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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On DVD: ROGER CORMAN'S CULT CLASSICS: THE NURSES COLLECTION (1971-1974)




The two-disc THE NURSES COLLECTION, the latest in Shout Factory's "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" line, gathers four of the five NURSES films, omitting the first entry in the series, Stephanie Rothman's THE STUDENT NURSES (1970), which is planned for a future "Student" collection.  It also presents the remaining four films out of chronological order, but I don't suppose it matters much since they aren't direct sequels, but for purists' sake, they'll be covered in their proper order. 


PRIVATE DUTY NURSES
(1971/US)

Writer/director George Armitage went on to make films as varied as VIGILANTE FORCE (1976), MIAMI BLUES (1990), and his best-known effort, GROSSE POINTE BLANK (1997), but his career got off to a dubious start with PRIVATE DUTY NURSES, generally regarded as the low-point of the series.  It's dull, downbeat, unnecessarily grim and almost completely lacking in humor, making it one of the least-entertaining drive-in exploitation films to come off the Corman assembly line.  It follows the basic formula of three young nurses (Kathy Cannon, Joyce Williams, Pegi Boucher) and their various trials, tribulations, and sexcapades.  Armitage's script is going for insight but comes off as heavy-handed as he tries to shoehorn in too much social commentary, be it in the form of civil rights, feminism, pollution, or Vietnam, instead of what he should be doing, plus he bogs things down with a drug smuggling subplot and one of the nurses being violently raped late in the film.  I thought these were supposed to be "fun."  There's the requisite T&A, but Armitage tries to make the sex scenes all arty with various show-offy camera techniques.  PRIVATE DUTY NURSES just doesn't work at all, and given how hands-on Corman was with all of the films he was overseeing, I'm surprised he didn't order some changes.  But everyone has to start somewhere, and Armitage went on to make a few fine films over his long-lasting but frequently inactive career (he's only directed seven films in 41 years, the last of which was 2004's THE BIG BOUNCE).  Also with future all-purpose '80s asshole Paul Gleason, Herbert Washington, Jr, Dennis Redfield, Joseph Kauffman, and Paul Hampton.  The most memorable element of PRIVATE DUTY NURSES is the soundtrack by Sky (who also appear in the film), led by future Knack frontman Doug Fieger.  (R, 80 mins).



NIGHT CALL NURSES
(1972/US)

Armitage is back for NIGHT CALL NURSES, but only with a screenwriting credit, as Jonathan Kaplan makes his directing debut.  Kaplan went on to a busy career in mainstream films, most notably directing Jodie Foster in her Oscar-winning performance in 1988's THE ACCUSED, before settling into network TV in recent years.  The tone is still semi-serious, but Kaplan does a better job putting more humor into the proceedings.  He seems to be aware that it's a junk movie and doesn't take anything too seriously.  Again, we have three nurses, this time in a psych ward--Patti T. Byrne, Mittie Lawrence, and Alana Collins, who married George Hamilton around this time and was better known as Alana Stewart during and after her marriage a few years later to Rod Stewart.  Byrne hooks up with a New Agey commune leader (Clint Kimbrough), Collins with a pill-addled trucker (Richard Young), and Lawrence with the ex-con pal (Felton Perry) of a jailed black activist (Stack Pierce).  For the most part, Kaplan knows what's expected of him and makes a fairly entertaining B-picture that starts off shaky but improves as it progresses, is better-paced, with a late film car chase, a shootout, a strange and very brief detour into slasher horror territory, and several sex scenes throughout, though the Byrne angle of the plot is a real momentum-killing drag.  Also with Corman fixture Dick Miller, 1940s PRC leading man Tris Coffin, Martin Ashe as the perpetually exposing Bathrobe Benny, and a young Dennis Dugan (director of most of Adam Sandler's comedies) as a dweeby male nurse. (R, 78 mins)

 

THE YOUNG NURSES
(1973/US)

NIGHT CALL NURSES co-star Clint Kimbrough returns to direct this entry, electing to use the Why Bother? pseudonym "Clinton Kimbro," and wastes no time, giving us a topless shot of star Jean Manson in the very first scene.  Written by regular Corman screenwriter Howard R. Cohen, THE YOUNG NURSES is more of the same, with--wait for it--three nurses (Manson, Ashley Porter, and Angela Gibbs) and their R-rated soap opera shenanigans: Manson rescues champion boater Zack Taylor, romancing and nursing him back to health before the big regatta, Porter getting with doctor Jack LaRue, Jr. while overstepping her bounds into possible malpractice, and Gibbs investigating the mysterious drug-related death of a teenager she was treating for conjunctivitis.  Armitage is nowhere behind the scenes on this one, and as a result, there's no pretense of subtext as the series now focuses almost exclusively on sex and action.  THE YOUNG NURSES boasts an interesting supporting cast, most notably legendary director Samuel Fuller as a rich drug kingpin, plus Allan Arbus, Dick Miller, Don Keefer, a then-unknown Sally Kirkland, and, in his last screen appearance, Mantan Moreland, who died later the same year.  Future Charles Bronson business partner Pancho Kohner handled second unit duties.  Kimbrough and Cohen do work in a brief rallying cry against a medical profession that's not as focused on the patient as it should be, but unlike Armitage, they wisely don't let the social commentary get in the way of gratuitous sex.  (R, 76 mins).


CANDY STRIPE NURSES
(1974/US)

When you watch all four of these in quick succession, they start to blur together.  But I can see why Shout Factory positioned CANDY STRIPE NURSES as the first film on disc one of this set.  It's easily the best of the four, with the most comedic elements and the most T&A, even though there's still a crusader subplot with one of the titular ladies (Maria Rojo) trying to clear a murder suspect who, natch, she's screwing. Here we have high-school girls volunteering as candy-stripers at a local hospital, with cult star Candice Rialson (CHATTERBOX) taking it upon herself to treat a burned-out, impotent rock star (Kendrew Lascelles), and brainy Robin Mattson helping injured college basketball star Rod Haase write his final term paper, in addition to...you know. Writer/director Alan Holleb benefits from having what's arguably the best-looking trio of stars in this set.  Plus, Rialson, Mattson, and Rojo all turn in credible and very appealing performances (Mattson went on to a long career in daytime soaps, but this was Rojo's only screen credit), miles ahead of the acting seen in PRIVATE DUTY NURSES, to name just one.  While following the same formula, Holleb actually manages to establish some character development and succeeds in finding just the right balance between comedy, drama, action, and sex.  Also with Rick Gates, Bill Erwin, Tara Strohmeier, Monte Landis, and repeat appearances by Don Keefer, Sally Kirkland, and Dick Miller as a boorish basketball spectator, getting popcorn poured over his head by the impossibly cute Mattson. (R, 77 mins)




Shout Factory presents these films in extremely nice-looking 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers and they undoubtedly look as good as they ever will, especially given their low-budget origins.  Extras include interviews with Corman, his wife Julie, and directors Kaplan and Holleb, with Kaplan telling a great anecdote explaining the structure of a Nurses film, with Corman's insistence on three storylines (also the norm in his Stewardess and Teacher productions) based on the success of VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.  While there's no issue at all with the quality of the presentation, the fact is these films, with the exception of the entertaining CANDY STRIPE NURSES, just aren't very good.  These were pretty big drive-in hits for Corman back in the day, but they're very much a product of their time and they've aged with far less grace than a lot of the films Shout Factory has been releasing in these sets.  Having said that, they are important documents of a bygone exploitation era and are certainly worth purchasing for devotees of that time period.  Shout's acquisition of the Corman library has been one of the great DVD (and occasional Blu-ray) happenings of the last several years, but the appeal of THE NURSES COLLECTION is probably a bit more limited than its predecessors.  They aren't at all the lighthearted, comedic romps promised by the advertising, but in a way, that's classic Corman.  Imagining yourself as a teenager at the drive-in watching these sexploitation flicks...who cares about the plot?  And I'm sure that someone, somewhere, got laid for the first time at a drive-in that was showing PRIVATE DUTY NURSES.  And to that person, it's probably the greatest movie ever made.  That guy will want to own this.


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