Vigil in the Night (1940)

Vigil in the Night (1940)

“There is nothing so good as a good nurse, and nothing so bad as a bad one.”

A dedicated nurse (Carole Lombard) takes responsibility for a death caused by her uncertified sister (Anne Shirley), and leaves to work at a large urban hospital, where she develops a relationship with a handsome surgeon (Brian Aherne) and fights to help fund a plague ward.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Brian Aherne Films
  • Carole Lombard Films
  • Doctors and Nurses
  • Do-Gooders
  • George Stevens Films
  • Peter Cushing Films

At the time she agreed to star in George Stevens’ adaptation of A.J. Cronin‘s serial novel Vigil in the Night, Carole Lombard was attempting to break out of typecasting as a screwball actress by taking on more “serious” roles. Unfortunately, her choice of “breakthrough” material is little more than a sappy soaper about a do-gooding nurse (Lombard) a la Florence Nightingale who’s willing to give up all personal gain for the sake of helping others.

Her first act of selflessness, which sets the story in motion, is accepting responsibility for a negligent death caused by her immature younger sister (Anne Shirley):

who carelessly abandons the bedside of a terminally ill boy at just the wrong moment. Leaving her sister behind to finish her nursing certification, Lombard quickly moves on to a grueling position at a hospital in London, where a potential romance with a handsome surgeon (Aherne) is hinted at but never develops:

Instead, Lombard’s Nurse Lee stalwartly deals with crisis after crisis, never losing her head, and always fighting for “what’s right” against stony head nurses and sleazy benefactors. She may be plucky and honorable, but the truth is she’s terribly uninteresting as a character; we long for Lombard to break into manic screwball mode, even for just a moment! The primary redeeming feature of this predictable weeper is Robert De Grasse’s luminous cinematography.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert De Grasse’s cinematography

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Vigil in the Night (1940)

  1. Yeah, skip it!

    Totally earnest and totally dull, ‘Vigil…’ is almost entirely accompanied by a treacly violin.

    Director Stevens managed a few memorable films but too often elsewhere he tended to over-direct. As he does here.

    Not that the issues in the film aren’t urgent… Still, the whole thing is undone by sentimentality. You’ll be watching your watch, if you don’t give up altogether.

    That said – there’s one very layered performance here by Ethel Griffies as ‘Matron’. (FFs may spot her due to her memorable performance in Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.) Hers is a turn to treasure, esp. early on when she lays down the law for incoming nurses, then smiles as she says she hopes the incoming will be happy with, among other things, the nearly impossible rules of her hospital.

    Lombard is a wonderful actress, but it’s true that she has almost nothing to work with here.

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