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Night Nurse

Screening on Film
Directed by William Wellman.
With Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell.
US, 1931, 35mm, black & white, 72 min.
Print source: Warner Bros.

The first of five films Wellman made with Barbara Stanwyck, Night Nurse wastes little time unmasking the darkness behind the hospital’s saviors in white. Already wise to violence, alcoholism, drug addiction and ongoing sexual harassment, Stanwyck and Joan Blondell’s tough, hardworking nurses uncover a shady scheme at the mansion where they care for two ailing children. In addition to a lot of Stanwyck’s skin, Wellman exposes the grey areas in each individual’s malleable “code of ethics.” With most of the characters spending the film inebriated or otherwise morally compromised, Nurse Hart’s cries and protests are to no avail; the police never even make an appearance. In the era of Prohibition and the Depression, it is a bootlegger whose illegal actions provide some of the most helpful counters to the mansion’s evil mastermind—and chauffeur—unpredictably portrayed by a menacing Clark Gable.

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