Arrowsmith (1931) Review

Arrowsmith (1931) Director: John Ford


Arrowsmith was an early John Ford film, based on the novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, though thankfully it did not win, as the film is awkward and the plot is mostly uninteresting. Arrowsmith certainly falls short of excellence with a largely uninteresting plot, bland acting, and a forgettable overall experience. John Ford quickly slapped together this film and it shows.

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

It tells the story of Martin Arrowsmith, 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. 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.

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

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