Hallmark of its time

Night Nurse is an interesting example of filmmaking in its time. Nurse was wedged just a few years following the advent of talkies and before the Hays production code was in full effect (the code was announced in 1930, but didn't have a stranglehold over the industry until 1934). Films had not quite discovered the styles appropriate for different kinds of spoken dialog. Static shots of shift schedules and other written documents serve as transitions here, and the cutting of dialog often follows the wrong focus and any attempts at fancier technique seem to fall flat. The film shines where there is no dialog, in the actors' reactions and revelations of their thinking.

The film was certainly not a response to the Hays code, yet it certainly typified some of what the code was meant to stop. The most obvious raciness is found in the somewhat repetitive dressing and undressing scenes in early part of the film. For modern sensibilities, where you can hardly turn your head and not see a thong, these scenes have little impact, but for the time it must have caused a stir. The Hays code explicitly states "Undressing scenes should be avoided, and never used save where essential to the plot." Night Nurse would not have suffered by lacking those scenes.

More interesting, in terms of the code, is the treatment of violence and morality. We have characters who are both bad and good, showing a kind of moral ambiguity that the code seems to forbid ("No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin."). We also have a murder, performed politely enough off-screen in a vague manner, interestingly much as the Code's restrictions would have them do it. It is interesting to note that the censors have always considered killing to be more acceptable than sex.

As for the movie itself, even adjusted for when it was made, the pacing is uneven, particularly early on, and it takes a while to settle down into the real story. The acting is pretty good, but falls back to people yelling at each other a little too much. Mainly, though, this one is more of a history lesson than entertainment in this age.

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