Coma (1978)


Note:  The Grouch recently caught an airing of the hospital thriller Coma on TCM, and he was overcome with nostalgia. This was the film that led to Grouch’s first-ever movie review, which was published in the April 14, 1978 edition of the St. Cloud State University Chronicle.  We thought it would be fun to reprint that old review, verbatim, so here you go:


Typical thriller ‘Coma’ comes to life in second half



Somewhere around the middle of this picture, Coma snaps out of it and really begins to move.

Up until that point, the only things saving the film from a slow death are the dynamite musical score by Jerry Goldsmith (remember The Omen), and an equally impressive performance by Genevieve Bujold as the heroine. Bujold is given a role that we’ve all seen before in countless thrillers: a woman discovers an evil secret, yet no one, not even her boyfriend, believes her when she tries to tell them about it. They even send her to a psychiatrist.

Bujold manages to make her character unique and she succeeds in gaining audience acceptance.

Susan Wheeler (Bujold) is a surgical resident who shares living quarters with her boyfriend, also a doctor, played by Michael Douglas. They both practice medicine at Boston Memorial Hospital, one of the best in the country.

Things are pretty much business as usual in the hospital until Susan’s best friend lapses into a coma during what should have been a minor operation. Suspicious, Susan begins to investigate and discovers records of 12 supposedly routine operations that resulted in comas. But why? Telling would ruin the suspense of Coma, even though it doesn’t get all that suspenseful until the last half of the film.

Meanwhile, director-writer Michael Crichton tries to hold his audience’s attention by various other methods. He tries to revolt the audience with several “hamburger” shots of brain slices, slabs of liver, etc. He tries to titillate them with shots of Bujold scrubbing herself behind a translucent shower door. The picture becomes fun in its second half.



Someone thinks that Susan has learned a little bit too much. Her investigation has led her to the Jefferson Institute, where nurse Elizabeth Ashley says “we merely provide care as inexpensively as possible” for thousands of coma patients. Government subsidized, the institute is a chilling edifice that, strangely enough, is staffed by no more than five persons, including nurse Ashley. It is here that Susan finally solves her mystery.

Aside from Bujold’s excellent performance, the rest of the cast seems less than inspired. Douglas does all right as the boyfriend – we’re never quite sure if we can trust him or not – but Richard Widmark as the chief of surgery is a little too obvious right from the start. Elizabeth Ashley comes off like she is doing an impression of Gale Sondergaard in an old Sherlock Holmes movie.

One word of caution: if you already have a fear of hospitals and/or doctors, you probably don’t want to catch this flick.



Director: Michael Crichton Cast: Genevieve Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Rip Torn, Richard Widmark, Lois Chiles, Hari Rhodes, Gary Barton, Frank Downing, Richard Doyle  Release: 1978   Grade: B+



Watch the Trailer  (click here)



Oddly, this screen capture of Bujold showering did not appear with the original review.


© 2010-2024 (text only)


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *