May 17, 2014

Robert Donat, The Citadel

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On paper, The Citadel doesn't seem like a very exciting film and Robert Donat's Dr. Andrew Manson doesn't seem like a very interesting character. A movie that seeks to tackle moral truth as well as exposing the adversity faced in a well-respected profession made me assume that The Citadel would be like Erin Brockovich except singed with 1930's triteness and corny dialogue. Besides, I've already seen this type of film before--it was called The Story of Louis Pasteur and it was a big fiery pile of hokum crap. But, as it happens, I was proven wrong: The Citadel ended up being a pretty absorbing film, perhaps because it was made outside of the states and co-produced by a British studio, making it possible to escape the cheesy conventions and ideals of American filmmaking. Further, Donat proved to be an even bigger pleasant surprise than The Citadel was--he grabbed my attention from his very first frame and holds on to it for the entire picture.

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Manson is an idealistic doctor who truly cares for his patients, though soon he becomes jaded by the profession when he gets a much more lucrative job treating wealthy hypochondriacs. This doesn't strike as a very complicated role, but in Vicky Lowe's essay Acting with Feeling: Robert Donat, the 'Emotion Chart', and The Citadel (1938), it is written that Donat felt that Manson was his first "'character' part as opposed to what he called the 'romantic' roles he played before. This suggests that the playing of Manson was a task he saw as paralleling his approach to a stage role, involving preparation, research and social observation, rather than projection of personality." And so in lesser hands, Manson might have been another clich├ęd study of moral conflict. Donat however, pours so much effort into his performance and really brings this seemingly cardboard character to life. Donat handles the early idealistic Manson with such skill--he's incredibly naive, sweet, and charming and you can't help but like the guy. What I loved most about this performance is that the man is genuinely acting with feeling. In fact, one of the things I wrote in my notes while watching him was, "he seems to really care. Every word he utters feels like he really, truly means it." And it's true--there's a tender authenticity to everything Donat says, so even when he has to deliver lines like, "Thank God I'm a doctor", I don't groan or roll my eyes because it's done with such conviction. There's a moment in the film where a patient asks Manson what sputum is, to which Donat turns and cheerfully replies, "spit." while cracking a devilishly adorable smile. This moment so fully encompasses how I feel about Donat for much of the film--he's delightful, full of spirit, and brings liveliness to shaky material. So whether Manson's concerned about a patient's cough, resuscitating a baby, or arguing with his landlord, it's all so believable due to Donat's emotive passion. Manson has two fiery monologues in the film, and Donat's acting is so fervent and brilliant in both that had to rewind them several times for further review. I'm so besotted by this performance--it's filled to the brim with zeal and Donat single handedly elevates The Citadel and makes it worth watching.


  1. Ha?

    didn't expect that. :) not that I've seen it or anything.
    Poor Spencer Tracy.

    1. lol...I definitely wasn't expecting it either!

      And y'never know--I might just adore Tracy this time around :P

  2. Haven't seen him yet but I hope he wins because I doubt he will win in 1939 (I just love his work in Mr. Chips!)

    1. I'm definitely much more interested in seeing Mr. Chips now! I take it he's your win for '39 then?

    2. Yes, he's my choice. It's one of those performances that I just love!