For Reel

Night Nurse (1931)
January 14, 2015, 3:11 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: William A. Wellman
4.5 Stars
Night NurseIn recent years, Night Nurse has been rediscovered as one of the great artifacts of the pre-Code era, an inimitable melodrama defined by its flagrant sexuality and bitter cynicism. Barbara Stanwyck is well cast as an aspiring nurse who lucks her way into a position at a hospital. She’s got a big heart and means well, but she doesn’t quite seem cut out for it–her friend, a veteran nurse (Joan Blondell), only manages to get through her thankless days with her acerbic tongue. Stanwyck and Blondell’s friendship is an unexpected treat, never descending into pettiness or rivalry, as is so often the case with female friendships on screen. It’s Stanwyck’s film, though, and one of her best performances from the early 1930s. Her petite, harmless look is capitalized on–she seems like no match for the institution she’s up against, but she makes up for her size with volume and conviction, with Stanwyck making the absurd melodramatics of the screenplay utterly irresistible. The picture was also quite before its time in its dealings with class. While many films of the era tried to keep the spirit of the Jazz Age alive even as the depression was changing American values, Night Nurse glorifies the working class while creating the most despicable villains out of the carefree, boozy socialites.