The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)

136 mins | Drama | 4 July 1944

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HISTORY

The film's title card reads: "Gary Cooper in Cecil B. DeMille's The Story of Dr. Wassell ." Opening credits also include the following acknowledgment: "Based upon the story by Commander Corydon M. Wassell, USN (MC), as related by him and fifteen of the wounded sailors involved...and also upon the story by James Hilton." In his autobiography, Cecil B. DeMille noted that he closed the film with a statement informing the audience that Benjamin Hopkins, on whom the character "Hoppy" was based, survived the war. This epilogue was not seen in the viewed print, however.
       According to DeMille's autobiography and other published contemporary accounts, Paramount was inspired to make this film after President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a 28 Apr 1942 radio broadcast, in which he detailed Wassell's heroic deed. A portion of Roosevelt's speech reads as follows: "[Wassell] was a missionary, well known for his good works in China....he entered the service of his country and was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Dr. Wassell was assigned to duty in Java, caring for wounded officers and men of the cruisers Houston and Marblehead , which had been in heavy action in the Java Seas. When the Japanese advanced across the island, it was decided to evacuate as many as possible of the wounded to Australia. But about twelve of the men were so badly wounded that they could not be moved. Dr. Wassell remained with these men, knowing that he would be captured by the enemy. But he decided to make a desperate attempt to get the men out of Java....He first had to get the twelve men ... More Less

The film's title card reads: "Gary Cooper in Cecil B. DeMille's The Story of Dr. Wassell ." Opening credits also include the following acknowledgment: "Based upon the story by Commander Corydon M. Wassell, USN (MC), as related by him and fifteen of the wounded sailors involved...and also upon the story by James Hilton." In his autobiography, Cecil B. DeMille noted that he closed the film with a statement informing the audience that Benjamin Hopkins, on whom the character "Hoppy" was based, survived the war. This epilogue was not seen in the viewed print, however.
       According to DeMille's autobiography and other published contemporary accounts, Paramount was inspired to make this film after President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a 28 Apr 1942 radio broadcast, in which he detailed Wassell's heroic deed. A portion of Roosevelt's speech reads as follows: "[Wassell] was a missionary, well known for his good works in China....he entered the service of his country and was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. Dr. Wassell was assigned to duty in Java, caring for wounded officers and men of the cruisers Houston and Marblehead , which had been in heavy action in the Java Seas. When the Japanese advanced across the island, it was decided to evacuate as many as possible of the wounded to Australia. But about twelve of the men were so badly wounded that they could not be moved. Dr. Wassell remained with these men, knowing that he would be captured by the enemy. But he decided to make a desperate attempt to get the men out of Java....He first had to get the twelve men to the sea coast--fifty miles away....The men were suffering severely, but Dr. Wassell kept them alive by his skill, and inspired them by his own courage....On the seacoast, he embarked the men on a little Dutch ship. They were bombed and machine-gunned by waves of Japanese planes. A few days later Dr. Wassell and his little flock of wounded men reached Australia safely..." A NYT article and DeMille's autobiography both noted that Paramount commissioned author James Hilton to write a book about Wassell, on which the film would later be based. The published book was also used as a treatment for the screenplay.
       Material in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals the following information about the production: In an unusual arrangement with Paramount, Cecil B. DeMille was not paid for his work as producer/director on this film. Although Dr. Corydon Wassell is not listed as a technical advisor onscreen, Paramount paid for him to live in Los Angeles between Oct 1942 and Oct 1943, and noted in a memo that the studio's "arrangement with the Navy and Dr. Wassell is that he will be available to us as long as we want to keep him in connection with the...production." According to HR , Wassell was to appear in a mob scene in the picture. Albert Dekker was initially cast in the film, but withdrew because he felt the part was unsuitable for him. Various scenes were shot at the following locations: Metapa, Tapachula and other Mexican locations; Placerita Canyon and San Diego, CA; Pyote and Victoria, TX; and Florida. According to a HR news item, background shots were taken in Mexico City.
       HR news items add the following about the production: The role of Wassell was initially offered to Joel McCrea. Lynne Overman was cast as "Commander Bill Goggins," but died before production began, and was replaced by Stanley Ridges. Actors Alan Ladd, Robert Preston, Henry Wilcoxon and Bruce Lester were cast in the film at various points, but withdrew after being called into military service. Dennis O'Keefe replaced Preston and Ladd as "Hoppy," and Henry Wilcoxon was first cast as "Dr. Ralph Wayne." Others considered for the role of Hoppy were Richard Whorf, James Brown, Dana Andrews, Walter Reed, Barry Sullivan, Michael O'Shea and Alan Baxter. Veronica Lake, Elena Verdugo, Yvonne de Carlo and Simone Simon were tested for the role of "Tremartini," and Maureen O'Hara, Marjorie Reynolds, Ruth Hussey and Pamela Blake were considered for the role of "Madeline." Eighteen-year-old Melvin Francis, who was among the wounded men rescued by Wassell, appears as himself in the film. Cecil B. DeMille's son Richard was slated for a small part in the film; however, he was inducted into the Army and therefore does not appear in the film. Laraine Day and Signe Hasso were borrowed from M-G-M. A news item noted that DeMille was considering using a plot device featuring "gremlins." The War Production Board approved a $206,908 budget for sets for the film, well above the $5,000 limit previously established for all films made during wartime. Paramount built a replica of the Dutch ship Janssens based on blueprints and photographs of the original ship. Five percent of the film's gross earnings were donated to the Navy Relief Society as part of Paramount's agreement with the Navy. In addition, the proceeds of the premieres were donated to the Naval Aid Auxiliary. Gary Cooper and Carol Thurston reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on 23 Oct 1944.
       Although some critics hailed The Story of Dr. Wassell as a great film, others were critical of DeMille's presentation of Wassell's story. Bosley Crowther in his NYT review of the picture echoed the sentiments of many when he noted that the film was "a hopped-up melodrama about a young and romantically disposed doc who shepherds a group of wounded out of Java under the most fantastic circumstances imaginable. True, such a thing did happen. But not this way, we'll bet a hat!...The public...is vastly aware of the realities, the mammoth ordeals of this war....So it is not in the least surprising that folks should start in resentful shock when DeMille (or anyone) shows them hoopla warfare in a Technicolor blaze." Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings and George Dutton were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Special Effects for their work on the film. The film was voted one of The Film Daily Ten Best Pictures of 1944. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Apr 1944.
---
Daily Variety
24 Apr 44
p. 3, 6
Film Daily
26 Apr 44
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 42
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Jan 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Feb 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Feb 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Mar 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 43
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Mar 43
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Mar 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Apr 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
19 May 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
20 May 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
21 May 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 43
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 43
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jul 43
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jul 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Sep 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jan 44
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Feb 44
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Mar 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Apr 44
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Apr 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 44
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jun 44
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jul 44
p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
22 Apr 44
p. 1857.
New York Times
31 May 1942.
---
New York Times
25 Apr 43
p. 3 (sec 2).
New York Times
2 May 1943.
---
New York Times
10 Oct 43
p. 3.
Variety
26 Apr 43
p. 12.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Isabel Cooper
Olga Maria Thunis
Sven-Hugo Borg
William P. Wilkerson
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d unit dir
2d unit asst dir
2d unit asst dir
Dial supv
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Contr to trt
Contr wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
2d unit 2d cam
2d unit 2d cam
2d unit asst cam
2d unit asst cam
2d unit asst cam
2d unit Technicolor asst cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Head tech des
Tech des
Tech des
Tech des
2d unit art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
Set des
Set des
Scenic painter
Props
COSTUMES
Ward sketch artist
2d unit ward
2d unit ward
2d unit ward
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
Spec eff
2d unit transparencies
DANCE
Dance supv
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
2d unit makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Dutch tech adv
2d unit tech adv
Tech adv, nurses
Medical tech adv
Medical tech adv
Tech adv for Chinese seq
Bus mgr
Unit mgr
2d unit asst prod mgr
Research dir
2d unit head grip
STAND INS
Double for Edmund MacDonald
Double for Gary Cooper
Double for Minor Watson
Double for Laraine Day
Double for Stanley Ridges
COLOR PERSONNEL
2d unit Technicolor col dir
2d unit Technicolor tech
2d unit Technicolor asst cam
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Story of Dr. Wassell by James Hilton (Boston, 1943).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
4 July 1944
Premiere Information:
Little Rock, AR premiere: 29 April 1944
Houston, TX pre-release engagement: 11 May 1944
Los Angeles and New York premieres: 7 June 1944
Production Date:
Mexico unit: 5 April--15 May 1943
1st unit: 6 July--15 October 1943
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 April 1944
Copyright Number:
LP13472
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
136
Length(in feet):
12,239
Country:
United States
SYNOPSIS

During World War II, the Japanese Navy cripples the U.S. cruiser Marblehead on the Java Sea. The Marblehead crew keeps the ship afloat for two days until they reach the port at Jilatjap, Java, where they are met by a Dutch hospital train commanded by former Arkansas country doctor, Navy Lieutenant Commander Dr. Corydon M. Wassell. The wounded are then taken to a hospital deep in the jungle. While Wassell treats sailor "Hoppy" Hopkins, Javanese nurse Tremartini donates her blood to save his life, and feels that she now has a permanent bond with him. In order to distract Hoppy from his pain, Wassell tells him about how a medical journal photograph of a beautiful American nurse named Madeline, who was working in China, inspired him to leave Arkansas to work as a missionary. Just after Wassell learns that thousands of Japanese soldiers have landed on Java, the hospital is hit during an air attack. Those patients able to walk take shelter in a cellar, while the immobile are placed underneath their beds. During the raid, Ping, a Chinese soldier, continues Wassell's story: When Wassell finally arrives in China and meets Madeline, they fall in love. Wassell searches for a cure to a devastating disease that claims the lives of thousands of Chinese. Wassell theorizes that the disease is carried by snails, but is unable to identify the specific snail genus. Wassell is disappointed when the hospital's board of directors names Dr. Ralph Wayne, a missionary and Wassell's rival for Madeline, as the new head of research and sends Wassell to a remote jungle outpost. A bomb blast cuts short Ping's ... +


During World War II, the Japanese Navy cripples the U.S. cruiser Marblehead on the Java Sea. The Marblehead crew keeps the ship afloat for two days until they reach the port at Jilatjap, Java, where they are met by a Dutch hospital train commanded by former Arkansas country doctor, Navy Lieutenant Commander Dr. Corydon M. Wassell. The wounded are then taken to a hospital deep in the jungle. While Wassell treats sailor "Hoppy" Hopkins, Javanese nurse Tremartini donates her blood to save his life, and feels that she now has a permanent bond with him. In order to distract Hoppy from his pain, Wassell tells him about how a medical journal photograph of a beautiful American nurse named Madeline, who was working in China, inspired him to leave Arkansas to work as a missionary. Just after Wassell learns that thousands of Japanese soldiers have landed on Java, the hospital is hit during an air attack. Those patients able to walk take shelter in a cellar, while the immobile are placed underneath their beds. During the raid, Ping, a Chinese soldier, continues Wassell's story: When Wassell finally arrives in China and meets Madeline, they fall in love. Wassell searches for a cure to a devastating disease that claims the lives of thousands of Chinese. Wassell theorizes that the disease is carried by snails, but is unable to identify the specific snail genus. Wassell is disappointed when the hospital's board of directors names Dr. Ralph Wayne, a missionary and Wassell's rival for Madeline, as the new head of research and sends Wassell to a remote jungle outpost. A bomb blast cuts short Ping's story, and he dies when a falling beam pierces his chest. Wassell soon gets evacuation orders, but only the walking wounded are to be shipped off; the rest must remain in the jungle. Reluctant to tell the men his mixed news, Wassell mobilizes everyone and takes them to Jilatjap, but the captain of the departing ship Pecos refuses to allow the bedridden soldiers aboard, as he anticipates an enemy attack. Realizing that his debilitated men face certain death if left behind, Wassell insists on remaining with them, and thereby becomes the only high ranking American officer left on the island. With the help of Johnny, an able-bodied soldier who missed the boat, and Javanese helpers, the small troop returns to their jungle hospital, but are forced to take shelter in the cellar during a raid. Bill, a wounded officer from the Marblehead , asks Wassell to finish Ping's story: After he is sent to the jungle outpost, Wassell continues his research and finally identifies a specific genus of snail that carries the disease. Exultant, Wassell plans to propose to Madeline, but refrains from doing so when he gets a telegram informing him that Dr. Wayne has also discovered the source of the disease, and is being hailed a hero. Knowing that Wayne also wants to marry Madeline, Wassell gives up both his work and her. Back in the jungle, Wassell's prayers are answered by the arrival of a convoy of British trucks. The British commander lends Wassell a truck for his wounded and arranges to meet him at Java harbor, where a ship is leaving for Australia. Hoppy and Tremartini ride in a separate truck, which careens over the side of the road after a bomb blast. Wassell is unable to find them, and they are left to fend for themselves. Wassell and his men catch up to the British troops only to learn that all the transport ships except for the Janssen , have been sunk. The British troops remain in the jungle to fight the Japanese, while Wassell and his men return to Jilatjap to meet the Janssen . By the time they arrive at night, the Janssen has already set sail, but a lightning flash reveals that it is still in the harbor, and Wassell desperately puts his men in a boat and sails it alongside the ship. Despite the captain's orders against bringing wounded men on board, Wassell sneaks them on deck. Seeing he has no choice, the captain moves the wounded men below deck. Wassell is surprised to find Wayne aboard, and to learn that he is joined by his wife. The next day, as the crew learns that the Pecos was sunk in Java harbor, the Janssen engines suddenly go silent as Japanese bombers begin to strafe the ship. Wayne is wounded in the attack, and when Wassell sends for his wife, he discovers that she is not Madeline, who had shipped out on the Pecos . The Janssen is saved by a formation of "Flying Fortress" bombers, who defend it against further attack. In Australia, Wassell expects to be court-martialed for disobeying orders, but instead is commended by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a radio broadcast in which he praises Wassell's efforts to keep his men alive. The survivors of the Pecos include Madeline, and she is present when Wassell is awarded the Navy's highest honor, the Navy Cross. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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