiment in Terror and Days of Wine and Roses) falls flat.
Why did he make this film? It’s not a Hitchcockian corker. And it doesn’t make us feel paranoid about the inner workings of hospitals and the people who run them. There’s no satirical or conspiratorial jolt, no labyrinthine sense of corruption and rot. It’s too mellow for that, and it resolves neatly. Hell, were it not for some bloodletting, the movie could have played better as a hourlong soap—a dramatic rind of TV that might intrigue (but not unnerve) viewers. Further, I’m not convinced Edwards regarded the property as a chance to zero in on something novel or taboo. (With exceptions, Hollywood had previously danced around the issues of race and abortion; and the movie’s closer look at them is more observant than preachy. Additionally, Carey’s rogue-like manner isn’t some hip birdie to the stolid establishment figures with whom he jousts. He’s a smug prick who thinks for himself, and he’s more of a bully than an amateur sleuth.) Edwards should have gone for an even darker, jazzier style.
I suspect Edwards thought The Carey Treatment would be an easy paycheck, an inoffensive effort that could generate a decent return (if he stayed on budget and MGM didn’t fire him). The studio recut the film anyhow (as they did on the two flops mentioned), and it faded away.
If you’re a Coburn/Edwards completist like me, you want to see The Carey Treatment. Coburn chews the dialogue, and Edwards’ casual, unobtrusive eye for Boston gives the movie a slight flavor. But it’s a footnote in their careers, and an uninspired one at that. Non-fans should steer clear.
The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray is a decent transfer. The only feature is the film’s theatrical trailer.