In 1954 while shooting the film Cattle Queen of Montana on location Barbara Stanwyck was adopted by a tribe of Blackfeet Indians. More than a few actors and actresses have had that honor but in Stanwyck’s case it went even further. Not only was she adopted by the tribe but specifically the Indian braves a rarity for a woman. Princess Many Victories III as she was known was considered a brave dog.
Brave dog should also be applied to this talented performers acting. Throughout her entire career Barbara Stanwyck was courageous enough to take a chance. If you want some examples of this look no further than her body of work from the early thirties.
Like many good actors, Stanwyck was always trying to learn new and different things to enhance her craft. But when she appears in some of these early talkies it’s almost like she comes on the scene fully formed.
In 1931 Stanwyck appeared in Night Nurse directed by William Wellman. In it she plays Lorna Hart, a high school dropout who through sheer force and determination (two traits that would be hallmarks of Stanwyck’s life and career) she manages to qualify as a nurse. Hart goes to work in a swanky apartment taking care of two children. Unfortunately, she realizes both kids are being slowly starved to death.
Besides her oftentimes raw emotional power, one of the many things that separated Stanwyck from her contemporaries is her willingness to get physical. She doesn’t give a slap like a Bette Davis or even the backhand/forehand slap that would become the Joan Crawford trademark.
No Missy’s slap is thrown more like a left hook and the man in the film who was the recipient goes down in a heap and then quickly crawls away and hides behind the bar. Stanwyck then grabs the alcoholic mother of these two kids by the hair and drags her out of the room.
It is also her willingness to go toe to toe with a sinister and brutal thug played quite convincingly by the future king of Hollywood Clark Gable which shows her strength. Gable as Nick the Chauffeur will do whatever it takes to make sure the two children end up in the morgue and that includes assaulting doctors, housekeepers and a certain night nurse. But this story is not only about the strange goings on in a specific apartment. It also talks about ethics in the medical field which as this film illustrates were too often sorely lacking.
Night Nurse has plenty of zip to it along with those wonderful Wellman touches including the unlikeliest of heroes and a knockout ending. It’s one of those films when after watching it you understand why the Blackfeet Indians considered this woman a brave dog.
Here’s a scene from the movie
Along with the trailer