Night Nurse (1931) Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Ben Lyon, Clark Gable and Joan Blondell

Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell being sworn in as nurses (courtesy: the Internet)


In William A, Wellman’s 1931 movie Night Nurse Barbara Stanwyck plays Linda Hart a fresh out of school nurse who is seeking a place to get her training. The hospital she applies at refuses her due to her not having a high school diploma, but luck is on Linda’s side. Upon leaving the hospital in despair she runs into Dr. Bell, a prominent surgeon who helps her get into the training nurse program. There she befriends Maloney (Joan Blondel), a spunky, full of life, student nurse herself.

Linda has to do a series of jobs while in training and during one of these jobs she meets Mortie aka Bootleg (Ben Lyon) who has grown smitten with her, and she with him, but she keeps it undercover.

Linda’s last duty before becoming a full-fledge nurse is to be in an operating room, while other students look on. She is told by Maloney that she can’t faint, as she last time, or she won’t become a nurse. Linda survives the surgery while the patient does not.


Her first duty as a nurse is to care for two little girls, in their home, who have become very ill and taken care of by Dr. Ranger. The little girls’ father and other sister have passed away and it’s just them and their mother, Mrs. Richey, who cares about parting and drinking than her daughters. This does not sit well with Linda. Then there’s the chauffeur, Nick (Clark Gable), who is a very violent person and doesn’t think twice about harming people, especially Linda, whose suspicions of what’s happening with the girls becomes too much for Nick.

The one thing Linda has on her side is her determination to keep the girls alive and her stubbornness to not to listen to others, especially Dr. Ranger. When the truth comes out about what’s going on and why, Linda, with the help of the maid, Mrs. Maxwell (Blanche Frederick) try to foil the plan, but at what cost.

Clark Gable as Nick the chauffeur (courtesy: The Internet)


Night Nurse was made during the hay-days of what was considered pre-code Hollywood. A time when any and all things were allowed in movies. Although censorship was introduced in 1934, I think Hollywood forgot about the Hay-code or censorship, as it’s commonly known, even today.

“What is pre-Code Hollywood? The quickest definition is this: “pre-Code” refers to an era in motion pictures from the arrival of a sound (aka ‘talkies’) in 1927 to the mandatory enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in July 1934. This era is notable for while being censored, it is not as severely censored as the films that follow that July 1934 date.

 The fascination with pre-Code films often comes from how openly suggestive and fun the majority of films that compromised those seven years are. Sex, drugs, miscegenation, portrayals of homosexuality, and a host of other issues that would be banned from public consumption for several decades are indulged in and exploited frequently by then-big Hollywood studios. Films could be exploitative and lurid or sophisticated and adult”. (Source:


Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell being sworn in as nurses (courtesy: the Internet)

I thoroughly enjoy black and white movies for the mere fact they come off innocent, even in those that are violent. But pre-code films omit to hide the violence, even when it comes to women.

In one particular scene, Linda is trying to put Mrs. Richey to bed after a drunken night with her suitor. The suitor, who is also drunk, soon begins hitting on Linda by grabbing her and kissing her. As much as she tries to fight him off, the stronger he comes on until he has her on the floor. She is rescued by Nick, the chauffeur. But his intention is not completely honorable. A few minutes of rescuing Linda, Nick hauls off and hits Linda due to a disagreement, knocking her unconscious. When she comes to she’s in her room, bleeding, but not deterred.


I have to admit I was taken aback by this scene, the suitor attacking her to Nick punching her. Both acts were very violent in nature and unexpected by me. Mind you, I don’t shy away from violence in films for I watch a lot of crime suspense movies, but for a movie made in the early ’30s, where such scenes weren’t common, it was shocking and surprising. At the same time, it was honest and real. What really saved me with these acts of violence was the strong will of Stanwyck’s character, Linda. She didn’t let anything stop her performing her job and she didn’t scare easily. Stanwyck played a strong woman as a strong woman should be played, take no prisoners even when others try to take her prisoner, figuratively, not literally.


The movie was a quick watch. Running at 1 hour and 11 minutes, the films didn’t falter one bit in losing your interest. A lot of this definitely had to do with Stanwyck, but also with Joan Blondell as Maloney. Maloney was the comic relief to Linda’s serious demeanor.

Stanwyck and Ben Lyon (courtesy: The Internet)

Mortie, aka Bootleg (Lyon), was another likable character that pursued Linda. Mortie was part of the mob, but I believe he was low man on the totem pole. However, he presented himself to be more to Linda. His famous line was “I know some guys”, which at serious times, added needed comedy to a scene.

Clark Gable as Nick was a bit hard to take. Although I have never really watched a Gable film, I think if I had seen Night Nurse first, it would be hard for me to watch him in It Happened One Night, also starring Claudette Colbert. In the said movie, Gable is able to display his comedic side but to watch him in this film again, I would see Nick, the violent chauffeur. That only compliments Gable’s acting in an early film, and the greatest he was destined to become an actor.


Then there’s Stanwyck. I first learned of Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), in which she learns of a planned murder through a phone conversation she hears between two men. However, she doesn’t know the victim might be her. Double Indemnity (1944), also starring Fred McMurry (My Three Sons) who plays an insurance agent conned by Stanwyck to commit the murder of her husband for his life insurance. In both films, you can see the actress Stanwyck was by playing an invalid who must stop a murder that she doesn’t know when it will happen or who the victim is, to play the one orchestrating a murder. Stanwyck has an impressive catalog of roles she’s played that any movie buff should definitely check out. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, Stanwyck will command the screen and keep you interested.

Night Nurse is currently streaming on:
The Criterion Channel (until end of August 2019) | Amazon Prime | YouTube | Google Play Movie & TV | Vudu

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