Friday, June 06, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Night Nurse (1931)

Friday evening's double bill concluded with NIGHT NURSE, a particularly interesting exemplar of pre-Code cinema. The film was highly entertaining, though more than a little bizarre.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Lora Hart, who becomes a nurse back in the days when student nurses were housed in hospital dormitories. (For a fun late '30s example of the nursing genre, check out FOUR GIRLS IN WHITE.) Stanwyck is excellent as the spunky woman who overcomes myriad challenges to become a dedicated nurse, then finds even more difficult problems lie ahead of her. Stanwyck becomes mixed up with everyone from a friendly bootlegger (Ben Lyon) to a doctor who appears to be on coke (Ralf Haralde) to an evil chauffeur (Clark Gable) who has dastardly designs on two children in Lora's care.

Joan Blondell is Stanwyck's wisecracking roommate. Marcia Mae Jones, who passed away a few months ago, plays Nanny, the sickest of the little girls Lora tries to save. Charlotte Merriam is the children's alcoholic mother. Charles Winninger is also in the cast as an eminent surgeon.

Although the film is tame by today's standards, some of the goings-on in this movie are surprising for anyone used to seeing classic movies made after the mid-'30s, and the dialogue sometimes causes one to blink as well. The film has plenty of humor (intentional and otherwise) to go along with some action-packed drama. Some of the medical scenes are rather amusing: milk baths! home blood transfusions with virtually no medical equipment! blood type "4A"! The abrupt ending -- which includes an accessory to murder (albeit, it's a "justified" homicide) driving off into the sunset -- is a jaw-dropper.

NIGHT NURSE runs 72 minutes. It was directed by William A. Wellman.

NIGHT NURSE is available on DVD in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 2. A commentary track is included in the extras. The movie is also available on VHS, and it can be seen on TCM.

Guaranteed both to entertain and to leave the viewer shaking one's head in bemused disbelief.


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