(1931) dir. William A. Wellman
I’ve been digging on the “pre-code” era of Hollywood of late, so I queued up Night Nurse, a Barbara Stanwyck film about a girl who ends up training as a nurse, and finds herself in over her head with a couple who are trying to starve two little girls to death for their trust fund. The movie has a mixed vibe. At first its snappy patter and situational humor make it seem like a comedy, but the film does move over into the crime and violence direction in the last part. It has a lot of fun stuff in it.
Mostly, I enjoyed the dialogue, the humorous expressions and language of the day. And the film does show some seamy stuff, such as the drunken good-for-nothing mother, the bootlegger boyfriend, Clark Gable as the heavy punching Stanwyck in the mouth, and the suffering of child abuse. It’s got a lot of that stuff that is pretty racy for the time.
There seems to be quite a lot of opportunity for Stanwyck to change clothes and spend some scenes mostly in her undergarments (That’s the gratuitious nudity of the day). And she’s great, either in the snappy back-and-forth or in the more dramatic telling off of Gable for his crime of murder.
By far the most unusual thing is the ending, in which comeuppance comes in the form of a body bag, and the good guys basically murder the bad guy, smiling about it as they ride off “into the sunset” as it were. It is the odd thing about the pre-code period, this mixture of racy topics and seamy stories with tacked-on morality often in contrast to the darker stuff. There was actually a decent documentary on the disc as well about the period, giving more context to the “why” this period was the way it was and what all brought it to an end.
Still, a pretty fun flick.