This film was quite controversial when it was first released. Friends in Boston remarked that, although the story was total fiction, it made some pointed references to a well-known hospital in Boston, under a fictitious name, and used the name “Mr. Dorchester” in a phone call, which is the name of a section of the city where an actual hospital resides. Cover-ups have received much publicity in recent years, but this fictional piece was the first film to openly discuss the situation. The film is adapted from a novel by Barry Reed which was published in 1980.
Paul Newman - Wikimedia
Paul Newman should have received an Academy Award for his portrayal of Frank Galvin, a down-and-out lawyer who received an opportunity to redeem himself and get back on his feet. Frank had been fired from his law firm many years ago and was divorced by his wife whose father was prominent in the firm. The firm had wrongly accused him of jury tampering to cover up their own corruption. Frank was not disbarred but soon sank into alcoholism which affected his career. In order to find clients, he made a habit of attending wakes at local funeral parlors to give his card to bereaved relatives of the deceased. In many cases, he was asked to leave the premises.
Frank Has a New Case
Frank’s long-time friend and law school professor, Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden), offered him a case which appeared to be open to a settlement. Frank decided to bring the case to trial which would endanger the reputation of the Archdiocese of Boston and a Catholic hospital under their jurisdiction.
Jack Warden - Wikimedia
Details of the Case
A patient named Deborah Ann Kaye had been admitted to the hospital for the birth of her third child. After getting an anesthetic, she vomited into her mask and oxygen to her brain was cut off. She had been in a coma ever since. Her sister and brother-in-law filed suit against the Archdiocese and the hospital on behalf of Deborah so that she could receive better care than she was presently getting. The Archdiocese offered an out-of-court settlement of $210,000, but Frank wanted to go to trial since he believed it was the right thing to do. He thought that the accused were paying off to have all concerned look the other way. Frank was certain he could win the case. He did not tell Deborah Ann Kaye’s sister and brother-in-law that he had turned down the monetary offer. They were not happy when they learned of his decision. Archbishop Brody (Edward Binns) hired a prominent lawyer to defend their case, Ed Concannon (James Mason), who was highly regarded by the media and also by the judge who would try the case. Concannon made sure that the case was discussed in the Globe and the Herald and on television, calling the accusations a rank obscenity.
Just at that time, Frank met a lady in a bar named Laura Fischer (Charlotte Rampling), and they became close friends. She worked with Frank and Mickey on Frank’s case, and a romance ensued.
Charlotte Rampling - Wikimedia
A Witness is Unavailable
Frank was able to convince the surgeon, Dr. Gruber, to testify that Deborah Ann Kaye had received the wrong anesthetic. The fact that she vomited indicated that she had eaten just prior to her surgery and should have received an entirely different anesthetic under the circumstances. Unfortunately, Dr. Gruber went on vacation to the Caribbean at the time of the trial and could not be reached. The anesthetists involved were Drs. Towler and Marx who were appearing for the defense. It appeared that the prosecution had convinced Dr. Gruber to leave town.
Lack of Witnesses to Testify
Frank was able to hire an expert in anesthesiology, a Dr. Thompson, to testify on behalf of the plaintiff. The prosecution was able to show that Dr. Thompson had hired himself out in 28 different cases. He was also unfamiliar with many medical terms. His testimony was not accepted.
Frank needed someone who was in the operating room at the time of surgery to testify that there was negligence. He visited the Obstetrics nurse, Maureen Rooney, at her home, and she refused to give him any information, and virtually threw him out of her home. He believed that she was covering up for someone.
Frank learned that the Admitting Nurse, Kaitlin Costello, had quit her job two weeks after the incident and was now working as a preschool teacher in New York City. He traveled to New York to tell her he needed her help. Kaitlin agreed to testify.
James Mason - Wikimedia
While he was in New York, Laura and Mickey were working in Frank’s office. Mickey helped himself to cigarettes in Laura’s purse and came across a check that Laura received from Ed Concannon’s firm. He realized that she had made her way into Frank’s confidence in order to provide information for the prosecuting lawyer. Upon his return, Frank slapped Laura’s face and she left.
Kaitlin Costello Testifies
On the witness stand, Kaitlin told the court that Deborah Ann Kaye revealed on admission that she had a full meal one hour before admission. Kaitlin recorded that information on the Admission Sheet. Dr. Towler had failed to read the admission notes and gave the patient an anesthetic which should never have been given to her on a full stomach. Dr. Towler came to Kaitlin after Deborah went into a coma and asked her to change her notes. Under threat of being fired, Kaitlin changed the 1 hour to 9 hours. Sensing that she needed proof, Kaitlin had made a copy of the original Admission Sheet before changing it. She brought the copy with her on the day of trial. The wily prosecutor, Ed Concannon, objected that the copy had been introduced as evidence, and showed precedence that it had to be stricken from the record. The Judge cautioned the jury to disregard that part of the testimony.
Scale of Justice - Wikimedia
Frank felt defeated when he rose to make his summation. It was very brief, in which he told the jury “you are the law,” and begged them to recognize the truth of the situation and to grant in favor of the plaintiff. The jury ignored the judge’s request and voted in favor of Deborah Ann Kaye. The foreman asked the judge if they could award a larger sum than the plaintiff had sought. The judge agreed, but the amount was not revealed in the film.
On his way out, Frank spotted Laura on the stairs and kept going.