Film Review: Night Nurse (1931)

Release Date: July 16th, 1931 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Oliver H.P. Garrett, Charles Kenyon
Based on: Night Nurse by Dora Macy
Music by: Leo F. Forbstein
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable

Warner Bros., 72 Minutes

Review:

“The successful nurse is one who keeps her mouth shut.” – Dr. Milton A. Ranger

I wanted to watch and review Night Nurse during Noirvember. Not because it is really film-noir but because it is one of many films that laid the groundwork for the cinematic style. Plus, it stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck, who would go on to become one of noir’s greatest femme fatales, thirteen years later in Double Indemnity.

This is a pre-Code film, which means that it didn’t have its hands tied by the political forces that would come to censor Hollywood for decades. Because of that, this feels grittier and more genuine than the glossed over, wholesome, pristine looking, classic Hollywood feel that would come to stifle the art of filmmaking for a very long time.

I wouldn’t quite call this film exploitation but just from the fact that it features scenes with Stanwyck in her lingerie and in bed, automatically gives it an edginess that you don’t normally find in old movies.

The story is about a young nurse who starts taking care of some kids at a private residence, only to discover that someone is trying to slowly kill them. The plot makes me wonder if M. Night Shyamalan borrowed the idea for the Mischa Barton character in The Sixth Sense.

The film has mystery, twists and turns and it really is a crime story at its core. Basically, it has a lot of the elements that would go on to define the film-noir genre a decade later.

This is also a comedy, however, but not an outright comedy. It’s just a good mixture of humor and drama to give a pretty balanced picture that doesn’t get lost in its dark subject matter. It gives it a strange tone to a degree but this came out in a time where sound in film had only existed for a handful of years and filmmakers were still experimenting with the medium in a fairly primitive way, especially in regards to narrative style and pacing.

Now that does not make this a bad picture, in fact, it’s entertaining, moves pretty swiftly for a film of its time and it is certainly better than the norm in 1931.

Stanwyck’s performance is superb and it is also cool seeing Clark Gable in the movie, just before he became a Hollywood megastar.

There are other pre-Code films that Barbara Stanwyck was in. Based off of this one, I’ll probably check out some of the others in the near future.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Barbara Stanwyck films, as well as other pre-Code dramas.

Film Review: The Plough and the Stars (1936)

Release Date: December 26th, 1936
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols, Sean O’Casey
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, Barry Fitzgerald

RKO Radio Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“The spring of 1916 found a divided Ireland, torn by conflicting Loyalties. Thousands of her sons were at the front fighting the cause of England in the World War. Other thousands remained home planning another fight—a fight, under the flag of the Plough and the Stars, to free their country so that Ireland could take its place among the nations of the world.” – Opening credits prologue

John Ford is considered one of the top directors of his era. Before watching this, I had only ever seen his westerns. So I figured I’d venture out and see some of his other work. And since this had Barbara Stanwyck in it, I gave it a go.

This didn’t really do much for me though. And that’s not to take anything away from the picture, as the acting, especially from Stanwyck was damn good. However, it just seemed to move really slow and only really grabbed me in two scenes.

The first was in the beginning when Stanwyck’s Nora was confronted about not giving letters to her husband in regards to his military career. The second was the finale that saw some action but only enough to wake me up from my slumber for a few seconds.

I found it odd that this was a film that took place in Ireland and dealt specifically with Irish issues but the main cast was mostly American and didn’t even attempt Irish accents. So when real Irish people came into scenes with their authentic accents, it got really weird.

Also, the script wasn’t well written and seemed to be rushed through. That could be due to the short running time and maybe this adaptation of a play, wasn’t seamlessly adapted.

Out of the Ford pictures I have seen, this is the worst and the dullest.

But Stanwyck was actually dynamite and at least gave this dud some life.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: Four Men and a Prayer, So Big and Woman In Red.

Film Review: Crime of Passion (1957)

Release Date: January 9th, 1957
Directed by: Gerd Oswald
Written by: Jo Eisinger
Music by: Paul Dunlap
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr, Fay Wray

Robert Goldstein Productions, United Artists, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I hope all your socks have holes in them and I can sit for hours and hours darning them.” – Kathy Doyle

While delving deep into film-noir the last few months, I have grown to really cherish and appreciate the talent of Barbara Stanwyck, who is truly the queen of the cinematic style from an acting perspective. However, this is not a film that is really up to the standard of the pictures she was in before it.

It has a good cast with Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr and Fay Wray in it but it was just lacking in about every conceivable way. Not to say it is a bad picture, it is just kind of a dud.

The story sees a woman (Stanwyck) marry a detective (Hayden). However, she is bored with their normal life and their normal friends and also wants her hubby to have more drive and passion, in order to better himself and not just except the humdrum norm. She does some shady stuff, in an effort to position her husband where she wants him. Ultimately, she has an affair with his boss (Burr). One thing leads to another, Stanwyck proves she’s batshit crazy and she even murders Burr, after he cuts her off following their indiscretion.

The film doesn’t really boast anything great as far as cinematography or style. It’s a pretty straitforward looking picture, with a fairly derivative plot that isn’t as creative as other Stanwyck noir pictures. It just feels like a movie where everyone just sort of dialed it in for a quick buck, as it had some good star power and fit the popular movie trends of the time.

In fact, even Stanwyck is off. Here she is just really shrill and over the top to the point that I don’t like her in this. Burr was typical Burr and at least he wasn’t a bad guy, other than the affair, which he immediately regretted.

Crime of Passion isn’t bad but it also isn’t memorable or worthwhile.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)

Release Date: July 24th, 1946 (New York City)
Directed by: Lewis Milestone, Byron Haskin (uncredited), Hal B. Wallis (uncredited)
Written by: Robert Rossen, Robert Riskin (uncredited)
Based on: Love Lies Bleeding by John Patrick
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas

Hal Wallis Productions, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I missed a bus once and I was lucky. I wanted to see if I could be lucky twice.” – Toni Marachek

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is a damn fine film with a weird title. I mean, the title makes sense but Love Lies Bleeding, the title of the book this was based on, sounds more fitting. But maybe it was too harsh for the time and conjured up ideas of horror.

The film stars Barbara Stanwyck at the height of her fame and she made no bones about her status while on set with the other actors. She didn’t want anyone trying to upstage her performance and she had control over how she was lit and captured on film. She even took issue with Van Heflin’s coin trick, which he learned for the film in an effort to make his gambler character more authentic. Regardless of her diva attitude, Stanwyck still gave an incredible performance and Van Heflin was there to match her.

This film is also the debut of Kirk Douglas and only the second film for Lizabeth Scott, an incredibly beautiful actress with serious chops.

Like most film-noir pictures, this one has a plot with a lot of layers to it and it all just sort of develops when it is good and ready. It’s a movie that takes its time but it isn’t boring by any means. In fact, the movie is engaging and captivating.

The plot summary on IMDb reads, “A ruthless, domineering woman is married to an alcoholic D.A., her childhood companion and the only living witness to her murder of her rich aunt seventeen years earlier.” However, it is so much more than that and the summary is really just sort of a framework.

Most of the stuff I have seen Van Heflin in, he’s played either a really despicable character or a carefree Don Juan, usually both at the same time. This is the first time I can recall, where he plays a character that is mostly a good guy. He makes a few selfish mistakes, here and there, but in the end, his moral compass wins out. This was also his most complex character that I have seen and it is a role where his performance really impressed me.

Barbara Stanwyck was perfect as a ruthless and cold business shark. Really, she was the matriarch of her town. Her husband, played by Kirk Douglas, was the town’s district attorney but unlike his normal macho roles, in this he is a drunken pushover. Their chemistry as a married couple full of bitterness towards one another was well played. The tension between them felt real.

Lizabeth Scott was the scene stealer, even though she didn’t have as much screen time as the other three stars. She was charming and despite her checkered legal past, felt like the only real embodiment of innocence in the picture.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this. It caught me by surprise and really impressed me. Every actor was truly on their A-game, especially the newcomers Douglas and Scott, who both were able to hang with the more experienced Stanwyck and Heflin.

This doesn’t fall under my favorite kind of noir, which are the private dick stories, but it is a solid melodrama with the right amount of twists and turns to keep it moving briskly in a way that keeps one engaged.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Release Date: April 24th, 1944
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler
Based on: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, John Philliber

Paramount Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see this classic film noir Academy Award winner on the big screen. I had actually never seen it, so it was cool experiencing it in its intended format while viewing it for the first time.

The story sees an insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and a black widow femme fatale type Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) conspire to fraudulently take out an accident insurance policy on her husband and to then murder him, taking advantage of the double indemnity clause to double their money. There are a lot of twists and turns and if anything, this film builds a lot of suspense, as you never really know how it will pan out, even though Neff starts the film by recording his confession for his boss at the insurance company.

The film is told as a flashback, as Neff recalls, in full detail, all the events that led him to his confession. It goes through his sinister plan with a fine tooth comb and shows how he adapts to the changing situations. Eventually, we learn the true nature of both of our main characters, as they are seemingly pitted against one another. Paranoia and new conspiracies arise and, as can be expected with how the film starts, things go really south.

The plot was well written, well paced and executed on screen almost flawlessly. No stone was left unturned and it was intelligently crafted, leaving no room for any glaring plot holes.

The use of contrast and lighting in the film was stellar. It certainly had the standard noir look but the stylistic flourishes such as the Spanish style home of the Dietrichsons and the insurance office added a lot of depth and character to the picture.

The acting was absolutely fantastic across the board. MacMurray and Stanwyck had an uncanny chemistry. Jean Heather was sweet, innocent and lovable. Tom Powers, as Mr. Dietrichson, had the right balance of being a curmudgeon and a jerk but not so much so that, as a spectator, you couldn’t justify his murder. The show stealer however, was Edward G. Robinson as Neff’s boss Barton Keyes. Robinson was the brightest spot in this starlit motion picture.

Double Indemnity is a fine film in every regard. I’ve liked the work of Billy Wilder my whole life and this picture just adds more credibility to his massive and incredible oeuvre.