Friday, February 2, 2018


Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting the Clark Gable blogathon running from February 1 - 3. Click HERE for the tributes to the King of Hollywood.

In 1931 Clark Gable made 13 motion pictures, including a breakout role as a duplicitous cowboy in  the early talkie The Painted Desert. Gable is magnificent in the role, a new sort of actor for the new sound era. At that point, he was 13 movies away from his Oscar winning role in It Happened One Night. Incredibly prolific over the next couple of years the young actor was given many different roles to plays, from villain to charmer, and the one constant is that Clark Gable charmed the audience. He was a star.

Director William A. Wellman begins Night Nurse, a fast-paced thriller with an ambulance racing through city streets. Life and death all around us. His name above the title star is Barbara Stanwyck, only in Hollywood for a couple of years at this point. Billed third behind Ben Lyon and Joan Blondell is Clark Gable. Gable was most definitely in lowlife mode as Nick the chauffeur.

Maloney and Hart
Blondell and Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck plays Lora Hart whose lack of a high school diploma almost keeps her out of training as a nurse. However, her winning smile attracts Chief of Staff Dr. Bell played by Charles Winninger (Destry Rides Again), and she is given a chance. The work is tough, and the rules are strict, but Lora's cynical roommate Maloney played by Joan Blondell (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)  helps to keep things light.

Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell, Barbara Stanwyck

One night in the Emergency Ward, Lora meets a charming bootlegger played by Ben Lyon (Hell's Angels) suffering from a gunshot wound. The pair use their winning smiles on each other and become "pals". Their paths will cross often in this short and snappy feature.

Two young and very ill sisters from a rich family was treated at the hospital under Dr. Bell. When they are sent home under the care of a shady Dr. Ranger played by Ralf Harolde (Murder, My Sweet), Maloney is assigned to day shift and Lora is the night nurse.

Barbara Stanwyck, Marcia Mae Jones, Betty Jane Graham

Lora's first night on the job at the Ritchey mansion is filled with more than expected. The health of the little girls, Desney played by Betty Jane Graham and Nanny played by Marcia Mae Jones (These Three), has deteriorated greatly since their return home. The girls cling to Lora as a friendly face from the hospital. Neglected by their drunkard mother played by Charlotte Merriam, they are left to the stern care of the housekeeper Mrs. Maxwell played by Blanche Friderici (Flying Down to Rio).

The girls tell Lora about their other sister who died, and their daddy who is also in Heaven. Here we also get a build-up to the character of Nick, the chauffeur. Desney and Nanny are afraid of Nick. They hide under their blankets at the mention of this gruff and overbearing person.

Our first look at Nick after the build-up.

Summoned by Mrs. Ritchey's current boyfriend played by Walter McGrail to tend to the passed out parent, Lora is violently attacked. The racket summons Nick, whom Wellman first shoots as well dressed feet and legs come through the door. Lora can look for no reasonable help from Nick. He socks her on the chin, knocking her out.

Charlotte Merriam, Clark Gable, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter McGrail

An incensed Lora confronts Dr. Ranger and Dr. Bell about the situation at the mansion, not the least of which is the health of Desney and Nanny. Ethics are throw in her face as Lora is reminded of the oath not to disclose what is seen during the course of her duties. Also, the hierarchy of the profession seems to preclude anyone believing a nurse over a doctor. Lora doesn't believe all of this, but she returns to work hoping to effect some change from the inside. When next we see Lora at work, only one of the sorry little Ritchey girls remains, and it is Nanny dangerously close to death.

The housekeeper has overheard Nick and realizes that he is controlling Mrs. Ritchey and the situation in the house in order to gain control of the children's trust fund. Nick realizes his scheme has been discovered and he becomes a genuine danger to Mrs. Maxwell and Lora.

Mortie has a score to settle with Nick.

Outside of the sick room, the Ritchey mansion is a 24/7 party house, and such a place requires a steady supply of liquid refreshment. Hence, our friendly bootlegger, Mortie, is on hand to help his pal, Lora. He convinces Dr. Bell to forego "ethics" in favour of common sense. Mortie also has a score to settle with Nick for touching Lora. Ironically, it is the chauffeur gets taken for a ride.

Our last shot of Nick. He knows the jig is up.

Clark Gable's roles in this period included Salvation Army officers, racketeers, and gangsters with more than a touch of charm. In Nick, however, Wellman can play off of Gable's fabled charisma, but not a touch of his rakish charm. The role is not huge in terms of screen time, but incredibly impactful in terms of plot and impression made by an actor on his way up.


  1. Gable plays a great villain here. But I really love the combo of Stanwyck and Blondell. Now I want to watch Night Nurse again!

  2. I feel the same way about Stanwyck and Blondell. If you can find it, you will love an episode of The Barbara Stanwyck Show with Joan guesting. It is called Sign of the Zodiac.

  3. I really must give this film another watch! Blondell and Stanwyck are dynamite together, and the story truly is interesting (and stressful!). It's also really fascinating seeing Gable play a villain. It kind of makes you wish he had done it more often.

    Thanks for contributing this great post to my blogathon!

    1. Thank you for the compliment and for hosting this very interesting and entertaining blogathon.

      I wish Stanwyck and Blondell had worked together more often, and Stanwyck and Gable as well. It is a shame we had to wait 20 more years until another pairing of such stars/actors.

  4. You said it – Clark Gable gets a terrific build-up before he appears on screen, and the audience can't wait to get a look at him. As you pointed out, he doesn't have many scenes, but he certainly is influential.

    Also: I love footage shot from inside the ambulance as it makes its way through city streets. (But I forget, is that from the trailer or from the film – or both?)

    1. The ambulance ride is the opening shot of the film. Wellman likes to keep us on our toes. And he certainly knew what a personality he had in Gable. Their various collaborations all play to Gable's strengths.

  5. Indeed, the role of Nick leaves a big impact in the audience - the build-up, the first time we see him, when he punches Stanwyck, until the very last shot of him. Maybe Wellman had a feeling the audience should pay attention to that new guy, right?
    Thanks for the kind comment! Kisses!

    1. Wellman was a good judge of actors and audiences. At this point in his career, Gable did not yet have an image to protect, and he could play such an outright cad perfectly.

  6. Nice article. I love this film. I need to watch it again soon.

    I also invite you to read my contribution to the blogathon.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. And reminding me I have more articles to get to for Gable's blogathon.



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