It's almost as if 1972's "The Carey Treatment" was based on the 1968 novel "A Case of Need," written by Jeffrey Hudson, the blockbuster author's med-school nom de plume. While not the first Crichton adaptation to hit the screen — that'd be the prior year's "The Andromeda Strain" — "The Carey Treatment" is among the most obscure. Directed by none other than Blake Edwards, it's now available on DVD from Warner Archive.

The mystery-thriller kicks into gear when a 15-year-old girl dies from an illegal abortion. Complicating the tragedy is that she was the daughter of hospital bigwig (Dan O'Herilhy, "Robocop"), who points the finger at the seemingly lone Asian physician in Boston, Dr. Tao (James Hong, "Balls of Fury"), who proclaims his innocence from behind steel bars.

Tao's good friend and fellow physician, Dr. Peter Carey (the late, legendary James Coburn), believes him. Carey takes it upon himself to play Sherlock rather than doc, sniffing around for answers to free the scapegoat. Sticking his nose within the bureaucracy makes him a target, too, whether attempting to run him over or to blackmail him with photos of him in bed with the striking Jennifer O'Neill ("Scanners"). His response is what mine would be: Get the frame blown-up to poster size.

That Carey is portrayed as such a renegade man of medicine is what makes "Carey" great. He's one of the few who believes in the Hippocratic oath, rather than the almighty dollar — a belief system that his colleagues see as not just disloyal, but betrayal.

Coburn rules as Carey. Whether slapping down his enemies physically or verbally, he's a credible, compassionate tough guy. And how easy it is to get the 99 percent on his side with speeches like this: "Why don't we fumigate the institutions? (Why not) crack down on the doctors who jerks a woman's ovaries because he needs a new wet bar in his $150,000 ranch house? What about get rid of the old quack that charges $1,000 to an old man to lift off a cataract that takes him four minutes between coffee breaks?"

Given his track record steering Peter Sellers comedies at the time, Edwards seems like an odd choice to direct, but proves a good one. The most interesting touch comes when Carey is interrogating a friend of the deceased coed; if you're not paying attention, you may not catch Carey fencing a prescription bottle from the room — a move Edwards lets us see only in the mirror.

Roy Budd ("Get Carter") provides the groovy music, the one element of the production that hasn't gotten worse with age. "The Carey Treatment" certainly is dated visually, but 40 years later, abortion is as hot-button as ever. It's interesting to see the issue treated at a time when merely uttering the word was about as shameful as having one. —Rod Lott

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