William Wellman's Night Nurse survives as a potentially interesting but ultimately unsatisfying melodrama about a nurse discovering evildoings in the household where she is caring for a couple of sick children.
Based on a 1930 novel by Dora Macy, Wellman's probe into medical corruption is one of the director's more cynical looks on Depression-era America, but most of the characters are weakly drawn and the denouement a cheat, cinematically.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Lora Hart, an ambitious student nurse whose first assignment after graduation is tending to a couple of deathly ill little girls, Nanny (Marcia Mae Jones) and Desney (Betty Jane Graham).
Despite their posh surroundings, the girls are apparently suffering from malnutrition; their mother, Mrs. Ritchey (Charlotte Merriam), is hopped-up on bootleg booze (I'm a dipsomaniac! A dipsomaniac I tell ya! And I like it!), and the girls' physician (Ralf Harolde) is a society quack with a facial tick.
Lora soon realizes that the good doctor is deliberately starving the children to death in order to gain access to their trust fund and that Mrs. Ritchey is kept in line by Nick (Clark Gable), a black-clad gangster posing as the family chauffeur. A desperate Lora proposes to contact the authorities, but her medical sponsor (Charles Winninger) deems that unethical and instead suggests that she find a solution from inside the family.
Nearly at the end of her ropes -- and having accepted one too many blows to the chin from Nick -- Lora is saved by an admirer, good-natured bootlegger Mortie (Ben Lyon), whose friends take the evil chauffeur on a final ride. None of this makes much sense, and the film appears to have been tampered with along the way.
One of the children disappears without any explanation halfway through, and the hospital establishment's reticence is never properly explained.
Instead of a coherent plot, Night Nurse, in typical pre-Production Code style, offers quite a few scenes of Barbara Stanwyck and fellow nurse Joan Blondell dressing and undressing and a rather brutal portrayal by a very young Clark Gable on the threshold to fame.
Warner Bros. had borrowed Gable from MGM to play the despicable chauffeur when the original choice, James Cagney, suddenly proved too valuable a commodity for what was actually a supporting role.