Lionel Barrymore (l), Lew Ayres in Young Doctor Kildare filmA very good movie series that has been unjustly overlooked since the cultural cataclysm that began after World War II is MGM’s late-1930s/early ’40s series of films starring Lew Ayres as Dr. Kildare. It’s a pity, as the series has much to offer even today.

Ayres, then a very young contract player at what was the top Hollywood studio at the time, portrays the title character with the right blend of earnestness and humor, and Lionel Barrymore is excellent as his crusty but ultimately sympathetic mentor, Dr. Gillespie. Laraine Day is likewise solid as hardworking Nurse Mary Lamont, who becomes Kildare’s love interest.

Nearly all the entries in the series were helmed by the undistinguished MGM contract director Harold S. Bucquet, but they are quite competently produced, written, and directed.

Each has a strong plot line that poses difficult moral conflicts for the young doctor, and the series consistently rings interesting changes on the themes of youth vs. experience, tradition vs. innovation, and duty vs. immediate self-interest.

As such, this series of films is well worth seeing, and Turner Classic Movies is providing an opportunity to do just that, as it’s running several of the films tomorrow. Here’s the TCM lineup:

28 Wednesday
6:00 AM Young Dr. Kildare (1938)
  A medical school graduate must choose between a small-town practice and a big-city internship. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Nat Pendleton. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-82 mins, TV-G, CC
7:30 AM Calling Dr. Kildare (1939)
  A young doctor treats a gangster and falls for the man’s kid sister. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Lana Turner. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-87 mins, TV-G
9:00 AM Secret Of Dr. Kildare, The (1939)
  A young doctor tries to help a woman suffering from psychosomatic blindness. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-85 mins, TV-G
10:30 AM Dr. Kildare Goes Home (1940)
  A young doctor gives up big-city success to help his father set up a small-town clinic. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-79 mins, TV-G, CC
12:00 PM Dr. Kildare’s Crisis (1940)
  A young doctor’s marriage could be called off when the bride’s brother is diagnosed with epilepsy. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Robert Young. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-75 mins, TV-G, CC
1:30 PM Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case (1940)
  A young doctor uses pioneering methods to treat a mental patient. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-77 mins, TV-G, CC
3:00 PM Dr. Kildare’s Wedding Day (1941)
  A young doctor’s wedding turns into a tragic event. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Red Skelton. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-83 mins, TV-G, CC
4:30 PM People Vs. Dr. Kildare, The (1941)
  An ice skater sues a young doctor for malpractice. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Bonita Granville. Dir: Harold S. Bucquet. BW-78 mins, TV-G, CC
6:00 PM Dr. Kildare’s Victory (1942)
  A young doctor with a broken heart succumbs to the lure of a socialite. Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Ann Ayars. Dir: W.S. Van Dyke II. BW-93 mins, TV-G, CC

Note: A 1960s TV series reprised the characters, with Richard Chamberlain starring as Dr. Kildare.