Night Nurse (Wellman, 1931)

night nursePDVD_000

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.

5 responses to “Night Nurse (Wellman, 1931)

  1. I was similarly impressed with this film. There’s a sense of naughty freedom in these precode films, and I liked the decadent milieu here–the children starving as the adults party obliviously nearby. I found it a little disturbing. Also, it was fun to see a young Clark Gable as the villain.

  2. This sounds pretty good. I’ve always been interested in films that came in around the one-hour mark. Examining how filmmakers use their time to develop a story in an hour as opposed to a short film or a full-length narrative is interesting…to me, anyway. Haha.

  3. Filmdr: Interesting observersation. You’re very right about the naughty freedom, and this film… somewhat condemns it, or at least puts it in perspective. Stanwyck’s character is naughty and fun, but she isn’t reckless. Well, not entirely.

    Scott: It’s a very strange timeframe, one that is unusual… even hour long spots on TV, are really only coming in at 40 odd minutes, and are part of a bigger narrative. It’s strange.

  4. On an unrelated note–do you get to do the Toronto Festival? I just passed through theauteurs & salivated over the Cannes leftovers (Antichrist, the Haneke picture (The White Ribbon?), Bright Star, etc. as well as the excitement of a new Godard (Une Catastrophe) and–be still my Diary of the Dead-missing heart– “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead”, wherein some folk think it’s wrong to kill zombie loved ones, so they have to stay chained up in the house playing at mundane “life”. Another “Day” to another “Dawn”?
    –And yes, I’m really excited Godard has made another film about “d’amour”. I held the Criterion “Made in USA” in my hands in the store today and mingled jubilation over Beauty with sorrow about my sucky lack of funds. Sigh!

  5. I wish, but it’s far too much money for me at this point in my life. I might just try and go next year when I have some money saved up. There are a huge amount of great looking films playing, it’s a shame to miss them :/

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