Night Call Nurses (1972)
Director: Jonathan Kaplan
Writers: George Armitage and Danny Opatoshu
Starring: Patty Byrne, Alana Stewart and Mittie Lawrence

The Plot: Our story revolves around three girls who work as nurses at a mental health institution. Barbara (Patty Byrne) is the free spirit of the group, and we watch as she becomes involved with a strange hippie commune. All seems to be going well, with free love and bizarre new-age philosophy flying in the air, but things eventually take a darker turn when Barbara walks into a room with a two-way receiver that is broadcasting the “guru” of this commune spreading lies about her while she is out of the room. This nearly drives Barbara insane and pushes her to areas that she never expected to go. Next up is Janis (Alana Stewart), who isn’t looking for love on the job, but she is soon wrapped up in a relationship with one of her patients who is currently undergoing rehab treatment. A cowboy with a drug addiction, would could wrong? Finally, we have Sandra (Mittie Lawrence), who is drawn into the political struggles of the world when she meets a prisoner on her ward. It turns out that this prisoner started a massive riot, and Sandra believes that his struggle is her own. Will she commit to helping him even though it means risking her entire career, or will she play it safe?

The Review
In many ways, I have been working my way backwards through the Roger Corman “Nurses” collection from Shout Factory. The film that we are looking at today came before the previously reviewed Candy Stripe Nurses, but Night Call Nurses is the film that features potentially the most suggestive title in the entire collection. Perhaps a movie with the title Night Call Nurses didn’t sound like a porno before the video age, but telling anything that you are watching a movie called Night Call Nurses is a quick way to achieve a few strange looks. Going back to the linearity of these movies, making my way backwards doesn’t really matter for this collection. These films aren’t truly a part of any sort of any “series,” but they are only drawn together by the “nursing” aspect. A genre that certainly adheres to a very particular formula, Night Call Nurses doesn’t intend to break from that tradition. We get three girls, we get varying love angles, and we get some political subtext. And bless Roger Corman and the young people who made these movies, because with their political subtext they at least tried to make real movies. They often failed, but those angles are usually the portions within this genre that actually somehow makes the films feel relatively legitimate. Night Call Nurses may be the most over-the-top with its politically charged subplot, but it does indeed try to legitimize what would otherwise be another T&A fest.

The genre definitions are very easy to spot after you have seen one of these movies. The film is established around three central female nurses, with one being of a non-white ethnicity. Each girl follows her own very interesting path, and by the conclusion of the film all will have learned something new. These are the conventions, and not one film on this set actually deviates from the regulated standard. What makes these movies good or bad on their own individual merit is the way that they tackle these topics. There are a million slashers in the world afterall, but only a handful of really great titles. Granted, the cream of the crop are the ones that differentiate from simple genre conventions, but there are still some highly respected movies within any genre that rarely defy the laws set up by their originators. When approaching pure “genre” movies, there are a select number of questions that audiences might ask themselves. What unique attributes in the plot make this different? Are the characters engaging? What about the writing and performances? These are the questions that I found buzzing in my head while watching Night Call Nurses. Ultimately, they are the roundabout census for my opinion, which I will get to shortly.

The “ethnic” lead is once again relegated to the socially conscious subplot, and our story follows the plight of a young man who is searching for his friend who has been hidden within the hospital bureaucracy. Made in the seventies, with the civil rights movement still fresh and the Attica prison riots still fresh in the mind of all potential viewers, this story can seem a bit shoehorned. The movie inevitably makes it work through the general vibe of counter culture being in full swing throughout all three of our main stories. Although it has its silly moments, Night Call Nurses certainly delivers a great deal of things for them to chew on. Even if most of this subtext is fairly plain. Patty Byrne’s character, who falls in love with a wandering cowboy, makes reference to the hippie culture by name, and the movie gives a clear glimpse into the early seventies. With lots of sex and hippy mumbo jumbo psychobabble, the movie oozes with a swinging sixties style. Made in 1972, it seems obvious that the general sense of rebellion from the sixties had not fully wore out its welcome.

Jonathan Kaplan, our director, is actually an intriguing filmmaker within the world of exploitation cinema. Sure, he later went on to direct The Accused with Jodie Foster, but before that he made a string of exploitation titles. Amongst these, we of course have this film, Night Call Nurses, but he also directed The Student Teachers, The Slams (with Jim Brown), and one of the best blaxploitation films ever made: Truck Turner. Still, this first film of his shows both his confidence as a director and a slightly amateurish hand when dealing with so much content. There is no ignoring the fact that Roger Corman’s school of hard knocks rarely allowed for extra time or money, so many aspects of Night Call Nurses can be forgiven, but occasionally the movie simply gets lazy. Featuring very few sets, a loosely tied together plot, and some very cheap expositional scenes (will get to this in a moment), the movie doesn’t show Kaplan at his very best. Sure, the movie was undeniably cheap in its creation, but there are multiple sequences throughout the movie that rely heavily on two characters walking around during “date scene” montages that are accompanied by voiceover narration. These scenes are relatively boring in their setup, but they functionally serve a purpose.

The Conclusion
Overall, Night Call Nurses is the most dramatic of the films on this set. I assume that there are some who will no doubt appreciate this, but the movie inevitably lacks in some of the fun and humor that the other movies bring to the table. If you going to rewatch any of the movies on this 2 disc set, chances are Night Call Nurses won’t be the first one to jump out at you. However, as part of this entire group, the movie has some key standout moments. Some of the drama is ham fisted, but the movie manages to rise above that during the key bits of outlandishness that arise. Overall, I give the movie a two out of five. Although the serious tone tries to lure it into being something exceptional, it unfortunately remains rather generic for the most part.