Friday, January 28, 2011

Genevieve Bujold & Michael Douglas in Coma 1978

My first experience of this film was seeing the best selling Michael Crichton novel in the thrift shops I haunted as a teenager. Because of the success of the book, it was pretty ubiquitous. The image of the body suspended by wires on the cover was creepy, but it was the kind of creepy you couldn't turn away from.
The success of the book pretty much guaranteed there would be a film, and a film there was. It was released in 1978 and was a Michael Crichton project from start to finish - novel, screenplay, and direction. Susan Wheeler (Bujold) is a doctor at the prestigious Boston Memorial Hospital. When a good friend (Lois Chiles) comes in for a routine procedure and ends up in a coma she's devastated and wants to know why. As she starts looking into it she finds that a lot of operations on young, healthy people end up with the patient in a coma. Is this just coincidence or is there something more sinister a foot? Her investigations lead her into the dark heart of a conspiracy and very real danger, but even her Doctor boyfriend (Douglas) has trouble believing her.  Look for Richard Widmark as the head of surgery at the hospital and Tom Selleck in a small role as a patient. In an interesting side note, the executive producer of the film is Martin Erlichman, Barbra Streisand's manager.

This film was a big hit when it was released and there's a lot of media of it out there - it's on DVD, VHS, laser disc... the soundtrack is even available. That being said, it sort of flies under the radar. It's infrequently screened on TV, and is rarely talked about. Still, it's remembered by many as a favorite. The trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by augustotrek. The poster above is available on

Obscurity factor: 2 (easily found on many types of media, rarely screened or discussed)


  1. Hardly obscure, but how could I mind, when I simply LIVE for Mrs. Emerson at the Jefferson institute. Elizabeth Ahsley's two scenes are absolute treasures, and the contrast between the two (the visit, and the telephone auction) is just TOO MUCH. On my deathbed, I wan to see those two scenes, and the two scenes with Gale Sondergaard in The Letter, and I'll die happy.

    Here is the visit scene:

    And I love this page about the Jefferson Institute today:

  2. Had to switch computer: son doing homework on the good one...

    When I'm in a bad mood, I think that Michael Crichton's direction is as flat as Tom Selleck's EKG, and that is why Coma is not on everyone's best list like China Syndrome. But of course, a John Frankenheimer could have made it WORSE (Dr. Moreau) - as well as much better (Seconds).

    We cannot talk about this without mentioning the fabulous Jerry Goldsmith score... and the disturbing underlying sexist tone.

    Ben, you must have been a baby when the book came out. The book is very significant for me: I was in my (French) High School, and I was doing fine in English. I picked up that book, and it was so engrossing I started reading regularly in English. Separates the men from the boys, as they say, and that was my first step toward real fluency.

  3. The difference between this and China Syndrome is why it's on this blog. I love your story about the book and your fluency in English. It's a great testament to how effective the book is.

  4. Coma is a fantastic thriller. Top notch acting by Genevieve Bujold and Elizabeth Ashley. The China Syndrome on the other hand makes the fatal mistake of being boring in the extreme. Now that is a movie you never hear of anymore. I even forgot it existed until I happened upon this blog.

  5. Which film do you never hear of? Coma or China Syndrome? I think they both have merits...