Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Dentist (GASP!) In Movies


I guess I'm on a roll.  (I just did an article on bosses in the movies.)  I saw my own dentist the other day, and was inspired again.  Believe me, he is nothing like the dentists I am highlighting today.   He gives the best novocaine shots in the business, but I still use the nitrous oxide in case he is having an off day.  Just a joke at your expense, Dr. S.!  His assistants are wonderful, but if they ever loom over me looking like this, I'll grab the high-speed drill and wave it around:


Our first dentist is the fabulously funny W.C. Fields in a 1932 short called, oddly enough, The Dentist.  Doctors of dentistry in that era must have been horrified that their patients might see this.  Fields is his usual comic genius ("Have you ever had this tooth pulled before?"), but the scene would have been nothing without the wonderful, very limber comedienne Elise Cavanna, who plays his unfortunate patient.  The full clip is 10 minutes long, but just forward it to 1.00 and watch until it hits 7:10.  Fields has to deal with his angry daughter for a few seconds during his work, but then he's back to the patient for the real show. It's one of the funniest 6 minutes you'll ever see:




Our second clip in my chosen trio of tooth-tuggers is one that most dentists have likely been bombarded with by patients, family, and friends about a million times.  Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors performs a song called Be A Dentist that should be required viewing for future generations of dental students who might not know about it.  Martin has already been introduced to us as a nasty kind of guy, and his true occupation and nature are revealed in the song:




Last, and unlike the first 2, is one of the most famous dentists in movie history.  It is not funny, was not meant to be funny, and is as far from funny as you can get.  It's the great Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man.  The dentist I went to at the time the movie came out was furious about it.  He was really concerned that his patients who were truly dentaphobic (I don't know if that is even a real word) might see it and let their teeth rot out of their heads before they ever came back to him.  Olivier plays an aging, escaped Nazi, dubbed the White Angel by his victims (a character based upon the real Doctor of Death, Josef Mengele),  He uses his dental skills to torture information out of Dustin Hoffman.  The scene is harrowing, to say the very least, and frankly a lot of the credit for that comes from the the quiet, almost soothing voice that Olivier uses in this tour de force performance.  I'm not going to post a clip of this one.  It's too disturbing to make readily available to someone who might otherwise take a second thought.  Plus, it really should be seen in the context of an incredible movie, not just as an isolated horror moment.

Let's see, how shall I leave you on a lighter note about Marathon Man?  I know -- Olivier and Hoffman were, of course, of two different generations of actors.  Olivier was a classically trained actor, and Hoffman came from the "feel it in your gut" modern style.  Hoffman had to do scenes where in the story he had not slept for 2 days and had been running for his life.  So, in real life, Hoffman stayed up for 2 days, did a lot of running and wore himself out.  He looked horrible and was exhausted when he came to film the scenes.  Olivier, as only he could,  looked at Hoffman and said "My dear boy, why don't you just try acting?"  Don't you love it!

Phobias about the dentist began a long time ago.  Those were the days when a slug of whiskey was all you got before the pliers came out:
Thank God for modern dentistry, eh?  So thank your dentist at your next visit.  However, I would not recommend this guy!


17 comments:

  1. Becky - you are on a roll! Very funny - and very true. Really - who doesn't fear the dentist? Love it.

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  2. What about the dentist gremlin in Gremlins 2? It's funny when he says "Is it safe?"

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  3. Haha; I actually just went to the dentist the other day, so its funny you should post this. Strangely enough, I don't have the fear of dentists that most people seem to have. While I wouldn't love going to see him, I'm not that afraid when I do :P

    Although, I guess if I had any of these dentists, I might be too scared to go!

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  4. Hey Beck, how about the dentist from the film "Cactus Flower"? He is scary in another way.... ;)

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  5. Becky,
    You were able to make me smile and cringe at the same time! Cute post!

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  6. How about Bob Hope in THE PALEFACE? There's also Alan Arkin in THE IN-LAWS and Raquel Welch was a dental assistant in FATHOM.

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  7. Funny post, Becky. You know, dentists have the highest suicide rate in the professional class, so perhaps you made one smile with this post. I felt every second of pain that Hoffman endured in that scene from Marathon Man.

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  8. Thanks for your comments, guys. I had forgotten about some of the movie dentists you mention. Bob Hope was great in Paleface, and Tom I never saw Gremlins 2 -- I loved the first one, and I can just imagine a gremlin dentist saying "Is it safe?" just like Olivier!

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  9. I'm overdue for a visit, I saw the same dentist for years and since he retired I simply haven't wanted to search for a new one. Ralph Bellamy played a less than comforting dentist in FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK with Errol Flynn and Brenda Marshall. The film is a bit of a spoof on husband-wife mystery teams, but Bellamy’s bedside manner would make you live with that cavity for one more day.

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  10. Oh I would hate to lost my dentist -- I don't know how he could be replaced! I remember Bellamy as the dentist -- it's an Errol Flynn movie, after all, and I never miss one of those! Great catch on a good movie dentist...

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  11. Great post, Becky. I can't think of another movie with a dentist, other than the aptly titled THE DENTIST, a slasher with Corbin Bernsen as the titular doc. There was a sequel as well. But most of the time I think of dentists, it's one of two things: "You'll be a dennn-tust!" or "Is it safe?" (and usually the GREMLINS 2 version, since that Gremlin is a slightly better actor than Laurence Olivier).

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  12. Becky, this was a very entertaining post. I had to chuckle at your dentist's reaction to the "Marathon Man." Quite a few years ago I had to have some very minor dental work done. The dentist asked me it should be painless, but if I wanted he would give me a local anesthetic. I told him, "No, that's OK. Just give me the Marathon Man treatment." Both him and his assistant started cracking up.

    In the first version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" there's a scene where the hero turns the tables on a dentist who is in cahoots with the villains and disarms him with a strong dose of ether.

    Speaking of laughing gas, one of Laurel and Hardy's best silent shorts is "Leave 'Em Laughing" where the boys leave the dentist after accidentally ingesting large quantities for laughing gas, causing all kinds of mayhem and laughing hysterically while doing so.

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  13. Sark, I think the dentist gremlin gave a performance that rivalled Olivier's as well - NOT! That was a good one.... A slasher dentist movie sounds like a lovely family film! LOL

    Kevin, your story about you and your dentist made me crack up too. I like your other suggestions, and relaly want to see the Laurel and Hardy one -- I dont't know how I missed that!

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  14. I'm seeing the dentist tomorrow ... Hmmmm ... great post as usual. Can't think of any more big-screen dentists, but you do have Herbie in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Dick Van Dyke's next-door neighbor in "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

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  15. Classicfilmboy, when I was a kid watching Dick Van Dyke, I always wished I could have Jerry Helper for my dentist! He was so cute and funny. Good luck with your dental visit!

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  16. hahah I love this! That Steve Martin song was both hilarious and painful at the same time. So funny! Whenever my dad has a bad experience at the denist, he always compares to to "Marathon Man" lol :)

    Another "dentist" movie could be the silent movie "Greed." The lead is a dentist. but....if you haven't seen it be prepared for a 4 hour movie, probably 2 hours of which are photos.

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