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01 May, 2014

Unimonster's Drive-In Classics - Roger Corman’s Cult Classics—Nurses Collection Box Set: Candy Stripe Nurses; Night Call Nurses; Private Duty Nurses; The Young Nurses

Title:  Roger Corman’s Cult Classics—Nurses Collection Box Set: Candy Stripe Nurses; Night Call Nurses; Private Duty Nurses; The Young Nurses

Year of Release—Film:  1974; 1972; 1971; 1973

Year of Release—DVD:  2012

DVD Label:  Shout! Factory

Reviewer:  Unimonster

Anyone who is a fan of the CBS comedy series How I Met Your Mother is familiar with the theory expounded by Barney Stinson, played by Neil Patrick Harris, that in every era there is a profession towards which hot young women naturally gravitate.  In the early 1970s, there were two such professions—stewardesses (not flight attendants, that would come later), and nursesAnd true to form, both professions were frequently the subject of Exploitation films.

Roger Corman, the master of the low-budget movie, was never one to miss a trend, and often initiated them.  Such was the case when his newly formed New World Pictures chose as its first release in 1970 The Student Nurses, directed by Stephanie Rothman.  The movie did well enough to lead Corman to produce at least four more such films, and in 2012 these four were released in another of Shout! Factory’s excellent series of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics DVD sets.

Corman’s formula for these films was a simple one—take three or four beautiful young nurses, give each a plotline to follow, which would typically be something trendy or politically topical.  One girl would be the sweetheart, either innocent or slutty, looking for Mr. Right, or just Mr. Right Now.  One would be highly intelligent, usually more so than the doctors, and anxious to prove it; and the third girl would be the radical, representing the liberal feminist and racial themes that were close to both Cormans’—Roger and his wife Julie, who was producer on these movies—hearts.  Stir in generous helpings of sex, nudity, and action, and these movies were guaranteed box-office gold.

Private Duty Nurses (1971)

The earliest film in the set (one wishes that The Student Nurses had been included); this was the weakest of the four films, in my opinion.  It lacks many of the elements that one would expect to find in this kind of movie, namely copious amounts of female nudity, some measure of humor, and any semblance of a coherent plot—much less three of them.

Written and directed by George Armitage, what story there is in the movie is focused on the male counterparts to our three leading ladies—Spring (Kathy Cannon), who gets involved with a Vietnam vet with a death wish; Lynn (Pegi Boucher), who falls for a married ambulance attendant whom she meets when she finds a dead body on the beach; and Lola (Joyce Williams), who is dating a black doctor who’s the victim of discriminatory practices at the hospital where the girls work.

In the hands of a more competent director, there’s enough meat on these bones to flesh out a decent movie.  However, the women in the cast are given little to do except stand in the background, look pretty, listen to the men speak their lines, and (not nearly enough to save this movie) take their clothes off.  Not only does the lack of focus on the titular leads hurt this movie, but it’s by far the most political of the films, with the viewer constantly pummeled by the big three of the early 1970s causes—Vietnam, Racial Unrest, and the Environment.  That couldn't have been very entertaining in 1971; it definitely isn't now.

Night Call Nurses (1972)

Following on the heels of Private Duty Nurses, Jonathan Kaplan’s Night Call Nurses corrected some of the flaws present in the earlier film.  Kaplan, who was recommended to the Cormans by Martin Scorsese, was given a great degree of freedom by Corman.  He was allowed to rewrite the script, cast the movie, and edit the finished product—a massive amount of responsibility for a 25-year-old making his directorial debut.  The only part that was cast when Kaplan came on board was that of Janis, to be played by Alana Collins, the future former Mrs. George Hamilton and Rod Stewart—not at the same time.

Barbara (Patti T. Byrne), Sandra (Mittie Lawrence), and Janis are nurses in a psychiatric ward at an inner-city hospital.  Innocent young Barbara, under pressure from her boyfriend to conquer her sexual hang-ups and consummate their relationship, is seeing a sex therapist (Clint Kimbrough, who a year later would direct The Young Nurses) who has an unprofessional interest in the girl.  She soon becomes aware that she is being stalked—by a mysterious figure in a nurse’s uniform.

Janis, meanwhile, has become infatuated with a truck driver who has been in the hospital treating his addiction to amphetamine.  He claims that he only takes it in order to do his job, and that without it he can’t meet his schedules.  She takes him under her care—in more ways than one.

While this has been taking place, Sandra has been approached by a black militant seeking to get a message through to the leader of his movement, currently in the hospital’s jail ward after an alleged suicide attempt in prison.  At first resistant, Sandra soon becomes embroiled in a plan to free the prisoner.

Narrowly losing out to Candy Stripe Nurses as the best of Corman’s ‘Nurse’ films, despite having a weaker cast and script, the movie’s quality, what there is of it, can be ascribed to Kaplan’s ability as director.  The only one of the four featured in this set to have success as a mainstream filmmaker, Kaplan directed Jodie Foster in her Best Actress Oscar-winning role as Sarah Tobias in 1988’s The Accused.

The Young Nurses (1973)

When the first camera shot post-opening credits is a lovely young blonde sunning herself topless on a sailboat, you know that whatever else The Young Nurses is going to be, a thought-provoking, sensitive, intellectual study of the day-to-day lives of medical professionals it isn’t.  Directed by Clint Kimbrough, a long-time member of Corman’s stock company, The Young Nurses is pure exploitation; what plot exists is there solely by chance, and is for the most part too convoluted to engender any interest on the part of the viewer.

Three young nurses (despite there being four women on the poster, there were only three female leads … Corman’s ‘Nurse’ posters always featured an extra nurse) work at the only hospital to seemingly have an attached marina.  Kitty (Jean Manson), the beautiful blonde mentioned above, rescues then falls in love with a young man who managed to fall overboard from his boat while ogling her sunbathing.  Joanne (Ashley Porter), a brilliant nurse, believes she knows more than half the doctors on staff—and doesn’t hesitate to act like it.  And Michelle (Angela Gibbs) is hot on the trail of pushers who are flooding the streets with a deadly new drug.  That’s it … that’s the script.  The rest is filler—nurses getting naked on cue, the obligatory bumbling doctors, actors who either overplay or underplay every scene, and just enough nudity, sex and action to make it all fun.

The only bright points in the film are the performance of Allan Arbus as Dr. Krebs, and the final on-screen appearance of Mantan Moreland (billed as Man Tan Moreland) in a cameo role.  Arbus, best remembered as Dr. Sidney Freedman, the wise-cracking psychiatrist from the TV series M*A*S*H, is clearly the only member of the cast present for his acting ability.  Moreland, whose career began in the era of segregated films in the 1930s, had his most memorable role as Birmingham Brown in the series of Charlie Chan movies produced by Monogram Pictures in the mid-1940s.

All that being said, The Young Nurses does what it’s supposed to do.  It just doesn’t go overboard doing it … I know, I apologize.

Candy Stripe Nurses (1974)

The end of Corman’s ‘Nurse’ cycle was also the best of the series, Alan Holleb’s Candy Stripe Nurses.  Providing just the right balance of sex, plot, action and humor, and starring the queen of sexploitation films in the early ‘70s, Candice Rialson, Candy Stripe Nurses manages to be entertaining on a number of levels.

The film follows the exploits of three ‘candy-stripers’, young women who volunteer as nurses at a big city hospital.  Each girl has her own motives for volunteering:  Sandy (Rialson) simply wants to be close to her doctor boyfriend (as well as several of her patients); Dianne (Robin Mattson) sees it as the first step on her way to becoming a doctor; and Marisa (Maria Rojo), was ordered to volunteer as a consequence of attacking a teacher at her school.  The trio each finds a challenge to their talents, medical and otherwise.  Sandy works her way into the hospital’s sex clinic as a receptionist, a position which she uses to meet up with a famous rock and roll star who’s suffering, in the pre-Viagra 1970s, from an embarrassing lack of, um … enthusiasm, for his groupies.

Dianne falls in love with a basketball player who was admitted with what she believes were the symptoms of a drug overdose, but no one believes her, especially when the blood test comes back negative.  And Marisa takes up the cause of a young man in the prison ward, charged with robbing a gas station.  Only he swears to her that he is innocent.

The three plots are well-managed, and Holleb keeps things from becoming too tangled and confusing.  It’s not high art, but then what Corman film is?  It does the job, providing an hour and twenty minutes of mindless entertainment while munching popcorn.  That’s what it was intended to do in 1974, and it still does it today.

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