Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Night Nurse

I just received a wonderful collector's set from Turner Classic Movies, called Forbidden Hollywood.  My first purchase in the series is Volume 2, because I wanted to see Night Nurse (1931).  The other movies in this set are The Divorcee (1930), A Free Soul (1931), Three on a Match (1932), and Female (1933). 

The Forbidden Hollywood series includes movies that were released before the Hayes Code was enacted, and these are particularly risque.  It is a chance to see the raw side of such stars as Clark Gable, Norma Shearer, Humphrey Bogart and Joan Blondell, among others.

I chose Night Nurse to see some early Barbara Stanwyck, and I was not disappointed.  Stanwyck plays a young woman who wants to become a nurse.  After convincing the hospital to allow her to study, despite being a high school dropout, she gets her cap and is assigned to a private home to watch over two children.  Lovely Joan Blondell is another nurse in the story, who befriends Stanwyck.

She eventually finds out that the children have a large trust fund and they are being starved to death by an unscrupulous doctor, so the family can get the inheritance.  She sets out to blow the whistle on them.

The bad guy in this one is played by Clark Gable.  Here is one kicker...the good guy is a bootlegger that Stanwyck met at the drug store, and at the end of the movie he has Nick the chauffeur (played by Gable) rubbed out, and they have a good laugh over it!

Throughout the movie, Stanwyck keeps undressing so she can change into or out of her nursing uniform.  She is never completely naked, but the thought of showing her undergarments in 1931 must have been simply shocking! 

We also see quite a bit of drunken debauchery at the home of the children, plus some implied sex.  Not to mention the very thought of killing off the innocent heirs as the topic of a movie.

Just to mention some Bit Actor names, look for Ralf Harolde (1899 - 1974) as the bad doctor, Charles Winninger (1884 - 1969) as the good doctor, Vera Lewis (1873 - 1956) as the nurse manager, and Blanche Friderici (1878 - 1933) as the housekeeper.

The actors in the small parts of these early talkies have loads of wonderful experience that they bring to their work.  Vera Lewis has over 180 titles listed in her filmography including great silents like Intolerance (1916).  Of course you will remember Winninger as Washington Dimsdale in Destry Rides Again (1939). 

The early talkies may not be the best movies ever made and they were churned out in huge numbers, but they are enjoyable, supply us with a history lesson, and many of them are true classics.


  1. Hi Allen...Your recent posts indicate Barbara Stanwyck has risen in your estimation...I hope so! Of the bit part actors you mention, I'm only familiar with Winninger, so thanks for introducing me to the other fine players...

  2. Stanwyck did OK in this one. Night Nurse was her seventh movie and her career has over 100 titles, so it was pretty early. It's interesting to see the evolution of an actor or actress over the years. See how Dick Powell changed!

    Always, always, pay attention to the bit actors in a movie. At least after you've seen it more than once. They add so much!


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