From: David P. Hayes
Date: 1997/10/14
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films wrote:
> Abortion was not legal in New York in 1951, so I think the film was
> correct in treating the doctor as a "back alley" abortion doctor.  On
> the other hand, the movie also seemed to make an eloquent statement
> against criminalizing abortion.  The detective's wife is a paragon of
> virtue in every respect other than her one out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
> Hollywood films had implied out-of-wedlock sex from the get go, so
> the sex angle isn't something to debate.
> The film seemed to be making a case for tolerance or temperance.
> The important thing to note is that here is a film that takes an issue
> like abortion and puts it in full view.  This shows that during the
> 1950's, there was a greater willingness to confront controversial
> topics.

Those interested in the dramatization of issues surrounding abortion might want to check out another movie adapted from a play by the same playwright who wrote the play on which "Detective Story" was based.  Sidney Kingsley had nearly two decades early written "Men in White," brought to the screen shortly thereafter in 1934 by MGM and starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy.  I known of no other theatrical movie of the 30s in which abortion figures so prominently into the plot.  The word "abortion" is never mentioned, though, and one has to follow the hints; nonetheless, in the very few other films of that decade to touch on that subject (to my knowledge), the subject is merely hinted at in passing.I welcome comment from others who might know of any other films in which the subject was prominent in the plot.

"Men in White" shows up from time to time on TCM (most recently in June, when it was NOT part of the "Risque Business" series although that series was shown that month).For those not wanting to know more of the story, skip the rest of this posting.


For those who want to know more:

  Abortion first comes up when a hospital administrator tells doctor Clark Gable that one of the nurses at the hospital is in severe condition.  Gable asks if it is a ruptured appendix.  "Worse" is the reply.Gable immediately makes the connection: "Why didn't she come to one of us?"  In a few words, we realize that the nurse had bypassed a safe operation by her professional colleagues in favor of services done amateurishly, perhaps "back alley."  The suggestion is that the nurse had thrown away the advantage she had of having acquaintanceships with professionals who she could assume would be discreet, and that therefore she had obtained a service that she might be ashamed of--the answer to "Why didn't she come to one of us?"

It doesn't end there.  Before this nurse's operation (the one that is to repair the damage from the first), the attending nurse asks "Who was the man?" What's more, when the nurse receiving the operation semi-consciously prepares to go under anesthesia and muses on her being on the operating table, she remarks that she wouldn't be there but that she loved a certain man so much.  Not much question about what went on there!

     (What's more, the film had cleverly, almost incidentally indicated a passage of three months--by having incidental characters remark on it as part of a subplot--between the botched abortion and the time we had seen this nurse wait in the room of the man she wanted to have.)

David Hayes


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