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 Public Enemy (1931)

Also known as: Beer and Blood (working title), Enemies of the Public (UK)
Release Date: April 23rd, 1931 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: William A. Wellman
Written by: Kubec Glasmon, John Bright
Based on: Beer and Blood by John Bright, Kubec Glasmon
Music by: David Mendoza, Vitaphone Orchestra
Cast: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Donald Cook

Warner Bros., 83 Minutes

Review:

“You are different, Tommy. Very different. And I’ve discovered it isn’t only a difference in manner and outward appearances. It’s a difference in basic character. The men I know – and I’ve known dozens of them – oh, they’re so nice, so polished, so considerate. Most women like that type. I guess they’re afraid of the other kind. I thought I was too, but you’re so strong. You don’t give, you take. Oh, Tommy, I could love you to death.” – Gwen Allen

As much as I love Edward G. Robinson, I still can’t deny that James Cagney was the king of the classic gangster movie. The Public Enemy is hands down, one of the most well-known gangster films of all-time and for very good reason.

What’s actually most interesting about this film, is it is based on an unpublished book by two former Chicago street thugs that actually personally witnessed some of Al Capone’s violent actions against rival gangs. For a 1930s film, it did have a real feeling of authenticity and a grittiness that set it apart from some of the other gangster films of the time.

James Cagney is exceptional in this and in several key scenes, you don’t even need dialogue, you just read his face and see where he is going and it usually isn’t anywhere good.

The cinematography of Devereaux Jennings was really good and it made this feel more refined than similar pictures. That scene towards the end of Cagney’s Tom Powers crawling through the rain is amazing and conveyed more emotion than the scene would have had otherwise.

I also like the ending a lot. It leaves you thinking that this guy has reformed and he may have but what seems like a happy ending comes with a twist, as Tom Powers is kidnapped from the hospital and then found murdered.

This ending almost defied the old school morality code but at the same time, this was a pre-code film. Anyway, Powers had to pay for his crimes in some form and he does, despite his apparent change of heart after reconciling with his family.

The Public Enemy really made James Cagney’s career and he would do a slew of similar films but if you’ve got a niche, exploit it and make money. That’s what Cagney did and it was off of the back of this film’s massive success.

Without this, the gangster genre might have died out more quickly and it also might not have lead to the film-noir of the 1940s. We also probably wouldn’t have gotten the classic crime picture White Heat or at the very least, that film would have been drastically different.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: White HeatLittle Caesar, the original Scarface and Smart Money.