Bing Crosby’s doctor weeds out the good from the bad…
One of two dramatic roles from the singer of 41 No1 records in a killer of a final role.
Dr. Cook’s Garden Part 1/2 * Bing Crosby, BING CROSBY
I’ll bet just reading that Bing Crosby heads the cast list of Dr Cook’s Garden (1971), you will be wondering just how long it takes me to mention that he was the famous dad of Mary Crosby from Dallas (1978-91). Well, there you go, and you can send my cut of your winnings to…
Anyway, now I have got that little fact out of the way more on this TV Movie. In this 70s dramatic thriller, he stars with Gwyneth Paltrow’s mum, Blythe Danner and that man who mumbled his way through Cruise into Terror (1978), Frank Converse. This film was Bing’s swan song to the movies and all I say is what a way to go!
This role is a more dark and deadly one from Bing Crosby. Crosby was loved by many as an actor and singer and Bob Hope’s on-screen partner in those Road to films. My Darlin Husband is still waiting for The Rock and Jason Statham to remake these with a list of lovelies. Probably including Karen Gillan and Scarlett Johansson.
Anyway in my childhood, Crosby was listened to every Christmas by my gran in his Christmas TV specials or in his musicals. His role in Dr Cook’s is not however a singing role. But I am sure you will read this once when I say he’s a doctor and twice when I tell you he’s a serial killer in this TV Movie adaptation of the Ira Levin play.
The story begins as Janey Rausch (Blythe Danner), a concerned daughter (and nurse at the local doctor’s surgery (to give Danner more to do)) phones Dr Leonard Cook (Bing Crosby), the only doctor in Greenfield, New England. She asks Cook to come and treat her unwell father who has chest pains. Cook fetches his doctor’s bag and some medical equipment from his locked cabinet.
On his way to the car, this nearly 70 year old and silver-haired, goateed Doctor gets chest pains. He takes some meds with immediate effect and this is observed by his housekeeper Dora (Abby Lewis) who watches him from the house /surgery balcony.
Cook then visits the patient and after bustling Janey out of the room, he gives her father an injection. This patient looks superfrightened. Cue 1970s colourful opening credits, and then some OTT jaunty generic TV Movie music is heard.
After five years away, Jimmy Tennyson (Frank Converse), returns to his home town, and it appears he’s graduated as a doctor. Everyone he meets is happy to see him, and Tennyson makes his way to the doctor’s surgery to see Dr Cook, his mentor and father figure (and presumably the life and soul at the town’s karaoke).
Dora tells Tennyson that she is concerned about Dr Cook. She tells Tennyson that he is “wilful, stubborn and won’t slow down” and needs someone to help him out in the doctor’s surgery. She feels Tennyson would be perfect for the job now he is a qualified doctor, and Cook looks on him as a son. Tennyson then goes to the surgery and stops to chat up Janey.
For plot convenience, She is also the receptionist (giving Danner even more to do), and as they catch up there seems to be a wee bit of a mutual romantic attraction.
Cook is glad to see Tennyson and thrilled to hear that he has graduated. He insists however that he doesn’t need his help to run the surgery and he is thrilled to learn he’s been the inspiration for this young man. Tennyson visits the local graveyard and there he bumps into Essie (Bethel Leslie) whose father died about 4 years ago, leaving her with a harridan of a mother.
On talking to Janey, he learns her father died of chest pains just before he arrived in town. She was surprised about his death as he was usually an extremely healthy man. But she tells him that he died shortly after Dr Cook’s visit. She adds that the pair talked for about an hour then he died later that morning. She says that Tennyson can look at his file in the surgery if he wants to know more. And they snog, after a wee bit more flirting.
On looking in the files, Jimmy gets puzzled about Cook’s note-taking with some odd-looking abbreviations added to patients notes. He asks Cook about this, and Cook pleasantly tells him R means Rest for adults and stands for Repeat for children. After Tennyson asks for a job, Cook tells him he doesn’t need help with his workload, and Dora witnessed him have gastritis. He sees Greenfield as his town, like his garden and that he wouldn’t share it with anyone.
During a garden party celebrating his return, Jimmy talks to the townspeople and local reverend who all believe they are lucky and blessed in their town. They tell how only good people live to a good age, where more bad people or those who are a burden to others die early. Essie then has an outburst saying she wishes her mother was dead. Dr Cook immediately plans to visit her…
Tennyson also notices these odd abbreviations in the garden. The gardener, Elias tells him that P is Prune and that R stands for Remove. And these put up by Dr Cook as instructions for him. He has this chilling conversation with Tennyson;
Jimmy Tennyson: I’m asking you Elias! Please its important! What does “R” stand for?
Elias Hart: Remove! “R” for remove! Sick plants! Hurt plants! We pull um out! That’s why it keeps the garden lookin’ so perfect all the time!
Jimmy Tennyson: Remove!
Elias Hart: That’s right!
Tennyson is also puzzled as it seems the doctor has a huge supply of different poisons in his cupboard and he then sounds it out with Janey, then he confronts Dr Cook on his suspicions…
The story is a chilling one and it was well cast in all its roles. Bing Crosby gave a wonderfully chilling performance and it’s a shame he wasn’t cast in more dramatic roles like this one. This role was reportedly was just his second role in a drama, and he was eerily convincing as this doctor. It was easy to disassociate him from his more pleasant characters with his silver hair and goatee, he seemed like a different actor.
Surprisingly, unlike those early Doris Day film reviews, I found it easier in accepting he wouldn’t burst into song during his production.. perhaps due to reviewing films with other actors and actresses who sing such as Ginger Rogers (HERE), Frank Sinatra (HERE), Fred Astaire (HERE) and Doris Day (HERE).
Crosby’s charismatic character is later seen to be quite chilling and creepy. It seems that Cook was seen as a much loved practitioner by the townspeople. Yet as he is confronted about his possible deadly behaviours, he seemed to have a bit of a God complex. He believes he was doing the right thing as he murdered the town’s more nasty characters or those he felt were a burden on their carers.
As he talks with Tennyson about the reasons for his actions, he is pretty matter of fact about it, believing even the town would thank him for his actions.. and that’s where you become afraid for other characters particularly Tennyson. This tension is seen and felt through the eerie use of shadows as he talks with Tennyson, about his concerns after he catches him looking through his doctor’s records in the basement. Chilling music also reinforces these scenes.
Frank Converse was excellent as the young doctor who looked up to Cook as a child. He had a lovely on-screen credible father-son rapport with Crosby. Tennyson’s scene where he discovers that Dr Cook killed his abusive father is believed to devastating for this character. Converse conveys these feelings as if he seems more hurt that his idol behaved in this way than his father’s death. As you feel just how devastated and crushed he feels.
Converse had a sweet rapport with Blythe Danner as his love interest, but I felt they needed more romantic scenes together. Danner herself sadly had little to do but listen to Tennyson’s concerns, doubt him and tell him that certain people were dead (usually to dramatic music). I have seen her in different roles and feel her role here could have been expanded more with more scenes shot showing this actress’s acting talents. However, this only her fourth role possibly explains this small but pivotal character.
Interestingly Dr Cook’s Garden had its origins on Broadway in the mid-sixties with another singer-actor as Dr Cook. This singer was Burl Ives, and he like Bing also acted in film and TV. During this play’s run, Warner Brothers won the rights for the play and were due to make a film with James Stwart in this role. The film was cancelled after the play was a surprising flop. I was surprised at learning this, after seeing fabulous and thrilling films which were written by Ira Levin including The Stepford Wives (1975), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Deathtrap (1982).
However, I would urge you to track this TV Movie down, if you want to see Bing Crosby in his final and highly praised television role. Or in a non-singing part, with a deadly final twist. Crosby died in 1977, just three years before his daughter stepped into the soap limelight giving a near lethal shot of her own. This in her role as Kristin Shepherd shot her on-screen brother in law, J.R. Ewing in Dallas.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
1st Annual Bing and Bob Blogathon 2021, No 15
This film was entered into Hoofers and Honeys of the Classic Movie Era/KN Winiarski Writes’ 1st Annual Bing and Bob Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Bing Crosby in 5 Golden Hollywood Stars and High Society. Frank Converse in Cruise to Terror, Circle of Fear, Rhoda and The Bionic Woman. Blythe Danner in Futureworld, M*A*S*H and American Gods. Bethel Leslie in Alfred Hitchcock Presents.