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Coma is a 1978 American suspense film based on the 1977 novel of the same name by Robin Cook. The film rights were acquired by director Michael Crichton, and the movie was produced by Martin Erlichmann for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The cast includes Geneviève Bujold, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Ashley, Richard Widmark, and Rip Torn. Among the actors in smaller roles are Tom Selleck, Lois Chiles, and Ed Harris.
Dr. Susan Wheeler (Geneviève Bujold) is a surgical resident at Boston Memorial Hospital. Wheeler is devastated when a patient, who happens to be her best friend, is pronounced brain dead and ends up in a coma after minor surgery at the hospital.
Looking at the records, Susan finds that over the previous year a number of other fit young people have ended up the same way. She comes across two similarities to the cases: they all took place in the same operating theatre (operating room eight), and all the comatose bodies were moved to a remote facility called the Jefferson Institute. She continues to investigate, increasingly alone, starting to wonder if she can trust even her own boyfriend, Dr. Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas).
Eventually she discovers that the Jefferson Institute is a front for black-market organ sales, where the patients' organs are sold to the highest bidder. Boston Memorial is in on this, purposely inducing comas in patients whose organs match those of potential buyers. The patients are rendered brain dead via covert carbon monoxide poisoning, through a pipe that leads from the basement to the OR.
Susan's investigation then reveals the mastermind behind all of it - Dr. George Harris (Richard Widmark), Chief of Surgery, whom she has been confiding in all along. Dr. Harris tries to stop Susan from exposing the truth, and attempts to render her brain-dead with carbon monoxide in operating room eight, under the pretext of performing an appendectomy. However, Mark, now having realized the truth as well, manages to find and disconnect the pipe before it can poison Susan.
Susan, now awake, is wheeled out of the operating room holding Mark's hand. Meanwhile, Dr. Harris stands defeated in the operating room, as two police officers wait outside to arrest him.
- Geneviève Bujold as Dr. Susan Wheeler, surgery resident at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Michael Douglas as Dr. Mark Bellows, surgery resident at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Elizabeth Ashley as Mrs. Emerson, RN, of the Jefferson Institute
- Rip Torn as Dr. George, Chief of Anesthesiology at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Richard Widmark as Dr. George Harris, Chief of Surgery at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Lois Chiles as Nancy Greenly
- Hari Rhodes as Dr. Morelind, hospital psychiatrist at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Richard Doyle as Jim, a pathologist at Boston Memorial Hospital
- Lance LeGault as Vince, the truck driver
- Betty McGuire as a nurse
- Tom Selleck as surgery patient Sean Murphy
- Joanna Kerns as Diane
- Ed Harris as one of two pathology residents who tells Susan how a patient might be killed
- Philip Baker Hall as a doctor
Michael Crichton was a friend of Cook's. They met when Crichton was doing post-doctoral work in biology at La Jolla's Salk Institute and Cook was a Navy physician stationed at San Diego.
Crichton described the film as like a "Western... if the doctors are the bad guys they are also the good guys."
Crichton says that even though the lead in the book was a female the studio talked about getting Paul Newman to play it, but he fought it. "If a man had done the movie it would be a much more conventional thing."
Michael Douglas called the film "the first time I've been offered a project with a good story laid out well, a good cast and a good director."
Tom Selleck would later work with Crichton again in the 1984 sci-fi thriller Runaway. Composer Jerry Goldsmith would also work with Crichton on Runaway, contributing his first—and only—all-electronic score.
- Douglas In 'Coma' New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 May 1977: 70.
- Director Michael Crichton Films a Favorite Novelist By MICHAEL OWEN. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 Jan 1979: D17.
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- A Labor of Love for Scorsese Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Dec 1976: h21.
- Dr. Crichton prescribes 'Coma' for medics Daniels, Mary. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 10 Feb 1978: b4.
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