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Directed by Frank Borzage


Young medical student John Wesley Beaven is torn between the detached, cold pragmatism of Dr. Forster (Akim Tamiroff) and the humanistic attitudes of kindly Dr. Cunningham (William Collier Sr.). Matters are brought to a head when Beaven must choose between his career and impending marriage to fellow student Audrey Hilton (Dorothy Lamour). Dr. Forster convinces Audrey to return to her native China and let Howard pursue his studies undistracted. She takes Forster's advice, but Howard follows her. Once in the Orient he is injured in a bomb blast, and in a makeshift hospital, Dr. Forster is called on to perform a risky operation to save his life.


Idealism vs. Practicality is the Disputed Passage in this lavishly mounted soap opera. Based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas (The Robe, Magnificent Obsession) the film stars John Howard as young medical student John Wesley Beaven. In the course of his education, Beaven is torn between two philosophies: the cold pragmatism of Dr. Forster (Akim Tamiroff) and the humanistic attitudes of kindly Dr. Cunningham (William Collier Sr.), who of course is author Douglas' alter ego. The crisis within Beaven comes to a head when he must choose between his career and his impending marriage to Audrey Hilton (Dorothy Lamour). A literally explosive climax in war-torn China brings the story to a logical and satisfying solution. Kudos again to director Frank Borzage for bringing warmth and credibility to the most sloppily sentimental of storylines.


Being an inveterate prover of self-evident propositions, Lloyd C. Douglas is demonstrating at the Paramount that there is more to the art of healing than pure science, that even the most cynical surgeon sometimes has to admit the existence of forces beyond his scalpel's reach. "Disputed Passage," which seems a fair enough adaptation of his latest popular novel, presents the argument cogently enough, although with less than scrupulous fairness. Dr. Douglas, almost against his will, has given his materialist all the better of the debate while it is on a rational plane. His climax, proving the existence of a soul—at least, that's what we suppose it proved—rests entirely on an emotional appeal, and not too securely on that.

Excerpt from the NYT located HERE

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Theatrical Release: October 25th, 1939

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DVD Review: Universal 'Vault Series' - Region 0 - NTSC

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Distribution Universal - Region 0 - NTSC
Runtime 1:27:18 
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.26 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s   
Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0) 
Subtitles None

Release Information:
Studio: Universal

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• None

DVD Release Date: September 6th, 2016

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Chapters: 9





Disputed Passage is late 30's melodrama from the great Frank Borzage (Lucky Star, Street Angel, 7th Heaven). It's often described for its soap-opera like conventions, where Lloyd C. Douglas' book brought the heart back to practicing medicine, with Dorothy Lamour and her stereotypical "No tickee, no laundry" Asian accent.

The disc is, predictably, single-layered and has no menus, or extras, and the transfer is interlaced. Aside from that it was adept but a touch green - and is at the mercy of the source, which is somewhat compromised. There are, relatively light, vertical scratches and speckles. DoP William C. Mellor (Giant, A Place in the Sun, The Diary of Anne Frank, Bad Day at Black Rock) exports some exquisite sequences with brilliant light and shadows although the SD transferred contrast can be muddy at times.

The audio is a factor of the production - dialogue is not always easily discernable but the score by Friedrich Hollaender (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Caught, Berlin Express, Background to Danger, The Verdict) does a great job of expanding on the film's moods and atmosphere. There are no subtitles and the media is locked to region FREE.

The film is extremely well-realized by Borzage but he can't quite overcome to indulgent script... Akim Tamiroff and John Howard are excellent but I had some trouble buying into Dorothy Lamour. Still, for fans of vintage cinema this is golden, but the price is too high to fully endorse. Recommended for around $12 or less.  

Gary Tooze


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Distribution Universal - Region 0 - NTSC

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