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Night Nurse

By Eric Allen Hatch | Posted

In 1931, the same year as his breakthrough success, The Public Enemy, William Wellman directed another film that made conservative cultural watchdogs unhappy--albeit for very different reasons. Night Nurse stars a 24-year-old Barbara Stanwyck as Lora Hart, a, well, night nurse, who uncovers suspicious happenings in a home where she cares for two young children. A 25-year-old Joan Blondell (also of Public Enemy fame) lends support as Maloney, Lora's roommate and fellow nurse; together with a friendly bootlegger, they conspire to foil a nefarious plot involving chauffeur Nick (a 30-year-old Clark Gable). Watching these stars in very early roles holds much of the appeal here, although the plot still works; a modern viewing of the film yields half high-camp value and half successful drama. Wellman would later strike gold with such films as Beau Geste (1939), but his salacious Night Nurse and hyperviolent Public Enemy were often cited in the creation of Hollywood's self-censoring Production Code. As a result of that code, this film boats a much higher undressing-nurse-to-running-time ratio than most American films released between five and 25 years later.

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