DOCTOR COOK’S GARDEN – (1971) – Category: Enjoyably campy bad movie elevated by kitsch value in the casting.
Bing Crosby IS Colonel Sanders in Finger Lickin’ Good: A One- Man Show! No, actually Bing plays the title doctor in this made-for- tv movie based on a play by Ira “Rosemary’s Baby” Levin. Trouble is, with the snow-white hair and beard he wears in this telepic Bing looks like he’s supposed to be Colonel Harlan Sanders, inducing laughter in the audience in what is supposed to be a horror/thriller.
Doctor Cook is the seemingly amiable physician in a small Vermont town but in reality he’s a killer with a God Complex, giving fatal treatment to everyone he considers an undesirable citizen, but genuine medical care to those townspeople he deems “fit” to live. In other words he removes “undesirables” from the community the same way he removes weeds from his garden, hence the title metaphor.
If you remember Bing from his old Christmas Specials (and if you don’t just go to Youtube) or those Minute Made Lemonade commercials of his (“Noooooooo doubt about it!”) it adds to the fun of this film to see him playing against type and killing with giddy abandon.
Even more of the fun lies in how incredibly naive the townspeople are for not realizing what the good doctor has been up to. They just take it in stride that “bad” people keep dying under his care while “good” people always get better.
Hell, we’re told that one time he even poisoned everyone at the town picnic and, miracle of miracles, the only people to die from the poison were a few “mean” people. Still, nobody suspected Der Bingle. These yokels make the inhabitants of Mayberry look like Mensa candidates.
The only person to figure out what’s rotten in Hickville is a former resident of the town who has now come home as a doctor himself. This guy is played by Frank Converse and his love interest is played by Blythe “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Mother” Danner. Dr Cook killed both their fathers as it turned out, so I guess Match.com knew they belonged together.
In fact Frank’s father was his very first victim and he killed him because he frequently battered the young Frank. Bing-a-ling’s outrage as he recalls this is hilarious if you remember his alleged relationship with his son Gary.
This flick features murders with no accompanying tension, a romance with no accompanying chemistry, conversations on the ethics of Dr Cook’s monstrous activities that are devoid of all passion (or any emotion at all, really) and, since Bing’s character is frequently seen taking heart medicine, an ending that can be spotted a mile away.
Like Alien Lover (qv) this story would have made a passable half-hour episode of an anthology series but as a movie? Forget it! And I can’t imagine how unbearable it must have been as a stage play. Even an obvious gimmick like gratuitous gore might have boosted this laughable yawner. Paging Dr Herschel Gordon Lewis! You’re wanted in surgery!
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