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Film Review: “Night Nurse” (1931) – Ball of Fire: The FIlms of Barbara Stanwyck


There are two ways to acquire a profession you want: to study hard to get into the field you so desperately desire or to be simply born and gifted in a certain profession whether you choose that path or destiny does it for you.  Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) knows that she wants to be a night nurse – no more, no less. Despite the fact that the senior nurse is skeptical about letting a young lady with no education work as a night shift nurse in the hospital, she still agrees to it, which surprisingly turns out an extremely helpful decision for everyone.

However, in the beginning Lora’s potential is not apparent, until the young and charming criminal Mortie is hospitalized with an injury. She keeps his dangerous secret and does not report his current condition to the police. Mortie tries to invite Lora to go out with him, but she becomes more involved with her assignments and takes seriously every task she is been given. Her attention is drawn to two children, who despite being treated by the best doctors, seem like they are slowly dying. Now Lora Hart has to figure out whether this is a mistake or an attempt to murder two innocent children; and who else is involved in this awful plan?

“Night Nurse” is directed by William A. Wellman – the Oscar winning writer-director known for his timeless classics – A Star is Born (1937), The Public Enemy (1931), Roxie Hart (1942) and many more. It’s amazing to see that “Night Nurse” is still interesting and relevant in our times, despite the fact that it was filmed 84 years ago. This role allowed Stanwyck to find her ground as an actor and grow into the star who we know as legend today. Her Lora Hart is very brave, warm-hearted and a bit naïve, which is not a bad thing at all. It is fascinating to see Hart’s transformation from a girl, who just wanted to be a nurse, into someone much bigger and more important than we could ever imagine.

As the film progresses, we meet Nick – a driver played by Clark Gable long before he becomes famous for his role of Rhett Battler in “Gone with the Wind” (1939). Nick is a very dangerous and determined man with a hidden agenda, where the two poor kids are concerned. He never hesitates to raise a hand against a woman and would surely not hesitate to kill either. Though it’s an unlikely role for Gable, he does a good job as a villain.

“Night Nurse” is a very interesting and entertaining film, where Stanwyck uses all her charm to help a petty criminal in unfolding the sinister plot to murder two children. Despite the fact that cinematography was quite a young art at the time, Wellman manages to make an enjoyable film with an excellent cast. More importantly, “Night Nurse” carries an important message – never underestimate anyone and always be open to help people in their time of need, especially if it is a simple job and means the whole world to the person in need. Doing this, could open a door to opportunities for the person you have helped to help you back.

Note, that TIFF still continues the retrospective for the films of Barbara Stanwyck. You can find the complete schedule following this link.

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