Spoiler Alert: I am pretty much going to recount most of the plot of today’s movie. I feel no qualms of conscience in doing so, because the only reason to watch this movie is Lionel Barrymore’s performance and you can enjoy that in any case.
Calling Dr. Gillespie also stars Donna Reed as a young and beautiful girl about to graduate from some girls boarding school somewhere. At the beginning of the movie she is meeting her young man. Donna’s father has at last consented to their engagement (cue romantic sigh from Donna’s young, impressionable roommate).
The fiance wants to elope right away, but Donna’s father has stipulated that she must finish school first (Yay, Dad, insisting on education! I’m a little sorry we never meet that character).
“I always get my way,” says Fiance with that demure, psycho look you often see in these movies.
“Not this time,” Donna tells him gently. He immediately kills a perfectly nice dog with a rock.
What the hell! I saw the dog and had fears for its well-being, but I hoped the poor thing would make it to the second reel at least. Donna is also upset, but not as upset as me, because she does not immediately terminate the engagement. She asks advice of the understanding headmistress, who recommends a psychiatric evaluation. She calls Dr. Gillespie (Barrymore), in hopes that it can be done so discreetly that even the fiance doesn’t know about it.
Dr. Gillespie calls in a brilliant young surgeon on staff at the same hospital. This young man wants to branch out into psychiatry but has so far been denied by the head of the hospital. The two of them go to the girls school. While Dr. Gillespie holds court with a number of fascinated young girls, Brilliant Surgeon takes Donna and the Fiance for a walk and asks some questions so subtle even I didn’t know what he was getting at.
Dr. Gillespie, Donna and Brilliant Surgeon meet with Fiance’s parents and family doctor. Fiance might be a mental case, our heroes say. Nonsense, says Family Doctor. Who do you think the parents believe?
Luckily, another demonstration of Fiance’s mental imbalance soon follows. No animals are harmed, but he smashes the window of a toy store and wrecks a plane, muttering threats against Dr. Gillespie.
So Family Doctor prescribes a long rest and a trip somewhere. Fiance smiles charmingly from the bed and says he feels fine. He doesn’t remember anything about the dog or the toy plane. As soon as he’s left alone he smashes Donna Reed’s picture and escapes out the window.
In talking with Donna, Brilliant Surgeons realizes that what triggers Fiance’s episodes of madness is the sound of a train whistle. You know, I don’t think the Hollywood screenwriters involved ever took a psychiatry course in their lives. For one thing, I never herd another train whistle for the rest of the picture, but Fiance kills two random guys to get a hot car to impress a dime-a-dance girl he’s trying to make time with.
Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t that a little inconsistent? Smashing a poor dog or a shop window because you’re frustrated and hear a train whistle strikes me as a slightly different psychosis from killing people to obtain a material object. Of course, his little murder for gain in a clumsy, short-sighted act, and the police are soon after him.
Donna Reed looks out her window and screams, because the first place he heads in the school garden. Headmistress, immediately consulting via telephone with Dr. Gillespie, sends Donna to the hospital with the school chauffeur, where she will supposedly be safe. Guess where Fiance is headed.
It is a big hospital. Fiance is able to kill a doctor and steal his glasses and his identity fairly easily (we don’t find out till later the poor other doctor is dead) (and we never meet him either, which saved the producers paying another actor). My first reaction was, “Oh, great disguise. They’ll NEVER recognize you with those glasses one!” But he only runs into people who don’t know him or the dead doctor as he continues to stalk Dr. Gillespie, intent on revenge.
Donna Reed, meantime, is hiding out in Brilliant Surgeon’s office suite, which includes sleeping accommodations (she does not avail herself of the invitation to put on a hospital gown, so don’t get your hopes up) (you know who you are). How fiance figures out she’s there so he can call her is never explained, but she ends up on hand for the final confrontation.
The thing that really annoyed me was Donna’s wailing at the end, “But it wasn’t really his fault!” Three men and a dog are dead! Why are you feeling more sorry for the killer? I’m thinking she doesn’t know about the dime-a-dance girl, for one thing.
On the whole, I thought it was a pretty dumb movie. It was saved for me by Lionel Barrymore and a few of the minor characters. There are a couple of nurses he spars with, as fictional doctors and nurses tend to do. A large, kind of doofy orderly is recruited to act as his bodyguard, unbeknownst to the prickly Dr. Gillespie. I also got a few chuckles from Donna’s roommate, a budding photographer and paramour.
In closing credits they advertised another Dr. Gillespie movie. I’ll have to watch for it. I do love that Lionel Barrymore.