THE STUDENT NURSES (1970) was the big moneymaker that established Roger Corman's New World Pictures as the best company producing drive-in entertainment in the 1970s. It was not only an exploitation film with liberal doses of nudity, but also an excellent social comment piece, following four young student nurses on their adventures in social politics, feminism, and personal dramas. If the adventures of four pretty young nurses would bring drive-in patrons in droves, New World of course saw more money in a series of NURSES pictures. They're a mixed bag, with the first entry in the series still remaining the most important and entertaining. Up-and-coming director George Armitage (GAS-S-S-S!, DARKTOWN STRUTTERS) tackled the second installment, PRIVATE DUTY NURSES, and future Emmy-nominee Jonathan Kaplan (TRUCK TURNER, THE ACCUSED) lensed the third film, NIGHT CALL NURSES.
1971's PRIVATE DUTY NURSES is hands-down the worst film in the series, an incredibly mediocre film with uninteresting characters and little entertainment value. Opening with a lousy New Seekers-type soft-rock anthem (performed by "Sky"), we are introduced to our new trio of nurses as they walk along the beach and through the piers. Blonde feisty Spring (Katherine Cannon), beautiful black Lola (Joyce Williams), and shy brunette Lynn (one-shot Pegi Boucher) are our heroines in this installment. Spring becomes romantically involved with a rebellious Vietnam vet named Domino (Dennis Redfield), Lola takes a job at a ghetto hospital and strives to get her black doctor boyfriend into the strictly all-white city hospital and Lynn...well, she doesn't do much of anything. Her intern boyfriend discovers pollution in the sea water, I guess she helps...
Director George Armitage, who also wrote this mess, never seems to grasp hold of what made the original film work so well: a sense of fun and adventure in the changing times. None of the girls are particularly likable and come off as hollow shells rather than actual flesh-and-blood characters. To make matters worse, Lynn is a very weak heroine, easily seduced into bed and not the personification of "today's woman" each nurse should have been. THE STUDENT NURSES (written by a woman, Stephanie Rothman, one of few women working in exploitation) not only had a sense of camaraderie, but were also capable and interesting actresses, not to mention their individual stories were all captivating and a lot of fun to get caught up into. The PRIVATE DUTY NURSES never really work together as a group, and you'll find yourself nodding off too many times to count during the running time. There is virtually no sense of humor during the film, save some unintentionally funny quotes ("I don't need no help from a bedpan stewardess"!), which leaves the whole film under a very dark cloud. However, you do get Paul Hampton (SHIVERS) as a swinging stud with a waterbed and premature ejaculation problems, Paul Gleason (THE BREAKFAST CLUB) as a resident doctor working with Domino, a motorcycle race, a topless Lynn being attacked by an intruder, and plenty more cheesy unlistenable soft rock by Sky permeating the soundtrack. Perhaps Armitage isn't to blame. Perhaps New World was so anxious to get a new NURSES picture out so soon after their first major success that he was pressured into hastily piecing together a similar series of events, with absolutely no success. For now, until the story of the NURSES films is put into writing, all I know is that PRIVATE DUTY NURSES is not only the worst in the series, but is one of New World's worst productions of the 70s. Only worth purchasing for completist's sake, if even for that reason.
The fullscreen transfer for PRIVATE DUTY NURSES is one of the ugliest transfers to hit a non-budget DVD. Colors are muddy and bleeding, the entire film is far too dark, there's plenty of ghosting and grain by the bucketload, and seems to come from a tape master. Do original elements for this film no longer exist? Perhaps the powers that be at New World realized this flick was one of their worst, too. The audio is a very muffled mono.
1972's NIGHT CALL NURSES is a gigantic step above PRIVATE DUTY, but still falls short of the whole enchilada. Meet foxy blonde Janis (Alana Stewart), sympathetic black chick Sandra (Mittie Lawrence), and cute brunette Barbara (Patti Byrne) are a fun trio serving as student nurses in yet another California hospital, run by a racist superintendent. Their chief nemesis is the stern head nurse, who despises their sexual shenanigans. Soul sister Sandra, guilty over witnessing the suicide of a patient, helps out a framed black activist in the prison ward. Janis helps a speed freak truck driver come down off his high and falls head over heels for him. Barbara takes time off in a hippie encounter group that messes with her mind. These nurses put goofy orderlies in their place, scare off slimy medicine salesmen, and stand up to the man whenever they get a chance.
Opening with an eye-opening, well-done suicidal jump of a patient off the hospital (!), the rockin' credit sequence sets the audience up for a fun ride with multiple snapshots of each lead actress before their credit pops up. Already, this is a vast improvement from the previous film. Director Jonathan Kaplan has recaptured the fun and fancy free spirit of the original STUDENT NURSES, with a superb sense of humor and appreciating the beauty and personalities of the leading ladies. Patti Byrne, Alana Stewart (host of the ill-fated "George and Alana" morning talk show with ex-husband George Hamilton!), and Mittie Lawrence are all sexier than those PRIVATE DUTY NURSES, and they make a great team, at ease with each other and exuding confidence, sexuality, and smarts in their solo adventures. A patient in the psychiatric ward flashes the girls whenever he gets the chance, Barbara goes skydiving with her beau, a transvestite stalker in nurse drag (familiar character actor Dennis Dugan) leaves panting love notes in the girls' mailboxes and goes after one of their lovers with a meat cleaver (!!), Janis goes water-skiing, a biker and his pal get into a rough fight with the truck driver, the encounter group puts on a really stupid "Human Machine" skit, Dixie Peabody (who was dynamite as the star of BURY ME AN ANGEL!) and Gary Graver favorite Lyllah Torena (who is a dead ringer for "Phyllis" regular Lisa Gerritsen) as two of the encounter group patients, and Dick Miller is a creepy driver who picks up Barbara while she's hitchhiking. There's great dialogue like "Janis...is that your name or the name of your left tittie?" (the response: "No, Janis is my name, the name of my left tittie is Irene"!), and plenty of other whacky characters, nudity, and social politics. Surprisingly, George Armitage, who wrote the abysmal PRIVATE DUTY NURSES, also wrote this very good New World production...
The fullscreen transfer of NIGHT CALL NURSES is once again a terrible mistake on New Concorde's part; for example, in the opening walking shot of the three nurses, two of them are barely seen on-screen. The original aspect ratio was probably 1.85:1, but at least the colors are beautiful. Taken from original film elements it seems, there is still a smattering of grain present in dark scenes and other moments are not bright enough, but it's still an acceptable transfer. The mono audio is a mixed bag, strong and robust in some spots, quiet and under-mixed in others.
The profitable NURSES series would continue with 1973's THE YOUNG NURSES (review coming soon) and finish with 1974's CANDY STRIPE NURSES, a return to form with three nurses, all of them pretty and interesting. The fact that drive-in perennial Candice Rialson was the star of the film certainly helped, and future soap star Robin Mattson (providing nudity) and spitfire Maria Rojo both had exciting adventures of their own. Unfortunately, the series came to a close with this promising entry, as did its sister series the TEACHERS series (which only had two entries, THE STUDENT TEACHERS and SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS, both of which are excellent and should be on DVD, too).
New Concorde should be thanked for releasing their films on DVD, but they should also be slapped on the wrist for not providingany extras on their discs! After special editions of HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD and ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL in 2001, many thought the company was headed in the right direction. But almost every subsequent release of their 70s drive-in classics have been barebones. GRAND THEFT AUTO, CRAZY MAMA, and Jack Hill's women-in-prison films notwithstanding, there have been no poster/stills galleries, no commentaries, no TV or radio spots, no interviews with cast and crew, nothing, despite the fact that the materials and participants are available. The NURSES films are no exception: George Armitage and Jonathan Kaplan are still active in the film industry, and don't look back on their exploitation past with any shame, so commentaries weren't completely out of the question. I guess for the incredibly low retail price of these discs, you shouldn't expect too much, but when the films are important parts of the history of exploitation, it would be incredibly helpful to put them into perspective and discuss low-budget filmmaking during its heyday. Something Weird has mastered this craft, and it would be wonderful if other companies caught onto this, too. Until then, New Concorde seems content with including a handful of trailers on their discs (the PRIVATE DUTY NURSES preview seems to have gone missing, even though it has appeared on Something Weird trailer compilations).
Final verdict: skip PRIVATE DUTY
NURSES and definitely pick up NIGHT CALL NURSES! The two of them are like night
and day: one shows New World at its rock-bottom worst, the other shows how interesting
and innovative the studio's output really could be. (Casey
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