In a Nutshell: Night Nurse (1931)
Directed by: William Wellman
Co-stars: Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell
Synopsis: A quintessential pre-code, the film centers around Laura Hart (Stanwyck) as she struggles to keep her ideals while getting through nursing school. After she graduates, she is assigned to be a night nurse to two little girls suffering from malnutrition and anemia. Gable does not appear until halfway through the film and only appears for a few minutes, as one-dimensional character Nick, the evil brute of a chauffeur. Laura becomes suspicious of the doctor treating the children and of Nick. Nick throws her around, bullies her and the children say they are scared of him. Laura soon comes to the realization that Nick and the doctor are in it together–to starve the children to death and keep their mother a drunk so they can get their hands on the family’s fortune.
Fun Fact: In one of the scenes where Gable beats Stanwyck, he got a bit carried away and accidently bruised her face. She was crying hysterically but he had thought she was acting
Best Gable Quote: “I’ll break your neck!” (All he does is shout insults so it’s slim pickens…)
My Verdict: This is a pretty text book pre-code that has a bit of everything—near nudity, violence, murder, bootleggers, drunken parties, child abuse. Barbara Stanwyck is the pre-code queen and while Clark is a one dimensional brute once again, this one is worth a watch to see him with Stanwyck for the first time.
In a Nutshell: Sporting Blood (1931)
Directed by: Charles Brabin
Co-stars: Madge Evans
Synopsis: Sporting Blood is the story of Tommy Boy, a colt cherished by his breeder who ultimately sells him when an offer is presented that he can’t refuse. The horse changes hands a few times before landing in the hands of a mobster that Warren “Rid” Riddell (Gable) is working for and whom Ruby (Evans) is entangled with. The mobster drugs the horse and mistreats him until finally the horse just wears out and loses a big race. The mobster’s friends all bet on the horse based on his assurance of a win and are none too pleased to lose their money. Thus the mobster ends up dead. Ruby takes ownership of the horse and gets him back in racing form by taking him back to the breeder’s farm. But does he have what it takes to win the Kentucky Derby?
Best Gable Quote: “Oh, I don’t want to fight. I want to make love at you.”
Fun Fact: Clark’s first “starring” role. He is top-billed in this small feature (although still below the title) but doesn’t appear on screen until nearly 45 minutes into the film.
My Verdict: This is one of those early films that I hesitate to say is “creaky.” It just feels old and thrown together. Madge Evans is rather plain vanilla and while Clark is at his flirting best, they just don’t seem to have chemistry. I also have an extremely low tolerance for animal abuse in films and so the scenes where the horse is starved and mistreated are a bit much for me.But at its heart, I suppose, it is a decent horse-racing underdog story.