Monday, February 20, 2012

Nurse Carole

In 1940's Vigil in the Night, Carole Lombard stars as Anne Lee, a dedicated nurse in a small English town.  Anne loves her work, and has convinced her younger sister Lucy (Anne Shirley) to follow in her footsteps.  Though almost through with nursing school, Lucy doesn't have Anne's dedication; as a result of her neglect, she allows a young child to die.  Rather than let Lucy be ousted from nursing school, Anne assumes responsibility for the child's death; she is fired from her job, and forced to leave town.  She ventures to Hepperton, where she joins the staff of a local hospital, and gradually assumes positions of greater responsibility.  She also finds herself working with the similarly dedicated Dr. Prescott (Brian Aherne).  However, the appearance of a nurse from her old job, Lucy's involvement with a local man, and an epidemic in Hepperton all work to create problems for Anne.

Sure, this is melodrama, but it is melodrama at its best.  Ms. Lombard shines here as a woman whose career is the most important thing in her life.  In the hands of a lesser actress, Anne could have come across as preachy or shrill. But Lombard's Anne shines when she talks about nursing.  Her Anne is what a nurse SHOULD be - an idealized portrait of a woman who values human life and the ability to bring comfort to the sick.  She is ably assisted by Anne Shirley (who's Lucy is the poster child for the person who should NOT enter nursing school, and whose selfishness makes you want to smack her in the film's early scenes.), and Brian Aherne (an equally idealized doctor, Aherne also carefully avoids the maudlin).

Vigil in the Night really is a neglected Lombard masterpiece; a film that is rarely seen or discussed when talking about her (painfully short) career, but one that should be looked at more often.  We really enjoyed it, and suspect you will as well.  Take a look at this clip, to get an idea of what is in store:

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