She's a Night Nurse and Proud of It
In many ways, 1931's Night Nurse
is the type of movie critics love to ridicule. Never mind that it has memorable dialogue and memorable characters, it dares to have a sense of humor about it so obviously there must be something wrong with it.
The film starts off with a wild ambulance ride and then goes on to show us a busy city hospital. We peek at several characters in the hospital including a pair of expectant parents in the maternity ward and a Chinese family in the midst of a bilingual argument. Then we stop and focus on one character in particular: Barbara Stanwyck's Lora Hart.
Miss Hart wants very badly to become a nurse but she does not have enough academic credits to please the crusty nursing supervisor, Miss Dillon. She manages to gain the attention of Dr. Arthur Bell (played by Charles Winninger), the hospital's chief of surgery, and suddenly Miss Dillon warms to Miss Hart and agrees to let her start as a probationary nurse.
Miss Hart gets paired up with a fellow probationer (played by Joan Blondell) and even attracts the attention of a smarmy intern. But it is not until she graduates as a nurse and gets her first long-term assignment that she meets her most serious challenge.
Miss Hart starts working as a night nurse (hence the title) for two young girls, Nanny and Desney Ritchey. Both girls are allegedly under the care of a Dr. Milton Ranger yet they both show signs of starvation. The widowed mother never comes to see them and Hart has the girls to herself for the night. But she soon finds out that that is not an ideal situation.
On her first night in the house with the girls, she discovered Mrs. Ritchey to be passed out in a room across the hall. When Ms. Hart gets hassled by one of the mother's male callers, a mysterious bathrobe-clad figure (played by Clark Gable) steps in and punches out the creep, only to punch out Miss Hart as well when she tries to summon the police. This figure is Nick the Chauffeur, and it is one of the few roles I have seen thus far in which Clark Gable plays an out-and-out villain.
The next morning, Miss Hart tries to tell Dr. Ranger about the situation at Mrs. Ritchey's house, only to be scolded for acting like a troublemaker. In frustration, Miss Hart takes her concerns to Dr. Bell, and allows herself to be convinced to go back to Dr. Ranger and work undercover until she has evidence of wrongdoing.
Along the way, she makes the acquaintance of a golden-hearted bootlegger (played by Ben Lyon) whom she met while she was a probationer. Nick the Chauffeur finds out about her plans, things get serious, and of course, complications ensue.
Is this a good movie? Well, I liked it, and not just because Ms. Stanwyck and Ms. Blondell show more skin in this film than Ms. Stanwyck showed in any of the Hays-code movies in which she played an actual stripper. The dialogue is snarky, the 30s outfits Ms. Stanwyck wears are cute, and the plot actually resolves itself in an unexpected manner. The movie does stress the difference between ethics and humanity a bit much but never in a pretentious manner and I enjoyed it even when its humor came close to being unintentional.
If I had to pick the most memorable character in this flick after Ms. Stanwyck's, it would probably be a toss-up between Blondell's wise-cracking nurse and Mr. Lyon's good-hearted bootlegger. But I also have a soft spot for Charlotte Merriam's performance as Mrs. Ritchey, which is perhaps the best Harlow imitation I have ever seen done by anyone save Ms. Harlow.
Mrs. Ritchey is the type of dysfunctional mother audiences love to hate and it says something that her character manages to linger on in my mind for so long despite having some of the silliest dialogue in the movie. She laughs, she gets drunk, she shares her drinks with a dog, and she gets jealous. She talks down to Miss Hart in one scene but never even comes close to dominating her. I guess the saddest part about the Mrs. Ritchey character -- apart from the way she is so oblivious to her daughters' fate -- is the fact that I actually have known some real-life mothers who would make her seem like Mother of the Year. But that is a topic for another day.
Labels: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Charles Winninger, Charlotte Merriam, Clark Gable, Enfermeras de Noche, Enfermería, Joan Blondell, Maternidad, Películas Clásicas II