Bad for Each Other

Bad for Each Other is a 1953 American drama film noir directed by Irving Rapper and starring Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott and Dianne Foster. Its genre has been characterized as a "medical melodrama" with a film noir "bad girl".[1]

Bad for Each Other
Directed byIrving Rapper
Produced byWilliam Fadiman
Screenplay byIrving Wallace
Horace McCoy
StarringCharlton Heston
Lizabeth Scott
Dianne Foster
CinematographyFranz Planer
Edited byAl Clark
Columbia Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 24, 1953 (1953-12-24) (New York City)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States


Army colonel and doctor Tom Owen returns home to Coalville, Pennsylvania, on leave. He learns from wealthy mine owner Dan Reasonover that his brother Floyd, a mine safety engineer killed in an explosion, had betrayed Dan's trust by purchasing substandard equipment and taking kickbacks. Floyd was also heavily in debt. Tom wants to pay Dan back, but Dan tells him to forget about the money.

Dan's daughter, the twice-divorced socialite Helen Curtis, meets Tom at a party and asks him for a date. She arranges for him to meet Dr. Homer Gleeson, who runs a fancy Pittsburgh clinic catering to wealthy women with imaginary health problems. Gleeson's associate has quit to open his own practice, so he offers Tom the vacancy. Knowing that Tom has vowed to pay his late brother's debts, Helen talks him into accepting, despite the fact that Tom enjoys the security his army career offers and knows his mother believes he should return to Coalville. As a nurse to assist him, Tom hires Joan Lasher, an attractive and idealistic young woman who plans to become a doctor herself.

Tom and Helen begin dating. Tom proposes marriage and she accepts. Her own father warns Tom that her wealth poisoned her first two marriages, but Tom remains adamant. Lasher becomes disappointed that Tom treats wealthy society patients for minor ailments when he could be doing more good elsewhere. Dr. Jim Crowley, a former sergeant who was inspired by Tom's example to resume his medical studies, comes to Tom to ask for a job. Tom sends him to see Dr. Lester Scobee, who cares for the miners of Coalville and their families.

Helen's rich and influential aunt, Mrs. Roger Nelson, needs emergency surgery. Gleeson is her personal physician, but pleads with Tom to perform the operation because he himself has not performed surgery in ten years. When Tom does so and allows Gleeson to take credit with the patient, Lasher upbraids Tom for his unethical behavior and quits. Gleeson decides to charge Mrs. Nelson an exorbitant fee, which he splits with Tom. Mrs. Nelson learns Tom performed the operation and questions his ethics. Before Tom can defend himself, he is called away to help at a mine explosion at Coalville.

Tom enters the mine and joins Jim treating and rescuing miners far underground. They rescue the miners, but Jim is fatally injured. Tom tells Helen he is quitting the Pittsburgh clinic to work in Coalville. Helen tells him she cannot live there, so they reluctantly part. Tom arrives at his new office to find Joan already at work.


Screenplay and development

The screenplay was adapted from "Scalpel", an unpublished novel by Horace McCoy, to which Hal Wallis bought the rights for Paramount Pictures for $100,000 in 1951, by McCoy and Irving Wallace after Columbia acquired the rights in 1953.[2]

It mirrored the plot of the 1938 British film The Citadel closely enough for one reference work to call it "the poor man's version" of that film.[3]

The film's trailer promoted it as an exposé of "ghost surgeons" in the contemporary medical profession, the practice of a doctor misrepresenting himself to a patient and taking credit for surgery performed by someone else. The practice was a topic much discussed and condemned at the time.[4] The American College of Surgeons condemned the practice in 1951.[5]


Writing in the New York Times, Howard Thompson called the film "erratic" and recapped its plot as a "romanticized endorsement of the Hippocratic Oath, as opposed to cash in the bank". He nevertheless allowed that the film had merits: "the lacquered, carefully engineered proceedings have their persuasive aspects". He singled out "bits and snatches" of the dialogue and the acting of all but the two leads. He preferred the plot of the doctor's career choice dilemma to the romance of the title: "The hero's liaison with the tippling, muddle-headed Miss Scott takes up a good, pointless third of the footage."[6]

TV Guide calls it a "real bore" that "may be dangerous to your health", says Heston "has never been stiffer or more self-righteous", but that "[s]ome excellent character actors are totally wasted in this film".[7] Others have complained that the film's titled misrepresents it.[8] Turner Classic Movies calls it "obscure and forgotten".[2]


  1. Kehr, Dave (February 5, 2010). "Carnal, Gum-Crackin' and Dangerous to Know". New York Times. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  2. Arnold, Jeremy. "Bad for Each Other". Turner Classic Movies. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. Films in Review, vol. 37 (1986), 398
  4. "Ghost Surgeon". Chicago Tribune. April 18, 1952. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  5. Laurence, William L. (November 10, 1951). "Surgeons' Society Scores Split Fees" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  6. "Charlton Heston and Lizabeth Scott Play Lead Roles in 'Bad for Each Other'". New York Times. December 24, 1953. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  7. "Bad for Each Other". TV Guide. Retrieved August 29, 2015.
  8. Halliwell's Film Guide 2008 (HarperCollins UK, 2008)
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