Feminist Exploitation Films: ‘Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: The Nurses Collection

There’s reference to this as producer Roger Corman’s “nurses trilogy” although there are four films represented on these two discs and four nurses represented on each of the four posters, no matter that only three nurses figure in each of the story lines. Continuity should never be a concern in low budget cinema and certainly not in Corman films.

You do have to hold a modicum of respect for the man who helped storied directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, John Sayles, and Jonathan Demme land some of their earliest directorial work. You also have to have a modicum of respect for a man who acknowledges just how cheap the films he’s produced are. Of the four here, three are easy to watch and two might even warrant repeat viewings.

In the short documentary “Paging Doctor Corman”, the low budget mogul acknowledges that he wanted to make “feminist exploitation films” in which each of the women involved solved their own problems. Moreover, he wanted to included integrated casts—three of the four feature an African American actress, one a Latina, alongside blonde haired vixens—both of which intersected with his liberal politics (and those shared by his wife Julie, who served as producer for Night Call Nurses and The Young Nurses).

Candy Stripe Nurses (1974) covers three divergent stories which the script makes no attempt to even tie together in a remotely haphazard fashion. Marisa (Maria Rojo) is the feisty Latina who has been given her assignment as a candy striper as a punishment for fighting at school; Dianne (Robin Mattson) wants to go on to medical school some day and Sandy (Candace Rialson) has an intern boyfriend whom she likes to have sex with in the hospital’s linen closet.

Each woman is given her task––Marisa has to save an innocent man who might otherwise go to prison; Dianne gets to the bottom of a drug problem with the local college basketball team (and with her out-of-control boyfriend), and Sandy finds some kind of redemption when she tries to improve a down-and-out British rock star’s flagging libido. There’s lots of female frontal nudity, face palm worthy dialogue, and a plot that might actually outshine anything ever written for Barnaby Jones. Allen Holleb’s direction lends the proper amount of irreverence, making for a mildly entertaining low budget romp.

Night Call Nurses (1972) involves three full-fledged nurses working in a psychiatric unit. Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused) directs the often comedic and moderately well constructed film. The impossibly gorgeous Mittie Lawrence plays Sandra, the sole black nurse who must combat racism and aid a troubled revolutionary escape from the chains of the system and ultimately reach some kind of justice––it’s exploitation meets blaxploitation meets mindless fun meets something ripped from yesterday’s headlines.

Alana Collins (later Alana Stewart) plays Janis who involves herself with something-or-other, just as does her colleague Barbara (Patricia T. Byrne). There’s a trucker who’s hospitalized after taking too much speed, a creepy male nurse stalking his female counterparts, and a skuzzy psychologist attempting to drive poor Barbara mad. Written by George Armitage the film actually finds time to be humorous, coherent, and even worth watching––if for no other reason than the opening title sequence which looks positively mid budget.

Drug trafficking, murder, racism, and three or four other complicated issues get mashed together in the 1971 Private Duty Nurses, directed by Armitage (Grosse Pointe Blank). There’s enough drama for an inspired season of Quincy or perhaps Charlie’s Angels and enough hackneyed social commentary for one or two freshman composition papers. Actually, it’s not all that bad––Armitage is easily the most capable of the directors in this lot and his sense of style and ability to find the correct dramatic tension in a scene also makes this one worth half of a second watch. As an added bonus the band Sky (featuring future Knack leader Doug Fieger) gets plenty of screen time and performs a handful of moderately memorable songs.

The fourth in this trilogy––ahem, right––is The Young Nurses (1973) in which something happens––but about ten minutes in the film loses whatever modest charms it had. The script is limpid and the direction forgettable, making this the one true must avoid in the lot.

Extras include interviews with Kaplan and Holleb, plus Julie and Roger Corman.

B cinema doesn’t have to be completely turgid, as three of these four films prove. Heck, you might even learn something about storytelling, along the way.

RATING 6 / 10