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Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding!; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

doctorOriginally released 10 May 1967
Written by Phil Shuken
Directed by Peter Tewksbury

Starring Sandra Dee, George Hamilton, Celeste Holm, Bill Bixby, Dick Kallman, and Dwayne Hickman

My rating: ★★1/2 stars

Sandra Dee’s charm bolsters pleasant, if mild, comedy.

And the prize for “Worst Movie Title of the 1960s” goes to…

The French version of the title is much better: 4 fiancés pour 1 mari (4 fiancés for 1 husband)—at least, it’s descriptive of a movie in which Sandra Dee plays a woman with four suitors.

Heather Halloran (Dee) is a recent college graduate who finds admirers wherever she goes. Without intending to, she acquires the attentions of four different men. Hank Judson (Dwayne Hickman) is a shoe salesperson and part-time actor who specializes in elaborate death scenes. Pat Murad (Dick Kallman) is a music teacher and arranger hired by Heather’s show business-obsessed mother, Louise (Celeste Holm), to launch Heather’s singing career. (That Heather doesn’t want a singing career doesn’t matter to Louise.) Dick Bender (Bill Bixby) is the lothario who lives next-door. And then there’s Heather’s boss, Harlan Wycliff (George Hamilton), an arrogant genius who lacks any social skills.

Heather accepts a job as Harlan’s secretary despite his imperious manner. He shows not the slightest interest in her until she asks him to appraise her singing talent. He gives an honest assessment that her voice is merely adequate and that she is too wholesome to have sex appeal, a nice hat-tip to Dee’s modest image. But, after that, Harlan can’t help notice that she has sex appeal after all. With some coaching, Heather develops enough as a singer for her mother to assemble a passable nightclub act, but, before she can make her debut, her love life gets in the way of show business, not that Heather cares.

Dee’s delightful charm carries this movie. Her performance shows that Dee had grown as an actress since her teen roles in the late 1950s. Here, she has an appealing natural presence on screen. So does Bixby, who projects a compelling laid-back charisma. The presence of Holm elevates the film. She creates a three-dimensional character from a script that presents a caricature of a stage mother. With Holm’s interpretation, Louise becomes devoted and smart, not just irrational and overbearing.

Hamilton is sadly miscast. With his limited talents, he’s best when he can be handsome and charming. In this movie, he’s forced to play a character who has no charm. He lacks the ability to convey super intelligence as well. Kallman, too, seems out of place. His character has the least defined personality of all the suitors, and Kallman brings nothing to the role besides musicianship.

The comedy in the film is mostly of the mild variety that could be found on a sitcom of the period, but it’s amusing enough with the exceptions of Hickman’s repeated outrageous (and annoying) enactments of death scenes.

The movie came out in 1967 and displays a somewhat less restrictive sensibility than films from earlier in the decade. The film touches on sexual matters openly, when they would have been merely alluded to just five years earlier. Also, unlike classic films, which contain totally white casts unless roles specifically call for people of color, this movie features a refreshing diversity in small roles. Star Trek fans will recognize Nichelle Nichols as a secretary in Harlan’s office.

Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding! is slight. As trivial as it is, however, it is a pleasantly entertaining way to spend an hour and half, largely thanks to the appeal of Dee. Sadly, she had few roles after this film and never got the chance to break with her wholesome teen image and prove that she had the potential to transition to more complex adult roles.

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