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William A. Seiter
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At the outbreak of the World War, American women from all walks of life join a volunteer nursing outfit in France. Some volunteer out of a sense of duty while others travel to France because that's where all the men are. The nurses are surrounded by death and disease and must sacrifice their own comfort and safety in service of the wounded men who need them. The soldiers, so far from home and facing an uncertain future, are desperate for female companionship, but not necessarily the kind of romance the nurses are hoping for. Pretty young Joy hits it off with Robin, a fellow New Yorker, while no-nonsense Barbara tries to fend off the advances of Wally, a cocksure young flier. Joy's wartime romance takes an unexpected turn, with serious consequences, and Barbara reconsiders her romantic notions when Wally is sent on a dangerous mission. Written by
Released in 1930, "War Nurse" is a story about women who volunteered to serve as nurses in WWI. Coming from varied backgrounds, they quickly find themselves manning a hospital in a small French town. Though the conditions are trying and supplies are somewhat scarce, they work long hours tending to a seemingly endless stream of wounded and dying soldiers. The women become a close knit group, sharing their fears and dreams with each other through some tough times.
There are also lighter moments in this film, especially regarding the soldiers and fliers who come to know the nurses. Chief among these is Wally (Robert Montgomery), who is a confident flier always looking to score with the ladies. He meets Babs (June Walker), a rather straitlaced girl who falls for his line in a big way. In a pivotal scene, he explains to Babs that his philosophy is to "take what you can get" from life, because the future is so uncertain in the midst of war. He also says that war makes people "cheap and rotten". Babs wonders if it might even be a girl's patriotic duty to play along, making a pilot "happy" before he's sent off on another mission.
Another young nurse, Joy (Anita Page) falls for a patient in her care, only to be heartbroken later. I thought her performance was mostly good, but when she had to cry it rang false for me.
In 1930, talkies were still a new phenomenon. Still, the sound quality in this film was fine. Obviously, sound effects was a new technical area, and some of the sound effects were amateurish. The visual effects were a mixed bag. The use of back screens and model planes--though state of the art for their time--were distracting. On the other hand, the explosion effects used in bombing scenes were excellent, and the shots of exploding buildings and collapsing ceilings were realistic enough to hold up in today's films!
The editing of "War Nurse" is sometimes choppy, especially near the end. But the film, overall, is a solid tribute to the women (and men) who put themselves in harm's way for a good cause. And it is a realistic enough depiction of war to demonstrate its tragic nature.
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