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The young NIGHT NURSE watching two sick little girls finds
herself pitted against a gang of heartless criminals.
Barbara Stanwyck is a standout in this taut little film. Independent, resourceful and tough as nails, she pits herself against the bullying authority she encounters in the hospital and the absolute evil she must confront at the bizarre private home where she is sent to work. An intelligent & spirited actress, it was roles such as this which would hasten Stanwyck into becoming one of the biggest film stars of the 1930's.
A fine cast gives Stanwyck ample support. Ben Lyon plays the free spirited bootlegger who takes a shine to Barbara. Brassy Joan Blondell portrays her worldly wise roommate. Charles Winninger brightens his few scenes as a cherubic doctor, as does Edward Nugent as a flirtatious intern. Vera Lewis is properly implacable as the stern head nurse and Blanche Frederici adds a note of strangeness as a distraught housekeeper. Not yet a star, Clark Gable is very effective as a menacing chauffeur.
Movie mavens will recognize Willie Fung as a Chinese patient & Marcia Mae Jones as the sick child who needs the milk bath--both uncredited.
The Pre-Code status of the film is readily apparent. Stanwyck & Blondell are viewed in their lingerie as often as possible and Stanwyck must suffer some mighty rough handling from various villains in the movie. Capping it all off, Barbara exits the film with her new boyfriend, an unrepentant & unpunished crook involved in everything from thievery to murder, a situation certainly not allowed just a few years later.
Gritty depression era flick, showing why Warner Bros. was the studio of record. It's tough broads here that get the leads. There's Stanwyck (before her teeth were fixed) and Blondell (gum-popping her way through the Nurse's Oath), both trying to survive grabby interns, unscrupulous doctors, murderous families, and no money. No, this isn't Young Doctor Kildare. Just compare Night Nurse with that sappy 1940's series for insight into what the Production Code did to social realism. Here nurses break the law, doctors violate their oath, and unless you go along, you don't work. Not exactly the professional AMA image. Sure, it's contrived melodrama. But there are elements of the real world here that would disappear from the screen for 35 years, courtesy the PC. Also included are gamey one-liners, mild strip scenes, and a really sardonic look at motherhood, along with a very scary Clark Gable. For a brief period from around 1930-34, Hollywood operated with the lid off, pressed by audiences with no work, no money and no prospects. Movies like NN reflect that reality, which was, of course, too unvarnished to survive. So catch up with this neglected period when you can, especially if the movie's from Warner Bros., like this little gem.
"Night Nurse" (WB, 1931), directed by William A. Wellman, is not your
ordinary hospital drama in the league of late 1930s "Dr. Kildare"
series at MGM or the program "Nurse Keate" mysteries at Warners. It's a
pre-production code, risqué hospital drama featuring a lone nurse
(Barbara Stanwyck) surrounded by those of the medical profession who do
more than examine and cure for humanity. But not all doctors and nurses
are the villains here. There is even a chauffeur named Nick, who makes
James Cagney's 'Public Enemy' character look more like a boy scout in
comparison. But at 71 minutes, director Wellman fills this drama with
plenty of sound and fury.
The storyline involves Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck), a young woman who obtains a nurses position at a hospital where she must follow strict rules and regulations, given an hour off to herself a day and only one night off a week. She rooms with Maloney (Joan Blondell), a sassy blonde who believes that rules are meant to be broken. Later, Lora is hired as a private nurse to care for two fatherless little girls who happen to be the heirs to a large fortune. Their mother, Mrs. Ritchey (Charlotte Merriam) prefers to enjoy herself by smoking cigarettes, being drunk and entertaining herself at all night parties surrounded by low-life people. At the same time, Mrs. Ritchey's chauffeur, Nick (Clark Gable), intends on having those girls starved to death in order to obtain their trust fund after marrying their mother. When Lora learns of this evil plot, she notifies Dr. Ranger (Ralf Harolde) for advise, unaware that he may also part of the plot.
In the opening segment of the video cassette copy of "Night Nurse," which is introduced by movie critic Leonard Maltin, he mentions that no one could have played the role better in "Night Nurse" than Barbara Stanwyck. Agreed! She gives her character an injection of toughness and sincerity. In one of its television presentations on Turner Classic Movies, host Robert Osborne mentioned that the role for Nick, the chauffeur, was originally intended for a young James Cagney, who recently scored big time success with the release of "The Public Enemy" (1931), also directed by Wellman. Although Cagney might have pulled it off, Gable is far better suited for this particular role mainly because of his forceful appearance, strong approach and firm voice. When he introduces himself to Nurse Hart (Stanwyck) in saying, loud and clear, "I'm NICK, the CHAUFFEUR," it shows how threatening his character can be. Cagney wouldn't have done this as well. Yet this is the same Gable, minus his famous mustache and likable personality, shortly before his long reign as MGM's "King of the Movies,", who not only beats up the weaker sex here, but gets to meet his match in Nurse Hart. Aside from Gable's slapping and socking his victims, along with making threats, Stanwyck pulls no punches when she socks an individual drunk in order to confront the mother to attend to her two abused daughters. When she finds that this drunken woman doesn't care, Hart, in anger, looks directly at the drunken floozy on the floor and quips, "YOU MOTHER!"
Also seen in the supporting cast are Ben Lyon, an actor in silent movies with a very well recorded distinctive voice, playing a bootlegger who identifies himself as Mortie near the film's end; Charles Winninger as the kind-hearted Doctor Arthur Bell, who also gets the feel of Nick's fist; Edward Nugent as an immoral intern who quotes this classic line to Stanwyck as she undresses: "Oh, don't be embarrassed. You can't show me a thing. I just came from the delivery room!"; Vera Lewis as Miss Dillon, the no-nonsense head nurse (and she means business); Blanche Frederici (another one of Nick's punching bags); and Marcia Mae Jones and Betty Jane Graham as the Ritchey girls.
After watching "Night Nurse," one wonders how many movies of this sort distributed from other film studios are out there, if any. If "Night Nurse" were made today and released as is, it would present few thrills. But because it was made in 1931, "Night Nurse" is full of surprises, then and now, mainly because of how many scenes got passed the censors. Even the topic of child abuse was a screen rarity during that time.
Rarely shown in recent decades, thanks to Ted Turner and his classic movie channel and video distribution through MGM/UA, "Night Nurse" can be seen, and really seen to be believed. Maybe the movie itself does go overboard, but it's really worth a look mainly because of the cast and tough direction in storytelling. This is vintage Stanwyck at her best, especially when wearing her slightly over-sized nurses uniform. And due to the frankness of director Wellman, he gives the movie the shot in the arm it needs.
And one final word of warning, BEWARE OF NICK THE CHAUFFEUR! (***)
Great pre-code flick, full of violence, bootleggers, and
Stanwyck and gum snapping Joan Blondell are the only characters in this film with any redeeming qualities. Despite the deception and illegality that permeates the plot, only Stanwyck entertains the idea of going to the authorities.
Great secondary cast, especially biddy head nurse Vera Lewis ("A-HEM!), house servant Blanche Frederici ("can't we give her a milk bath, it saved my sisters baby!), boozy mother Charlotte Merriam ("I'm a dipsomaniac and I LIKE IT!")
One scene that reminded me how much I like Stanwyck is when Gable tosses her across the room and into the wall. Most actresses would want a double, not Stanwyck, she hits the wall hard. For that alone, you have to love her.
Melodramatic to be sure, it's still a fun movie
"Night Nurse" is my favorite film , in a big way sister! This movie contains humor on various levels. Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell are 2 tough broads who can hold their own against the evil Doctor Granger and even "Nick The Chauffeur" played by Clark Gable. It does help to be an actual pediatric night nurse to understand this movie to its full potential. The camp is both intentional and unintentional. The movie has a rebel flair with the nurses mouthing off to authority and even befriending a bootlegger (who is one of the heroes of the film).The movie is pre-code so it's pretty spicy for the 30's . You can even see Barbara and Joan in their skivvies.The medical lingo is very amusing. Barbara Stanwyck's character has "blood type 4h" and they got some very pudgy little kids to play the starving children. I own the video and have passed it along to co-workers who are also pediatric night nurses and it has become a cult favorite amongst my collegues.
Barbara Stanwyck plays a night nurse at a very strange household where some
children may be in serious danger.
Strong pre-Code film has (for 1931) strong dialogue, Stanwyck and Joan Blondell in their underwear, alcoholism, nymphomania, attempted rape, child abuse and Clark Gable (without his mustache) slugging Stanwyck unconscious.
The plot is kind of silly but the film moves so quickly (72 minutes) that you sort of disregard it. There are also some nice directorial touches from William Wellman. The whole cast is great: Stanwyck is just superb in the title role--smart, strong and has no fear--she almost manages to stare Gable down in one of their fights. Gable is incredible as the bad guy--violent, brutal and very scary. There's great support from Blondell as Stanwyck's best friend and Ben Lyon as a bootlegger with the hots for her.
A really great film--don't miss this one!
Two of the many great lines: "I'm a nymphomaniac...and I'm proud of it!" "You MOTHER!"
One of Barbara Stanwyck's best early starring films is Night Nurse
which essentially is two separate stories.
The first is young Barbara in training to be a nurse and teaming up with Joan Blondell, another would be nurse, in a typical Joan Blondell role. Stanwyck is a bit more dedicated to the profession, but she learns from Blondell how to take a more realistic attitude.
The second part of the film concerns Stanwyck being assigned as a private night nurse to some kids who are being slowly starved to death. Something is really wrong when you see malnourished kids in a purportedly wealthy home. Stanwyck suspects something amiss and she's quite right. The doctor Ralf Harolde and the chauffeur Clark Gable are in cahoots in a murderous scheme.
Stanwyck puts her own career on the line to bring some justice and compassion to her charges. In doing so she has to step on some medical toes and question the ethics of who she's working for.
Clark Gable was loaned out from MGM to play the murderous chauffeur and if he hadn't been discovered as a new kind of tough leading man, he would have had a grand career as a character actor playing all kinds of thugs who slug. And slug Stanwyck he does, right on the kisser.
Stanwyck gets some help from breezy bootlegger Ben Lyon who would soon be leaving for the UK with his wife Bebe Daniels where he would have his best success. Earlier in the film Stanwyck kind of winks at the rules where Lyon is concerned and she makes a friend who comes in real handy when dealing with Gable and Harolde.
Lyon is fine, but this seemed to be a part James Cagney would have been perfect for. And Cagney going up against Gable would really have made this a classic.
Barbara Stanwyck as Lora Hart is having a little trouble getting a job as a nurse in a big hospital. Seems she needs a high school diploma. That's no problem for Lora, she just shows middle-aged Dr. Bell (Charles Winninger) a little leg and a big smile, and everything is set. She soon becomes chums with another girl with some nice legs of her own, Maloney, played by Joan Blondell. The girls are in nursing school in the hospital, though it looks more like reform school. Be in bed by 10 p.m., no boy friends allowed, and work, work, work. The pace is fast and the interns are hot on the make, but Lora falls for a bootlegger when he shows up for treatment with a bullet in his arm. No problem, we just won't mention that on the medical report. The girls get an outside assignment taking care of some little girls who are slowly being starved to death for insurance money by "Nick", (Clark Gable!) Lora stands up to Nick as only Barbara Stanwyck can when she's steaming mad. No problem for Nick, though, he clocks her a couple of times, (the camera cuts discreetly when Lora takes it on the chin) and down she goes. There's a chiseling doctor Dr. Ranger in on the scheme, a real low-life type wonderfully played by Ralf Harolde, whoever he is. But have no fear, Lora and Maloney will set things right somehow. This outrageous film is highly recommended. A must for Stanwyck and Blondell fans.
Remember that a great part of America was rural when this film came out. When you watch it, try to put yourself in the place of one of those folks who has come in from the farm on a Saturday night to see a moving picture at the Bijou. Whoa, Nelly! Undergarments, sexual innuendo, moral ambiguity galore! An urban environment where only the toughest survive. What must those farmers have thought of faraway New York City? Until the Code kicked in, films like these did a lot to move small-town America out of the sexually repressed dark ages. How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree? A revolution parallel to the release of the first jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. It's all been downhill from there! Oh, and is Barbara Stanwyck not the perfect vehicle for this revolution? A hard-as-nails demeanor that only comes out when it needs to, otherwise she's just an innocent looking charmer.
"Night Nurse" released in 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression, was the kind of film Warner Brothers cranked out at that time. Barbara Stanwyck plays Lora Hart, a woman down on her luck who applies to become a nurse. She does so, with success. The initial part of the film takes us into the inner workings of a hospital -- circa 1931. Stanwyck is befriended by a fellow nurse, played by Joan Blondell, who provides much comic relief throughout the film. Stanwyck's first assignment is to take care of two sick children of a wealthy mother. Soon she begins to realize there is a sinister plot to starve the children so various people can profit from the children's trust fund. The children's mother is a serious alcoholic and seems to completely ignore her children, leaving them in the care of nurses and a housekeeper. A young Clark Gable has an eerie and threatening presence playing a chauffeur, who apparently is in league with the alcoholic mother and the children's sleazy doctor. Brought into the mix of all these characters is a charming bootlegger (prohibition was still the law of the land) played by Ben Lyon. He falls for Stanwyck after she patches him up from a bullet wound and doesn't report it as required. The film is clearly "pre-code" meaning the code was down in ink but largely ignored by studios until enforcement in 1934. There are some scenes of Blondell and Stanwyck dressing and undressing, and we see them in their undergarments several times! Liquor flows freely, despite prohibition and there are several scenes of various drunken party-goers. One drunken man tries to assault Stanwyck. There is some fairly graphic violence by 1931 movie standards. There is also some funny, snappy dialogue from Stanwyck and Blondell. My favorite line is when Stanwyck, after wrestling with the drunken, neglectful mother, looks down at her passed out on the floor and says "You mother..." I won't give away the ending, as it is a bit bizarre, but this is an entertaining film. See it just for Stanwyck. She gives a spirited and tough performance.
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