Arrowsmith (film)

Arrowsmith is a 1931 American pre-Code film directed by John Ford and starring Ronald Colman, Helen Hayes, Richard Bennett, and Myrna Loy. It was written by Sidney Howard from Sinclair Lewis' novel Arrowsmith. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Brian Desmond Hurst
Produced bySamuel Goldwyn
Written bySidney Howard
StarringRonald Colman
Helen Hayes
Richard Bennett
Myrna Loy
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyRay June
Edited byHugh Bennett
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
December 26, 1931 (1931-12-26)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.25 million[1]


An idealistic young medical student named Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman) makes a favorable impression on Dr. Max Gottlieb (A. E. Anson). When Arrowsmith graduates, Gottlieb offers him a position as his research assistant, but the young man reluctantly has to turn him down. He has fallen in love with nurse Leora (Helen Hayes), and the salary is not enough to support the couple. Instead, he marries Leora and sets up his medical practice in her rural home town. One day, he develops a serum to cure a fatal cow disease ravaging the nearby herds. Reinvigorated, he decides to join Gottlieb at the McGurk Institute in New York. Meanwhile, Leora miscarries and, to the couple's sorrow, is unable to have any more children, so she devotes herself to supporting her husband's mission.

When there is an outbreak of bubonic plague in the West Indies, Gottlieb believes that Arrowsmith's experience with his cow serum would prove invaluable. Eager to help mankind, Arrowsmith goes to a Caribbean island to work with scientist Gustav Sondelius (Richard Bennett) in his struggle to save the natives. Leora accompanies him, despite his fear for her safety. Sir Robert Fairland (Lumsden Hare) refuses to let Arrowsmith perform an experiment by only treating half of the people with the serum in order to test the effectiveness of the cure. Howard University educated Dr. Oliver Marchand (Clarence Brooks) offers them the people of his island as test subjects. Among the participants in the experiment is Mrs. Joyce Lanyon (Myrna Loy), a New Yorker stranded on the island who is attracted to Arrowsmith.

Sondelius contracts the disease; just before he dies, he pleads with Arrowsmith to save as many lives as possible by abandoning the scientific protocol. The young doctor becomes worried about his wife. He goes to see her, but too late; she too has succumbed to the plague. Arrowsmith then decides to give the serum to all, saving many lives. On Arrowsmith's return to New York, Dr. Tubbs (Claude King), the head of the McGurk Institute, is eager to bask in his reflected glory. However, when Gottlieb suffers a stroke during the reception in Arrowsmith's honor, Arrowsmith decides to quit the institute and join his friend and co-worker Terry Wickett (Russell Hopton) in a makeshift lab doing real research.

Cast (in credits order)


The film is largely faithful to the novel, but completely omits all mention of Arrowsmith's wealthy, self-centered second wife. Myrna Loy has only a few scenes with Colman, and their relationship is undeveloped. According to Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, Helen Hayes noted that various scenes were dropped from the script without explanation. It turns out that Samuel Goldwyn had hired director John Ford on condition that he not drink during the production. As a result, (according to Osborne), Ford sped up the filming as much as he could.


The film was a financial and critical success. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography.[2][3]


  • Arrowsmith on IMDb
  • Tom Paulus, "The View Across the Courtyard: Bazin and the Evolution of Depth Style" in the Andre Bazin special issue, Jeffrey Crouse (ed.), Film International, Issue 30, Vol. 5, No. 6, 2007, pp. 62–73.
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