Nobody enjoys a good laugh more than me, and Garry Marshall’s debut feature Young Doctors in Love is a neglected early 80’s comedy that provides more genuine humour than most. Spoof films were box office in the late 70’s, from Mel Brooks to Airplane, and Young Doctors in Love coined a healthy $30 million box office haul as a straight-up parody of the melodramatic goings-on in a city hospital, helpfully named City Hospital. It could be any hospital in any city, which must make it nightmare for deliveries, but the stereotypes are universal; egocentric doctors, put-upon nurses, drug-addled students; you know the drill, but Young Doctors in Love comes closer than most to hitting the Airplane level of fast gags, and has a fairly ridiculous cast and crew of up and coming talent that keeps you watching even if a few of the gags don’t land.
The subject is a year in the lives of a new recruit of interns, namely Dr Simon August (Michael McKean from Spinal Tap and Better Call Saul) and Dr Stephanie Brody (Sean Young from Blade Runner), who we see arrive for their first shift at midnight at New Year. As with Lindsay Andersons’ Britannia Hospital, made the same year, there’s a medical strike paralysing the hospital, although you wouldn’t know it from the way the nurses dance down the corridors. That levity may be to do with the drug-store being raided by Phil Burns (Taylor Negron), the silly PA announcements (‘Due to a mix up in urology, no apple juice will be served in the cafeteria today’), or the sliding doors which make the distinctive Star Trek shhhtt noise. This is a parody, so some copyright infringements occur; the original version featured a visual cameo from ET, but that scene seems to be MIA today.
It’s a Garry Marshall film, so obviously you get Hector Elizondo, this time in drag as a mobster in disguise, who is chased around the corridors by Michael Richards long before he was Kramer in Seinfeld; a scene in which Richards unwisely swings a shotgun in a tiny cupboard lined with live electrical fuse-boxes is pure Kramer. Other bonuses include Dabney Coleman, Patrick Macnee and a game Harry Dean Stanton as senior medical staff, cameos from Demi Moore, Saul Rubinek and Richard Dean Anderson, and a shonky ECG machine that cheerfully plays the themes from Pac-Man, Rocky and CE3K. Sure, not all the jokes land, and as with many 80’s comedies, there’s several pairs of breasts shoehorned in, due to the novelty value of depicting mammeries at the time, but male sexism is held up to ridicule rather than celebrated, as when Macnee’s surgeon assesses some potential interns and concludes ‘OK, I’ll take the one with the t*ts.’
The dialogue still stands up; ‘I didn’t become a doctor to go to parties, nurse.’ says the snooty August, to which Brody replies ‘I didn’t become a doctor to become a nurse, doctor,’ The producer is Jerry Bruckheimer, the jaunty score is by Maurice Jarre, and Young Doctors in Love works best when keeping a straight face in the presence of clichés. There’s some great one-and-done gags, notably Young taking an outdoor aerobics class with adorable moppet kids wearing T-shirts which read “orphan’, ‘broken home’ ‘incorrigible’ ‘welfare recipient’ and ‘mother is a disk jockey’. This is a wild and wooly comedy that goes for broke rather than woke, but anyone with a pulse should find something to enjoy in the scattershot humour here.