Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Gumshoe Lee, R.N.

The Nurse's Secret (1941), based on a novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, (Miss Pinkerton) is a remake of two prior films: Miss Pinkerton (1932) (which we'd already seen) and While the Patient Sleeps (1935).  The plot of this film is identical to that of Miss Pinkerton -  a young man is found dead of a gunshot wound in his room.  Is it murder, suicide, or an accident? Police inspector Tom Patten (Regis Toomey) figures this case is the one that can get him promoted.  When the doctor of the woman who found the victim, his aunt and insurance beneficiary Miss Juliet Mitchell (Clara Blandick), needs a nurse, Patten suggests his girlfriend, Ruth Adams, R.N.  (Lee Patrick).  Though annoyed at Patten for his constant cancellation of their dates, Ruth is thrilled to be a female Sherlock Holmes.  However, someone is wandering around the house, and whoever it is may be a murderer.  

Miss Pinkerton was a much more lighthearted effort than The Nurse's Secret.  Ms. Patrick makes Ruth far more serious than Joan Blondell's Miss Adams, and while we liked Lee Patrick, we missed Joan Blondell's sassy attitude.  This is a plot that can get very convoluted, and the humor from the first iteration deflected some of the confusion. Early in The Nurse's Secret, we even get a reference to the first film, when Patten (responding to Ruth's comment about being a lady Sherlock Holmes) replies "Or Miss Pinkerton."

What this film does offer is a panoply of wonderful character people.  First and foremost is Ms. Patrick, who spent most of her career as second lead and in character parts.  As this TCM article points out,  the biggest surprise here is that Ms. Patrick gets to carry the film, and she does an excellent job.  Born in 1901, Lee Patrick has 110 film and television credits (and 26 Broadway plays) to her name.  She started her career in films in 1929, and continued until 1965 when she retired to become a painter.  She was lured back to films once more, however - in 1975 she reprised the role of Effie from The Maltese Falcon in the spoof The Black Bird.  Looking at a list of her film gives one pause - you remember her character, but sometimes forget it was her - even with her chirpy voice, she was a chameleon who changed to fit the part she played.  When you realize that the same person who played Mrs. Biederhof in Mildred Pierce also played Doris Upson in Auntie Mame, it's almost surprising.  Married to the same man from 1937 until her death in 1982, Ms. Patrick was a talent that we sometimes forget (and shouldn't), but should NEVER ignore.

The film also contains performances from some interesting character people, most notably Clara Blandick, best known for playing Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz. With over 100 film credits, Ms. Blandick spent much of her career playing crotchety old ladies, as she does here.  But she was also a noted stage actress, appearing in such Broadway plays as Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman and The Enchanted Cottage (as Mrs. Minnett, the role that would go to Mildred Natwick in the film version).  Following her retirement in 1951, Ms. Blandick was quite ill.  Finally, wracked with pain, she committed suicide in 1962, at age 85.

While we think Miss Pinkerton is the better film, this one is not bad, especially if you are more interested in a serious take on the material.  We have a trailer to get you started: