Plot: After caring for her dying mother, Lora (Barbara Stanwyck) feels like she would make a great nurse, as she seems to have a knack for compassion and care, which seem to be crucial traits for the position. But as she soon learns, not everyone in the medical field has the same approach that she does. As she learns the ropes, she is paired with Maloney (Joan Blondell) and while the two have very different mindsets about being a nurse, they forge a quick bond. The two have an instant connection and have immense fun together, though Maloney is a little wilder than Lora is used to. One night when she is assigned to emergency room, a charming young man named Mortie (Ben Lyon) comes in with a wound that needs stitched. While it is clearly a bullet wound, Lora agrees to treat him and not report the incident, which surprises Maloney, but she plays along to help her friend. Soon the nurses have graduated from the training program, but what ills await them outside the hospital?
Entertainment Value: Night Nurse is a wild, fun ride that features a dynamic cast, masterful dialogue, and a parade of outrageous moments. The movie has a sense of humor that is beyond strange at times, but it works and while offbeat in those scenes, Night Nurse never fails to entertain. This all comes off as odd and perhaps even a little surreal over eight decades later, so I can only imagine what the reaction and audience divide was like in 1931. But the entire movie isn’t off the wall, with a lot of serious scenes that ensure the narrative holds up, though things shift into that odd place more than ever toward the finale. As you’d expect from a pre-code movie, Night Nurse touches on some controversial topics, from domestic violence to rape to parental neglect to abuse of alcohol, the latter being a prime focus here. Barbara Stanwyck leads the cast and is so much fun to watch, especially any scenes where she pals around with Joan Blondell, who is also radiant in this one. The two have such a natural chemistry, giving us a great example of cinematic female friendship. Clark Gable embraces his villainous role, while Ben Lyon is also rock solid in his part. I know some won’t care for the movie’s more odd or outlandish moments, but I found Night Nurse to be immense fun and packed with memorable moments.
No nakedness. The movie does seem to be obsessed with peeking in on the nurses as they dress and undress, however. Not just once or even twice, but several times and in long, detailed fashion, sometimes even having the girls prove their friendship by helping each other disrobe. No blood. The movie has some mild violence and the implication of more, but the shining moment in this area has to be when Stanwyck throws a haymaker and knocks a man to the ground. She does so with such grit and enthusiasm, it is a magic scene and an iconic moment. The dialogue in Night Nurse is excellent, driven by these colorful characters, from the bubbly Maloney to the razor sharp Lora to the ever evil Nick. The characters never seem to have a dull conversation and a lot of fun, quotable lines pop up throughout. The movie is even generous and spreads out great lines to most of the prominent roles, though Maloney has perhaps the highest volume. As for the craziness scale, Night Nurse has an odd sense of humor and some moments that border on the surreal, so it earns some solid points. Some wild situations unfold, but often it is how the characters react, rather than the actual situations that make Night Nurse have such a strange feel. So not a movie that feels fully off the rails, but there is just an odd vibe throughout the movie.
Overall Insanity: 5/10