So-called mercy killing is the subject of The Bramble Bush, but the principals have such a brisk sex life that the subject rather gets lost in the bedclothes.
The screenplay, from a novel by Charles Mergendahl, presents the doctor who performs the mercy killing as a sympathetic character. Setting of the film is one of those New England towns that seem to be a hotbed (sic) of sex. Richard Burton is a young doctor who returns to his home town to care for his best friend, Tom Drake, who is dying of Hodgkin’s disease. Burton has a brief affair with Drake’s wife, Barbara Rush, who becomes pregnant.
Burton has left his home partly because his father, a doctor before him, committed suicide long before the action of the picture opens, on discovering his wife (Burton’s mother) was having an affair with James Dunn. Other complications include nurse Angie Dickinson’s unrequited torch for Burton.
Burton is intense and intelligent as the doctor, although he is miscast as a New Englander of laconic cast. Rush delivers a strong and sensitive performance. Dickinson’s warmth overcomes some script deficiencies, and Dunn is interesting in a role not completely realized. Drake is excellent.
Art director John S. Poplin is expert at creating the New England atmosphere (out of what looks, on close inspection, to be local California coastline).