Night Nurse exceeded my meager expectations. I find pre-code film inherently interesting, even the ones that fail to grip me through it’s narrative or visuals, often holds my interest as a relic of one of the most fascinating eras of Hollywood. The film grabbed me immediately, as the opening shot is a POV “docu” style ride in an ambulance. The camera is situated where the driver ought to be, and there is a race through the city to the hospital.
The storyline is rather conventional, or… less conventional, simple. Stanwyck’s character needs a job, gets hired as a nurse, works her way up to being a night nurse for two sick children, and suspects foul play. It’s fairly typical pre-code fare, but it’s raised substantially by both Stanwyck and Wellman’s technique. As a director, Wellman had a unique ability to bring personality and pathos to even the most outrageous scripts. He hung onto performance quirks as a means of creating a sense of camaderie between characters, as well as tying together odd scenes and situations. Otherwise mundane actions like starting a car become exciting, as there is always an air of unpredictability and a sense of play that overhangs every action and every scene.
That being said, even the over the top nature of the film’s major conflict is handled with surprising care, and is surprisingly heart wrenching. This is in large part because Stanwyck could sell anything, and she sells the idea of a tough nurse who believes in right and wrong, even at the expense of her own well being.