In William Wellman‘s Night Nurse (1931), the world of nursing can be an alarming and even dangerous one because of human nature.

Barbara Stanwyck stars as Lora Hart, a nurse hired to care for an alcoholic’s two ostensibly sick children.  In truth, a lawless brute called Nick (Clark Gable) is slowly starving the children because their deaths will mean financial gain for him.  It is the early Thirties, and the big city is producing small-time Al Capones and Johnny Torrios.  A bootlegger (Ben Lyon) who is sexually attracted to Lora represents moral ambiguity.  He is an inhumane man, but he helps Lora against Nick.  All of this, and the fact that Lora seems to be taking up with the bootlegger, requires that she be a strong woman, in the way that her somewhat cynical friend (Joan Blondell) is strong.  And she is.

Based on a novel by Grace Perkins, Night Nurse is blunt and engrossing, more consequential than Wellman’s The Public Enemy.  Even David Thomson, who has been unfair to Wellman, has praised it.