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: It Happened One Night (1934)

Release Date: February 22nd, 1934
Directed by: Frank Capra
Written by: Robert Riskin, Samuel Hopkins Adams
Based on: Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams
Music by: Howard Jackson, Louis Silvers
Cast: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert

Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“You know, I had you pegged right from the jump. Just a spoiled brat of a rich father. The only way you get anything is to buy it, isn’t it? You’re in a jam and all you can think of is your money. It never fails, does it? Ever hear of the word humility? No, you wouldn’t. I guess it would never occur to you to just say, ‘Please mister, I’m in trouble, will you help me?’ No, that would bring you down off your high horse for a minute. Well, let me tell you something, maybe it will take a load off your mind. You don’t have to worry about me. I’m not interested in your money or your problem. You, King Westley, your father. You’re all a lot of hooey to me!” – Peter Warne

It Happened One Night is a motion picture that came out during the brief pre-Code era in Hollywood. In fact, it dodged the bullet of the Motion Picture Production Code by just a few months. Maybe that’s why this film got away with that “racy” hitchhiking scene that the film’s star Claudette Colbert thought was “unladylike”.

This film is a romantic comedy. Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the genre but some of the classics are pretty damn good and even in the modern era, one may sneak in once and awhile and surprise you (The Big Sick, for instance). It Happened One Night works really well because of the chemistry of its two leads, as well as its style of humor. Clark Gable delivers his lines like the pro he is and really gets to display his humorous side.

The story is pretty simple. A rich heiress wants to marry a guy her rich daddy doesn’t approve of so she runs off. The reporter keeps running into the girl and he promises to help her and not call her father if he gets an exclusive scoop. They end up traveling from Miami to New York together with a few wacky situations on the way. At a point, they get separated and then realize that they have fallen in love. Don’t worry, there’s always a happy ending in these old lighthearted movies.

It Happened One Night is considered a true classic by many and really, it is. There aren’t a lot of rom-coms that are worth a damn but this one exists on a level that the others do not. In fact, it is a good movie in spite of its genre. It actually shows that the rom-com thing has been poorly crafted and executed for decades, except for a few good pictures once in a blue moon. It Happened One Night is that “once in a blue moon”.