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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.
"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, risque 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
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 likeable 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 interne 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 oversized 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!
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.
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.
This tense 1931 melodrama stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck in the title role as Lora Hart assigned to take care of the two young daughters in a wealthy family. However, she uncovers a plot hatched by their alcoholic mother to kill the girls in order to steal their trust funds with the assistance of a nasty chauffeur and a corrupt doctor. Directed by William Wellman, the movie features several risqué moments with Stanwyck and pal Joan Blondell dressing and undressing in their uniforms, as well as moments of unexpected violence. Again, Clark Gable shows up in a sinister role as the chauffeur and slaps Stanwyck around with convincing malevolence. While I prefer her work in 1933's "Baby Face" on Volume One, no one shined more than Stanwyck in these pre-code films since her non-nonsense manner was a perfect fit for the era's candor and directness.
Anyone who thought exploitation movies were invented in the 1960s will
know better after having watched Night Nurse. It's a strange mix of
comedy, drama and mild sleaze. The story is pretty weak but for fans of
Barbara Stanwyck this is an absolute must see. Her performance is very
energetic (aggressively shoving her face very close to that of other
people, punching big guys, hurtling bottles of champagne around etc.)
and she really comes through as a sensuous albeit tough as nails -
nurse. For some time she must wear a tiny band aid on her chin which
makes her even more attractive. Joan Blondell is also great as her gum
chewing friend, setting the standard for vulgarity. The movie basically
deals with the ethics of the medical profession which is treated with
The highlight for me was the conversation between the excited Stanwyck character and an older Pappy-type doctor. The nurse suspects foul play in a particular medical case and Pappy tries to calm her down with sensible arguments. The nurse quickly loses her patience and her temper, shouting. Aw, ethics, ethics, ethics! I'm through with ethics!" It's really a well played scene which brings the character and temperament of the nurse to the fore and reflects the atmosphere of the whole movie. I also liked the unethical doctor with his facial twist and snazzy uniform which must have influenced people who created the wardrobe for Starship Enterprise. His big office has very elegant Art Deco trappings and is in stark contrast to the rather cramped conditions in the ethically operated hospital shown in this movie.
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