Arrowsmith (1931) Review

Arrowsmith (1931) Director: John Ford


Mostly faithful to Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, John Ford offers an unusually bland and unimpressive film in my view with Arrowsmith. It was nominated for Best Picture, though thankfully it did not win. Sadly, this film is burdened with an uninteresting plot, forgettable acting, and it all leads to an anticlimactic ending and an unfortunate viewing experience in my view. John Ford later lamented this film, which he apparently quickly slapped together this film and unfortunately it shows.

Arrowsmith tells the story of Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman), a rising medical student, who turns down a job to be a research assistant with his professor because he has fallen in love with nurse Leora “Lee”, played by Helen Hayes (interestingly enough, Myrna Loy also appears in the film). They are married and move to her small rural town, far away from the big city. Martin Arrowsmith sets up his own medical practice there, but soon finds a cure for a disease affecting cows, and he decides to move back to New York where he hopes to make new scientific discoveries. His wife Leora conceives but soon miscarries and she learns that she can have no further children, which devastates her. Arrowsmith is then sent to a remote Caribbean island to test his serum on the native populations. There, he encounters a group of Americans who are marooned, one who is attracted to Arrowsmith. However, they soon start dying and Arrowsmith uses the serum to save as many lives as possible, but his wife Leora has died. Saddened, he returns home and starts his own research lab together with a friend.

John Ford’s Arrowsmith is mostly faithful to the novel, however it omits the latter section of the book concerning Arrowsmith’s second wife. According to rumor, Samuel Goldwyn hired John Ford for this film on the condition that he not drink during the production and as a result John Ford sped up the production process as much as possible, sometimes entirely omitting scenes that were in the script. Imagine that!

Click here to read my reflections on reading Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Arrowsmith.

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