Night Nurse (1931)

Night Nurse (1931)

“Those poor little kids are starving — anyone can see it in their faces! If somebody doesn’t do something, they won’t last another month!”

A nurse (Barbara Stanwyck) caring for two sickly children (Marcia Mae Jones and Betty Jane Graham) soon suspects that their alcoholic mother’s chauffeur (Clark Gable) is in cahoots with a corrupt doctor (Ralf Harolde) to kill the girls and steal their trust funds.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Stanwyck Films
  • Clark Gable Films
  • Doctors and Nurses
  • Joan Blondell Films
  • “No One Believes Me!”
  • Plot to Murder
  • William Wellman Films

William Wellman’s racy pre-Code thriller is primarily notable for its refreshingly risque premise, and for featuring Clark Gable in one of his earliest non-leading, non-mustachioed roles (though he’s not really on-screen enough to make much of an impression).

Stanwyck is appropriately feisty as a poor but determined young woman who refuses to stand by and allow her innocent young charges to die:

In perhaps the best scene of the film, she shatters class barriers by barging upstairs into a private drinking party and proceeding to seriously berate the girls’ alcoholic mother (Charlotte Merriam) for failing to notice (or care) that her girls are dying:

Although we expect Merriam to eventually get self-righteous, she never does, instead simply devolving into ever-increasing dysfunction, and eventually collapsing on the floor. While the story ends happily, we never learn what happens to Merriam — a character who, just a few short years later, would certainly be made to pay in one way or another for her egregious lack of maternal devotion.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Stanwyck as Lora Hart
  • Joan Blondell as Stanwyck’s co-worker
  • Plenty of sizzling pre-code attitude, dialogue, and scenarios

Must See?
Yes, for its status as one of Wellman’s most infamous pre-Code thrillers.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Important Director


One thought on “Night Nurse (1931)

  1. Definitely a must, for its pre-Code script/status, Wellman’s direction, and Stanwyck’s bravura performance (tho Blondell gets special mention in a less-showy role).

    It’s remarkable how this 72-min. feature builds – from the way it begins, you wouldn’t figure it for something with a slow boil that kicks into gear once the story’s centerpiece slips in.

    ‘NN’ may actually seem like two films, but it’s the first, episodic half that prepares Stanwyck’s gutsy character for the second. The earlier part has the added plus of the easily developing camaraderie between the female leads (and friendship between main characters was something Wellman conveyed esp. well). The second showcases Stanwyck’s maverick spirit – and how! She’s simply sensational here – giving an Oscar-worthy performance so early on in her long career – but, then, the lady actually never gave a bad performance. (And to think, she never was given an Oscar. Honorary?! Feh!)

    Gable may have little to do but I believe he makes every minute of his on-screen time count, making his part seem larger than it is.

    Almost 80 years later, ‘NN’ holds up surprisingly well, even seems modern.

    …Not to be confused with ”night, Mother’. 😉

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