Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nurse Barbara

Several years ago, our group began our quest for pre-code films.  We viewed the wonderful Barbara Stanwyck in Night Nurse (1931) at that time.  Recently, I re-watched the film with a newer member of the group, and here share some of our thoughts. 

Stanwyck plays Lora Hart, a young woman who passionately wants to be a nurse.  We meet Lora as she applies for a position in a hospital nursing school.  However, Lora does not have a high school diploma - her mother's illness forced her to withdraw from school shortly before graduation - and the nursing matron will not accept her.   As she leaves the hospital, she literally runs into Dr. Bell (Charles Winninger) who, it turns out, is the hospital administrator.   Bell is quite taken with the attractive young woman, and decides to support her application.  Lora becomes friendly with her roommate, Nurse Maloney (Joan Blondell), and Mortie (Ben Lyon), a bootlegger whom she assists (after he is shot).  After graduation, she finds herself in a conundrum - her nursing oath demands that she obey the orders of the doctor in charge, but Lora quickly realizes that Doctor Ranger is in cahoots with Nick, the Chauffeur (Clark Gable) to murder two little children for their trust fund.

There is a lot of rowdy goings-on in this film.  We have our heroine in a state of undress several times (and Ms. Maloney joins her in one of these slip-teases once).  We have a bootlegger, who is not above asking his friends to take someone for a ride (we won't tell you who).  We have a dipsomaniac mother, a doctor who may be on drugs, and a murderous chauffeur.  And we possibly have an off-screen rape (see the TCM article for more on that).  Want to see more, here is a clip of Stanwyck in one of the slip scenes:

We also have some outstanding performances.  Joan Blondell as the gum-chewing Maloney is a hoot.  She's not really interested in nursing - it's just the only job that will pay you to go to school!  However, you like Maloney, who is quite good at her job, and a true friend.  It's Maloney who first recognizes that the children are being mistreated, and her concern is real.   

Clark Gable is very menacing as Nick - this was a breakthrough role for him, and it is  understandable.  Director William Wellman uses this up-and-coming star to good effect.  In the TCM article we previously referenced, there is a discussion of Stanwyck and Blondell's reaction to this new man on the block.  It's quite humorous. 

Finally, there is Stanwyck herself - her Lora truly wants to be a nurse. Watch the scene where the nurses take the Nightingale oath, and watch Stanwyck's eyes.  Her idealism radiates (as opposed to Maloney, who keeps cracking her gum!).  Also, watch her when she meets Dr. Bell, and later when she discusses him with Maloney.  How DID she explain her predicament to him? Lastly, there are her interactions with the children - her tenderness is moving.

Join us next time for another film - the first of two versions of the same story.

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