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Night Nurse (1931 film)

Night Nurse
File:Night Nurse 1931 Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by William A. Wellman
Screenplay by
Based on Night Nurse
1930 novel 
by Dora Macy
Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography Barney McGill
Edited by Edward M. McDermott
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • August 8, 1931 (1931-08-08) (USA)
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Night Nurse is a 1931 American pre-code crime drama and mystery film produced and distributed by Warner Bros. and directed by William A. Wellman. The film stars Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Clark Gable and Vera Lewis. It was based on the 1930 novel of the same name, written by Grace Perkins (under the pen name Dora Macy).[1]

Gable portrays a vicious chauffeur gradually starving two little girls to death after having run over and killed their sister with his car.


Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) applies for a job as a trainee nurse in a hospital, but is rejected by Miss Dillon (Vera Lewis) for not having graduated from high school. Fortunately, a chance encounter with the hospital's chief of staff, Dr. Arthur Bell (Charles Winninger), in an uncooperative revolving door gets that requirement waived. Lora's roommate and fellow nurse, Miss Maloney (Joan Blondell), becomes her best friend.

One day, Lora treats bootlegger Mortie (Ben Lyon) for a gunshot wound and earns his gratitude by letting herself be persuaded not to report it to the police as required by law. He also admires the pretty young nurse.

After she passes her training, Lora is hired for private duty, looking after two sick children, Desney and Nanny Ritchie (Betty Jane Graham and Marcia Mae Jones) at the mansion of their alcoholic socialite mother (Charlotte Merriam), where there is always a party going on. When a drunk guest tries to molest her, Nick the brutish chauffeur (Clark Gable) knocks him out. Then, when she turns down his demand that she pump out the stomach of a very drunk Mrs. Ritchie, he knocks Lora out and removes her to her room.

Lora becomes alarmed by the treatment prescribed by Dr. Milton Ranger (Ralf Harolde) for the children, because she sees that they are being slowly starved to death, but she is unable to get anybody to take her seriously. She quits and takes her suspicions to Dr. Bell. He is initially reluctant to interfere with another doctor's patients, but eventually advises her to return to her job so she can gather evidence. She manages to persuade Dr. Ranger to take her back.

Finally, Nanny Ritchie becomes so weak, Lora fears for her life and tries unsuccessfully to get Mrs. Ritchie to show any concern. By chance, Mortie is making a delivery of booze to the perpetual party at the mansion. Desperate, Lora sends Mortie for milk for a bath for the child, a folk remedy recommended by the frightened housekeeper, Mrs. Maxwell (Blanche Friderici). Maxwell gets drunk and confides to Lora her suspicion that Nick and Dr. Ranger are working to murder the children in order to get at their trust fund. Mrs. Ritchie is in love with Nick, and he plans to marry her. After being threatened by Mortie, Dr. Bell shows up and examines the little girl. However, when Bell tries to get the child to the hospital, Nick punches him. Mortie stops Nick from interfering further, and the child's life is saved by an emergency blood transfusion provided by Lora.

The next day, Mortie gives Lora a lift in his car. To allay her worries, he informs her that he told some of his friends that he didn't like Nick. Elsewhere, an ambulance brings a body dressed in a chauffeur's uniform to the hospital's morgue.

Cast (in credits order)


According to Robert Osborne, on Turner Classic Movies, the part of "Nick the Chauffeur" was originally intended for James Cagney, but his success in The Public Enemy prevented his accepting a supporting role, paving the way for Gable.[2]


In July 1931, Time Magazine highly praised the film and mentioned that it was well photographed, directed and acted and that the quality of the filmed story surpassed that in the original novel.[3] The New York Times called it exciting "at times."[4] According to Variety, "Night Nurse is a conglomeration of exaggerations, often bordering on serial dramatics...What legitimate performances crop up in the footage seem to belong to Joan Blondell and Charlie Winninger as the hospital head. Stanwyck plays her dancehall type of a girl on one note throughout and is shy of shading to lend her performance some color."[5]

In a 21st-century review, Eric Allen Hatch, writing for the Baltimore City Paper, said "watching [Stanwyck, Blondell, and Gable] 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 boasts a much higher undressing-nurse-to-running-time ratio."[6]


  1. ^ "Macy, Dora - Night Nurse". Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database. New York University. February 25, 2008. Retrieved 2014-01-05. Dora Macy is a pen name for Grace Perkins Oursler. The novel was made into a film, also called Night Nurse, in 1931 by William A. Wellman, with Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Clark Gable. 
  2. ^ "Night Nurse". Original Print Information. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2014-01-05. 
  3. ^ "Cinema: The New Pictures: Jul. 27, 1931" Time
  4. ^ "Life in the Medical World". The Screen. The New York Times. July 17, 1931. Retrieved 2014-01-05. [L]ast night's audience seemed to like parts of Night Nurse. At times it is exciting. 
  5. ^ "Review: Night Nurse". Variety. 1930. Retrieved 2014-01-05. 
  6. ^ Hatch, Eric Allen (August 21, 2002). "Night Nurse". Baltimore City Paper. Archived from the original on 2007-07-29. Retrieved 2014-01-05. 

External links