Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 3, 2022)
Though best-known for comedies, Blake Edwards occasionally ventured into other genres. With 1972’s The Carey Treatment, Edwards directs a mystery.
Set in Boston, Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) works as a pathologist at a local hospital. When 15-year-old Karen Randall (Melissa Torme-March) dies during an illegal abortion, Carey’s pal/colleague Dr. David Tao (James Hong) finds himself accused of this action, which he denies.
Further complications arise because Karen’s father Dr. JD Randall (Dan O’Herlihy) serves as the facility’s chief of staff. Carey finds the whole situation suspicious and launches his own amateur investigation to find the truth.
Decades before Jurassic Park, Treatment became the second cinematic adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel – albeit one under the pen name “Jeffery Hudson”. I didn’t much care for 1971’s Andromeda Strain - the prior Crichton film - but I hoped Treatment might fare better.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t become the case, though I hesitate to blame Crichton for the failings of Treatment. As implied at the start of this review, Edwards felt like an odd fit for a thriller like this, and he indeed proves an awkward match.
Not that Treatment stands as Edwards’ only step away from comedy, as he created other dramas across his career. Indeed, 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and 1962’s Days of Wine and Roses acted as two of Edwards’ better-known flicks before 1963’s Pink Panther more firmly established him as a purveyor of comedic efforts.
I didn’t care for the unconvincing drama of Tiffany’s or Roses, so this shift it comes as little surprise that Treatment leaves me cold. Nonetheless, I find myself a bit taken aback at just how clumsily Edwards approaches the material.
For a thriller/crime investigation, Treatment seems oddly unconcerned with those elements an awful lot of the time. The film meanders down different paths for extended periods before it slaps itself in the face and remembers the main plot.
In particular, the tacked-on romance between Carey and co-worker Georgia Hightower (Jennifer O'Neill) comes across as wholly gratuitous. As far as I can discern, Georgia doesn’t appear in the novel, so the film adds her.
I guess this change occurred to broaden the movie’s appeal to the “ladies audience”, but it feels unnecessary. I suppose the Carey/Hightower scenes intend to humanize the lead, but instead they come across as trite and pointless.
Even when Treatment digs into the main plot, it lacks conviction. The film pours on overwrought outrage from start to finish, as the characters attempt to convince us of high drama.
Given the nature of the story, Treatment shouldn’t require manufactured indignation. The movie comes with many opportunities for real fireworks, but instead, it simply tosses one clunky and over the top moment after another.
Perhaps I shouldn’t fault Edwards for the movie’s many failings. Apparently studio interference made the experience miserable for the director and negatively impacted his ability to create the product he desired.
Whoever deserves the blame, Treatment ends up as a flaccid stab at a thriller. Rambling, overcooked and devoid of any real intrigue, the movie turns into a complete dud.
Footnote: only 24 at the time, O’Neill shows some wispy gray hair. I couldn’t help but wonder if she came by this color naturally or if they gave her a light dye job so she wouldn’t seem so mismatched with 44-year-old Coburn.