Based on Morton Thompson’s novel and directed by Stanley Kramer, a poor medical student marries a nurse to support him and works hard to become a good doctor while objecting to the shortcomings of others.
In an operating theater Dr. Aarons (Broderick Crawford) shows medical students a corpse. Their purpose is to determine the cause of death, and he cuts the body open. After class Brundage (Lee Marvin), Alfred Boone (Frank Sinatra), and Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) react and discus what they will do that night. Alfred tells Brundage that Lucas wants to be a doctor more than they do. In the cafeteria Lucas joins Kristina Hedvigson (Olivia de Havilland), and he asks her a favor.
Lucas is working in a clinical lab, and Alfred comes in and says what he spent on his date. Alfred gives him a letter. Lucas burns it and says he has to see his father. Lucas goes to the apartment, knocks, and walks in. He sees a bottle and asks Job Marsh (Lon Chaney Jr.) what he did with the money, slaps his hand, and calls him a drunk. Job says he knows what he is and admits he stole his money. Job says he is a person. He does not think Lucas will make it as a doctor. He says he needs a heart as well as a brain. Lucas leaves.
Alfred asks Lucas why he missed three classes. Lucas says he needs $400, and Alfred hands him his allowance. Lucas asks Alfred if he could ask his father, but Alfred says he does not have it. Lucas tells Dr. Aarons he needs money. Dr. Aarons suggests he get a job and come back. Aarons says he is a Jew, and he writes a check for $75. In the office of the bursar Lucas is told he has thirty days to get the balance.
Wearing masks, Lucas and Alfred watch an operation. Kristina is a nurse. The patient is unconscious and feels nothing. The surgeon says the operation was a success anatomically. Kristina invites Lucas and Alfred for smorgasbord on Saturday.
Lucas, Alfred, and Kristina sit at a table with her father Oley (Harry Morgan) and his wife Bruni (Virginia Christine). Lucas tells a joke about a man who killed his horse and then warned his wife the same way, but Oleg does not know when to laugh. Bruni says that Kristina puts most of her salary in the bank.
Lucas makes a call and asks for a loan. He walks with Kristina and thanks her for the dinner. He invites her to dinner, and Kristina apologizes about her parents boring him. She says she might bore him too, but he takes her. After dinner they walk to a park and sit on a bench. Kristina wishes she were pretty, but Lucas says she has a good figure. He asks why she became a nurse and says he likes her. Kristina says she is not sexy and asks what he wants with her. He says he likes being with her and wants to see her often. She says all right, and he kisses her.
Kristina is doing the dishes with her mother, who asks about Lucas. Kristina says she loves him because he wants to be a doctor.
Kristina asks Lucas what is bothering him. He says he loves her and asks how she feels. She admits she loves him and thought he knew. He wants her to marry him. He says he is going to be thrown out of school because he has no money. She says she has plenty of money. He says no, and she says he is proud. She says she loves him so much that she has a right to help him. They kiss.
Lucas comes back to his room at 3 a.m. and tells Alfred he is getting married to Kristina. Alfred says he flipped his lid and says he is marrying her to stay in school. Alfred calls him cynical. Lucas says he wants to marry her. Alfred calls him being kept, and Lucas grabs him roughly. Alfred says he is all right, and Lucas asks him to be best man. Alfred puts out the light and says goodnight.
After the wedding Oley drives the car and drops off Lucas and Kristina. He unlocks the door of an apartment and carries her in. She asks if he likes it and shows him the bedroom. He finds champagne in the icebox and pours them a drink. She asks if he feels different or sorry. She goes in the bedroom, and he looks at her photo album. Kristina is in her nightgown and embraces him. They say they love each other.
In a classroom Alfred satirizes Dr. Aarons doing an autopsy. Dr. Aarons walks in and watches before turning on the light. Dr. Aarons takes over and explains a slide of cancer. Alfred tells Brundage they only expect you to learn seventy percent. Aarons throws a large book at Alfred and shows he has memorized it. He demands that they learn everything and walks out. The students talk about different specialties. Brundage says it is where you practice. Lucas is not as cynical and comments.
In surgery class Lucas asks Dr. Dietrich (Whit Bissell) why he did not cut the vagus nerve and explains that the latest research is for it. Dr. Dietrich demands an apology. Dr. Aarons tells Lucas he has to apologize; but Lucas says he won’t because he was not wrong.
Kristina comes home and says Dr. Aarons is right that they will stop him from interning. Lucas says a doctor not doing the right thing must be stopped. He asks if she is not too stupid to understand that. She goes in the bedroom and gets a gift for him. She realizes she is not very smart, gives him the gift, and goes out. He opens the sign that says LUCAS MARSH, M.D.
In class Lucas apologizes to Dr. Dietrich, who says they all make mistakes. Lucas and Alfred begin their internships in a hospital. Two experienced nurses take them around to see patients. An old lady tells Lucas she has no place to go. Lucas explains surgery to a patient. Alfred asks a patient how many times he has sold his blood and says that is his last transfusion. Kristina teaches Lucas. Alfred comes back in an ambulance with a baby he delivered. They both have to restrain a manic patient. Kristina tests Lucas on the names of the instruments. A dead body is brought in, and a cop gives Alfred his wallet. Alfred tells Lucas that it was his father. Lucas goes to his father’s apartment, breaks an empty bottle, and cries.
Lucas learns that a woman had a mole taken off by Alfred, and he looks at her chart. Lucas tells Alfred that it was a melanoma and says he may have killed her. Alfred agrees to report it. Kristina blames Lucas for talking like that to his friend. Later Lucas apologizes to Alfred, who is worried about the case. Alfred tells Lucas he knows that was tough for him to do.
Dr. Aarons tells the interns that they are practicing physicians now. He says goodbye and tells them not to endorse cigarettes. Lucas finds him in his office and says he is going to a farming town. Dr. Aarons shatters his illusions and tells him it will be mundane. He commends Lucas as a brilliant student and advises him to stop living his life like a Greek tragedy.
Lucas and Kristina arrive on a plane in Greenville, and Dr. Dave Runkleman (Charles Bickford) welcomes them and drives them, commenting about the people there. He says they will always want to know what it costs, and he notices that Kristina is sharp. He shows them their house and an old car. Lucas goes to the hospital with Dave, who gives answers to his secretary. Patients fill a room and begin to come in. Dave gives a woman a bottle of sugar pills and tells her to take one after every meal. He advises Lucas to treat those who only think they have a pain too. Lucas helps Dave treat his patients. Dave shows him two chickens as payment.
At home Lucas rests, and Kristina cooks the chicken. He says Runkleman is a one-man clinic and a good physician. She advises him not to worry all night. She tells him that she is happier than she has ever been. She says she wants to have a family, but he is asleep. She answers the phone late at night and takes the address for Lucas. He makes the visit and then calls on Harriet Long (Gloria Grahame) and Ben Cosgrove (Jesse White) who leaves. She offers him a drink, but he declines. She says Runkleman told her that he was born to be a doctor. He says he is tired and will operate at seven in the morning. He says he is sorry she is lonely, and she says goodnight.
Dave asks Lucas what he thinks of Harriet. Lucas asks who Ben Cosgrove is, and Dave says he is a lawyer who has done her no good. Dave asks him to listen to his heart to test a new stethoscope. Dave asks what he heard, and Lucas diagnoses his heart problems. Lucas says he should quit; but Dave says if it ruptures, he will go fast. Lucas meets Dr. Snider (Myron McCormick) who assists, and they operate. Lucas gives the patient a relaxer. Dave calls for oxygen. When Dr. Snider does not move, Lucas pushes him out of the way and starts it.
Dave dances with Kristina, and they sit with Lucas. Dave says Dr. Snider is the head of the hospital, and Lucas says he is incompetent. Harriet and Ben come over. Lucas dances with her, and Dave gives Kristina another drink and tells her not to worry. Ben criticizes doctors, and Lucas replies about lawyers. Ben says what they do not know and says they divide up the take. Kristina says doctors wear rubber gloves so they won’t leave fingerprints. Lucas gets angry at Ben and says they should go home. There he tells Kristina not to drink so much and accuses her of being jealous of him dancing with Harriet. They both apologize. She says they don’t talk much to each other. She says they are established now, and they can talk about having a family. He says it is too early for that. She is sad and says goodnight.
Lucas drives his car and sees Harriet on her horse. She invites him to her house for a drink. She says it is no good for her. She admits she is lonely. She realizes he spends all his time on medicine and has a wife. She says she can’t afford to fall in love with him. He says he can’t turn it on and off that way and leaves.
Kristina is examined by Alfred, who says she is twelve weeks pregnant. She has not told Lucas, and he asks her why. She says he does not want a baby. Alfred says most men don’t until they learn of it. He advises her to tell him. Alfred tells his nurse he won’t be in on Thursday.
Lucas says goodnight to a patient and sees a horse and then Harriet. He walks over to her and lets an anxious horse out to run. Then he kisses Harriet.
In the morning he drives by his house and goes on to the hospital. He sees a terminal patient with pneumonia and asks for his temperature. The nurse says Dr. Snider lets the old ones pass over peacefully. He checks vital signs and the heart. Lucas takes the bed and tells Dr. Snider he is isolating him because he has typhoid. Lucas blames him for letting a patient die. Snider says he will be gone by morning. Lucas grabs him and orders him out or he will kill him. Snider says he is insane. Lucas and Kristina treat the patient, and he asks for more blood. She finds no blood pressure, and he orders cortisone. They massage his legs. Later he says he is out of shock. He goes out for something, and she says he stopped breathing. Lucas says he is breathing now and takes over. Hours later the old man wakes up. Lucas tells Kristina she was wonderful; she is a great nurse. He says she has to come back to the hospital because she is needed. She says she is tired and goes home. She walks by the babies. At home she tears up baby clothes and cries.
Dave has made a recording warning people about typhoid in Greenville and tells them to come to the hospital for inoculations, and he tells the radio man to broadcast it every hour. Dave gives inoculations, and Alfred introduces himself. Dave gives him a shot.
At home Kristina calls to find out when Lucas will be home. She tells Alfred that he has one more call. Alfred says he wants to help and urges her to tell him. Alfred says he is hungry.
Lucas is having coffee with Harriet and says he feels guilty. She says that shows he cares about his wife. She says he wants to go, and he says goodnight. Lucas drives up, and Alfred calls to him from his Cadillac. Lucas asks him to come inside. Alfred says he has been there for hours. He tells Lucas she is pregnant. Alfred advises him to look at her. Lucas gets out, and Alfred drives off. Lucas finds Kristina sitting up, and he says Alfred told him. He kneels before her and says he is sorry. She says she knows where he was, and she cannot forgive him. She tells him to stop pretending; he no longer needs her. She says she does not want to live with him and tells him to get out. He walks out.
In the rain Dave and Lucas return to the hospital. Dave says Kristina is all right. Lucas checks his patients, and Dr. Snider says it is Dave. Lucas goes to him and orders Demerol. Dave says it happens to everybody. Lucas operates on him, and Dr. Snider assists. Lucas asks for more oxygen. Lucas wants to do more and tells them to stop the lung action. Dr. Snider says it is rupturing. Lucas asks for more blood and operates quickly. His pulse is weak, and the heart stops. Lucas orders adrenalin and massages. There is no response, but Lucas keeps trying. Dr. Snider says he is gone. Lucas is sad and walks out. Dr. Snider says, “God help him; he made a mistake.” Lucas walks on the street at night and rings the bell at the house. Kristina comes to the door, and he embraces her, asking for her to help him.
This realistic drama describes the current practice of medicine and portrays a hard-working medical student and doctor who has little tolerance for others who are not as capable. Fortunately he finds a supportive wife, a good friend, good teachers, and a helpful mentor, and perhaps not so fortunately a lonely woman who is beautiful. Yet his pride makes life difficult for himself and others around him.