The Music Box has been showing a weekend matinée series of Pre-Code films from the early ’30. These are movies that pushed the limits of decency in film and are in part responsible for the infamous Hays Code, a list of industry do’s and dont’s. Single beds, characters of ill repute (bootleggers, fallen women and gangsters) always met a bad end, and subdued references to illicit behavior like drinking, drugging, and prostitution were the norm by 1934.
Night Nurse is the poster child for pre-Code Hollywood film. Ostensibly about the trials and tribulations of a student nurse training in a hospital (Monday–maternity ward, Tuesday–ER, Wednesday–surgery) the story really kicks into high (or is it low) gear when Barbara Stanwyck is assigned her first job as night nurse to two young girls under the care of a quack doctor.
For a movie that sounds like a porno movie but isn’t, student nurses Stanwyck and Joan Blondell sure spend a lot of screen time with their clothes off. In every third scene, at least one of them is stripping down to her lingerie–Vice strike one. More often than not, they dress and undress each other (strike two.)
Stanwyck’s love interest is a good-hearted bootlegger (strike three) with ties to the mob (“I know a couple a guys…”–strike four.) There’s child endangerment (the little girls are starved to death for their inheritance–strike five,) their mother is a drunk (“I’m a dipsomanic! And I’m proud of it!”–strike six,) and she’s under the thumb of Clark Gable, in a small role as the thug chauffer who beats women around (strike seven.) I won’t tell you what befalls his character, but suffice it to say, strike eight.
And the underlying theme of Night Nurse? Get this–ethics in the medical profession. Hilarious. [**** out of five]