Monday, June 30, 2014

Night Nurse

Ben Lyon, Barbara Stanwyck
L'angelo bianco. US 1931. D: William Wellman. Based on the novel by Grace Perkins. SC: Oliver H. P. Garrett. DP: Barney McGill. ED: Edward M. McDermott. AD: Max Parker. M: Leo F. Forbstein. C: Barbara Stanwyck (Lora Hart), Joan Blondell (Maloney), Ben Lyon (Mortie), Clark Gable (Nick), Blanche Frederici (Mrs. Maxwell), Charlotte Merriam (Mrs. Ritchey), Charles Winninger (Dr. Bell), Marcia Mae Jones (Nanny). P: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 35 mm. 69'. From: Filmoteca Española per concessione di Park Circus
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014

Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Female solidarity comes up against the challenges of labor and sinister drunken privilege in a pre-Code buddy cop movie where the cops are actually lowly night nurses just trying to earn a buck or two without too much trouble. Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell become fast pals while going through their nursing training, and despite a rather intricate and serious plot line that develops, the picture never betrays the simplicity of that paldom and its power, with Wellman often stopping the action at hand to relish the various ways they look out for each other in a patriarchal world. He focuses attention on their hands and how, when necessary, they hold each other's, as they do during an overwhelming surgery. Those bonds and the strength Stanwyck fosters from it come in handy when the ladies find themselves working shifts caring for two sick sisters caught in a devious chauffeur's (a very young Clark Gable) scheme to subtlety knock them off and steal their trust funds. It is fitting that a movie about friendship would spur a lifelong friendship between its star and director. Night Nurse was the first of Barbara Stanwyck's five collaborations with Wellman, and both of them would cite their immense enjoyment of working with each other. In the foreword to Frank Thompson's William A. Wellman, she writes: "One of the nicest things that has ever happened to me is this: A writer, Ella Smith, was doing a book on my work and she asked him [Wellman] for a quote for said book. Because of my pride, please bear with me if I tell you what it says. It is framed and in my home. When Bill died, Miss Smith gave it to me because Bill had written it in longhand - so here it is: 'On one of Miss Stanwyck's interviews she mentioned me as one of her favorite directors and ended with 'I love that man.' Needless to say I was very proud and had a lump in my throat which does not happen to me very often - Barbara Stanwyck - 'I love that girl.' Signed - Bill Wellman.' And so again - I miss you, Bill Wellman. I love you"." Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: Revisited Night Nurse which I last saw in William K. Everson's Pre-Code programme during his visit to Helsinki in 1994. We screened his personal 16 mm print then.

It is a Warner Bros. exploitation programmer whose entertainment values include extended scenes of nurses changing their clothes, exposing beautiful lingerie and some innocent skin.
    The lurid plot has Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) being accepted as a nurse trainee after she has smiled to the senior physician, Dr. Bell (Charles Winninger).
    Lora's first private assignment takes her to the world of crime: she is brought to an uncanny house where children are being starved to death. They have a trust fund, and the gangsters are out to access it by drugging the mother and starving the childen. "The successful nurse keeps her mouth shut" is the advice of the evil Dr. Ranger who is masterminding the conspiracy.
    But there is the good Dr. Bell who swiftly arranges a blood transfusion to save a dying child. Lora and the child share the same blood type. This has been a day of blood transfusions: in the morning I saw The Exploits of Elaine episodes with the same plot idea.
    The sad smile of the little girl who has almost starved to death lingers in mind.
    At the emergency room Lora has saved a handsome bootlegger, Mortie (Ben Lyon), and now Mortie helps Lora get rid of the thuggish chauffeur (Clark Gable) who has been carrying out the vicious plan.
    There is a cavalier approach to the Lora-Mortie "romance" between a nurse and a gangster. It is impossible to take it seriously.

There are documentary and realistic aspects in this movie. Details in the life of the hospital: the emergency room, ambulances rushing to bring in victims of car accidents, a chorus of crying babies at the maternity ward, the stern head nurse (whose "hmmm!" Lola and Maloney keep parodying), the strict rules, the Florence Nightingale pledge, and the entry into the nurses' registry. In a memorable sequence there is a dangerous operation being conducted at the lecture hall full of students of medicine. Lora is not feeling well. The patient dies during the operation. Lora faints.
    My mother is a nurse, so I watched these scenes with extra sympathy.

The print looks at times good, at other times it is soft like a blow-up from a 16 mm print. I was even thinking whether the source of a part of the print might be that William K. Everson print we screened 20 years ago.

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