12 dentists in the movies: Remember these docs?

April 17, 2015
In 2014, Jennifer Aniston reprised the role of Dr. Julia Harris in the popular “Horrible Bosses” film franchise. Unfortunately, Dr. Harris came along a year too late to be rated in MovieFanFare.com’s rating of the most favorite “movie dentist.”

MovieFanFare.com frequently polls its visitors about the movies we watch. Recent polls asked filmgoers about their favorite “green” movie to watch on St. Patrick’s Day. “How Green was My Valley” (1941 classic from director John Ford) was the most popular choice.

Another survey asked fans to choose their favorite role starring Matt Damon. Perhaps surprisingly, the award-winning “Good Will Hunting” came in second to the Jason Bourne films.

In 2014, Jennifer Aniston reprised the role of Dr. Julia Harris in the popular “Horrible Bosses” film franchise. Unfortunately, Dr. Harris came along a year too late to be rated in MovieFanFare.com’s rating of the most favorite “movie dentist.”

The results revealed the following preferences for these dentists on the silver screen:

  • 1. Dr. "Painless" Potter
  • 2. Dr. Christian Szell
  • 3. The Dentist
  • 4. Dr. Orin Scrivello
  • 5. Dr. Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski
  • 6. Dr. Sheldon Kornpett
  • 7. Dr. King Schultz
  • 8. Dr. Frank Sangster
  • 9. Dr. Wilbur Wonka
  • 10. Dr. Alan Feinstone
  • 11. Dr. Phillip Sherman
  • 12. Dr. Stuart Price

Don’t remember these doctors? Refresh your memory below. The poll, though, reminded us of another DentistryIQ.com article where we ranked the 25 best lines about oral care in movies. With that in mind, we decided to grin a bit about the lines uttered by these doctors above.

Dr. “Painless” Potter

Bob Hope played the lead role in this 1948 comedic western. Jane Russell was the female lead, handling the role of Calamity Jane. Until Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” in 1974, “The Paleface” was the most financially successful parody of westerns. The screenplay was inspired by an actual dentist in the late 1800s, “Painless Parker” who “could extract a rotten tooth painlessly for 50 cents.” Dr. Potter was portrayed as an inept, timid dentist who is recruited by Calamity Jane to help uncover a gun smuggling operation in the Wild West. Two lines by Dr. Potter include, “Brave men run in my family,” and “I hope they're (his guns) loaded. I wish I was, too.”

Dr. Christian Szell

Marathon Man is, of course, one of the scariest horror movies for dental phobics, and Laurence Olivier’s masterful portrayal of a Nazi war criminal forced out of retirement stigmatized dentistry with one specific depiction of a restorative procedure. Dustin Hoffman was the lead actor, a graduate student who jogged long distances for exercise. But it was Dr. Szell’s three-word line that stole the show: “Is it safe.” The American Film Institute regards it as the 70th best quote of all time. The famous torture scene also prompts Dr. Szell to say, “Oh, please don't worry. I'm not going into that cavity. That nerve's already dying. A live, freshly-cut nerve is infinitely more sensitive.”

The Dentist

In the early 1930s, W.C. Fields appeared in several short comedies, usually around 30 minutes in length. The legendary comedian portrayed a pharmacist in one short, and a barber in another. Both of those roles, the characters were assigned names. “The Dentist” is simply known as “the dentist” as he resumes treating patients after a slapstick round of golf. His lines included, “Now, have you ever had this tooth pulled, before?” and “Get those teeth out of there, they're in my lie.”

Dr. Orin Scrivello

The bloodthirsty plant in the 1986 musical, “Little Shop of Horrors,” ate the sadistic Dr. Scrivello, which did not sadden too many dental phobics. Steve Martin’s spot-on performance in the dental operatory took six weeks to film, partially because test audiences wanted the gore originally depicted in his dental office cleaned up a bit. Dr. Scrivello sang, “I thrill when I drill a bicuspid / It's swell though they tell me I'm mal-ad-just-ed” after divulging “I find a little giggle-gas before I begin increases my pleasure enormously.”

Dr. Walter "Painless Pole" Waldowski

The suicidal dentist in the 1970 military satire about the Korean War, “M*A*S*H,” was depressed due to a suspected onset of impotence. Otherwise, Dr. Waldowski was a popular doctor in the medical unit, hosting poker parties during downtime. Actor John Schuck made his film debut in “M*A*S*H” and was purposefully chosen for the role due to a prominent underbite. Schuck didn’t say that much in the ensemble cast dominated by Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, but he did confess about his desire to be faithful: “I wasn't gonna fool around out here because I got these three girls I'm engaged to back home.”

Dr. Sheldon Kornpett

Dr. Kornpett’s role in the 1979 version of “The In-Laws” is generally considered more of a classic than the 2003 version with Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas. The chemistry between Peter Falk and Alan Arkin (Kornpett) led to the movie being viewed as one of the 50 best comedies ever made. Dr. Kornpett experiences a range of emotions upon meeting his daughter’s impending father-in-law, a CIA agent. Dr. Kornpett pleaded frequently throughout the movie, requesting such things as “There's no reason to shoot at me. I'm a dentist.” and “Please God, don't let me die on West 31st Street!”

Dr. King Schultz

Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” in 2012 features Dr. Schultz, who quit dentistry to become a bounty hunter. Dr. Schultz buys the freedom of a slave (a good thing), but, true to Tarantino’s style, the movie rapidly incorporates the vengeful violence sought by lead characters. Christoph Waltz, who played the role of Dr. Schultz, earned an Oscar as best performance by an actor in a supporting role. Early in the movie, Dr. Schultz instructed freed slaves: “Once I'm gone, you could lift that beast off the remaining Speck, then carry him to the nearest town, which would be at least 37 miles back the way you came. Or two, you could unshackle yourselves, take that rifle, put a bullet in his head, bury the two of them deep, and then make your way to a more enlightened area of this country. The choice is yours.”

Dr. Frank Sangster

Steve Martin’s portrayal of Dr. Sangster in “Novacaine” in 2001 differs from Dr. Scrivello above in that Dr. Sangster is not sadistic. However, he falls into the pattern of illegally prescribing drugs to patients. Despite his downfall, Dr. Sangster represents a more serious view of a dentist. He said, “A person can lose a lot of things. He can lose his soul. He can lose his life. But I've always said the worst thing a man can lose is his teeth.” He also extracts his own teeth, noting, “Strange as it may seem, it didn't hurt like I thought it would. In fact, with each tooth I pulled, I felt a little better ... a little less trapped ... a little more free.”

Dr. Wilbur Wonka

The father of Willy Wonka (the Johnny Depp version in 2005, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) inspired the chocolate maker’s rise to wealth by being overly focused on Willy’s pediatric dental care. Christopher Lee, who played the role of Dr. Wonka, told his son, “All these years and you haven't flossed” and “Lollipops. Ought to be called cavities on a stick!” The doctor also kept up with health-care research, mentioning at one point: “Just last week I was reading in a very important medical journal that some children are allergic to chocolate. Makes their noses itch.”

Dr. Alan Feinstone

Corbin Bernsen played the lead role in “The Dentist” (1996) and its sequel in 1998. Dr. Feinstone begins delivering tortuous dental treatment after discovering his wife’s unfaithfulness. Dr. Glennon Engleman, a dentist who turned into a serial killer from the 1950s until 1980, served as inspiration to the movie. Dr. Feinstone needed some therapy, uttering lines such as “Get your tongue out of the way! Get your tongue out of the way, [bleep]!” and “I am an instrument of perfection and hygiene — the enemy of decay and corruption.”

Dr. Phillip Sherman

Dr. Sherman is the only animated dentist on this list, central to “Finding Nemo” in 2003. Actor Bill Hunter’s voice delivered the doctor’s lines. The characters are primarily fish, and the lead is imprisoned in the aquarium in the dental office. The fish steal the show, since they have a front row seat to the dental treatment. “Root canal, and by the looks of those X-rays, it's not going to be pretty.” “Rubber dam and clamp installed?” “A Gator-Glidden drill. He seems to be favoring that one lately.” The view from the fish tank provided a terrific dental education.

Dr. Stuart Price

“The Hangover” franchise (2009, 2011, and 2013) includes “Stu,” the dentist who worried too much during the boy’s nights out. Ed Helms, who acted in the role of Dr. Price in all three movies, did not require any special effects for the missing tooth that was prominent in the first movie. The incisor never grew in while growing up. The films notably rely on obscenities for laughs, but Dr. Price did comment on the sudden twist in his oral health: “I look like a nerdy hillbilly!”