Private Duty Nurses | Varied Celluloid

Private Duty Nurses

Posted by Josh Samford On April - 6 - 2012

Private Duty Nurses (1971)
Director: George Armitage
Writers: George Armitage
Starring: Katherine Cannon, Joyce Williams and Pegi Boucher



The Plot: Private Duty Nurses doesn’t really look to change around the formula when it comes to its plot. Similar to the other films found in the Roger Corman nurses collection from Shout Factory (such as Night Call Nurses and Candy Stripe Nurses), this is a story about three nurses who each have their own stories to tell. In this story we are introduced to Spring (Katherine Cannon), who is persuaded by a doctor to become involved with the Vietnam veteran Domino (Dennis Redfield). A young patient who is fresh back in regular society, but finds it hard to cope with his regular life after the war. He has now turned to motocross riding, and has been taking some extreme risks. Next up is Lola (Joyce Williams), an African American nurse who runs into many prejudices due to her ethnicity and her sex. As she attempts to help her boyfriend get hired into a all-white hospital, she runs into racism and sexism at every turn. Finally we have Lynn, who becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that may very well bring down some of the political elites found in their city.


The Review
Before even starting Private Duty Nurses, I had a very troubled feeling. The two previous films reviewed from the Roger Corman Nurses collection had been pretty solid, so one doesn’t imagine that the trend can fully continue. At some point, we must run into a brick wall! So, I may have started the movie with a particular bias that carried me through the film. Whether it be from me being burned out on movies with such similar content, which were watched nearly back-to-back, or whether the film lacked all of the content that I imagined would grab me right from the start, I can’t quite say. With all of that said, Private Duty Nurses is not a bad film at all. It is just a different film tonally than what I have seen so far from this genre. Whereas the other movies are focused primarily on delivering an atmosphere of fun, it seems as if the minds behind Private Duty Nurses were interested in delivering something with a bit more depth. Well, maybe depth is the wrong word. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that they were more intrigued with the idea of throwing in a crap-ton of melodrama. Not surprising, George Armitage wrote both this film and the later title Night Call Nurses, which also suffered a bit from the same form of melodrama. Unfortunately, Private Duty Nurses doesn’t quite have the characterization that Night Call Nurses does.

With the melodrama, depth and subtext set aside for a moment, Private Duty Nurses is still a prime example of a “time capsule” flick. This is the sort of movie that tells you a lot about what young people were interested in during the early seventies. Whereas Candy Stripe Nurses showed a more late-seventies vibe, and Night Call Nurses had a very sixties aesthetic going for it, Private Duty Nurses falls somewhere in between. Early on in the film our female leads go to a hip bar and enjoy some very seventies music, performed by the band Sky, but the atmosphere seems to evoke both the hippie movement of the time, but also the southern rock vibe that came into prominence later in the seventies. Some of the philosophical mumbojumbo that defined the sixties certainly makes a return in this feature, with countless scenes of characters delving into Freudian expositional dialogue. The emphasis on political rallying certainly seems more in line with the mainstream perception of the sixties, but the bits of exploitation that pop up seem much more reminiscent of seventies cinema. This variety turns out to be one of the best elements within the movie, but it is hardly worth screaming about.

Private Duty Nurses does have a decent amount of political subtext to go with its melodrama, which isn’t really a surprise. This ultimately gives the movie a much more serious tone than the rest of the titles in this Nurses collection. Although each tackled some light political intrigue in their own way, Private Duty Nurses generally eschews the mischievous side of these political stories. Instead, the politics seem more like life or death situations. Granted, the movie still veers into silliness at times, but the effects of Vietnam are shown to have tremendous effect on everyone around our central characters. One of the girls is thrown into the awkward position, by a lead doctor on the ward, to keep an eye on a young man named Domino who is back from Vietnam with a plate in his head. This character has become reckless it seems due to a slight case of post-traumatic-stress syndrome. This is a fairly early look at this very common disorder, and it is treated with a decent amount of respect. It is never called by this name, but he is a young man who is obviously have a great deal of difficulty dealing with the rational world. As would be expected a love story blossoms, but nearly every scene between these two is marred with discussions of Vietnam. There’s also the situation revolving around the African American characters who are legitimate medical professionals, but are cut off at every corner due to their skin color. Their situation is expected, as it fits into the pattern of these nurse movies, but the mix of general sociological issues makes this the most thoughtful film within the set. That also means that some of the humor and the fun are gone from the movies, which is ultimately what ends up hurting the project.

Despite all of the seriousness, there is still a decent amount of sex involved. The nudity is cut down a bit in comparison to the previously reviewed films here on Varied Celluloid, but the sex scenes are certainly more intense because of it. The sex scene involving Joyce Williams is particularly spicy. Although it is not graphic, it does seem less light hearted and much more sensual than these nurse movies generally are. Aside from the few love scenes, there are also various bits where girls undress for the camera seemingly for no reason. Not too shocking, but not too amazing either. This sort of stuff was obviously thrown in to appease Roger Corman’s nudity quota, but overall it doesn’t detract from the movie. The only thing that limits it is the loss of humor. The other films took their role as nudie movies and they ran with it, Private Duty Nurses does the admirable job of trying to be something with a little more texture, but it is unfortunately bogged down due to the lack of originality in its storytelling. Not a big deal for a comedy, but if you’re making a poltical film then you had better tell me something more poetic than “racism and war are bad.”


The Conclusion
Overall, I would probably say that Private Duty Nurses is one of the weaker films found in the Nurses collection. However, that doesn’t mean that it is a bad movie. It is a perfectly fine piece of exploitation and I would recommend it as a part of this four movie set. You get so much from the other movies that this one below-average flick doesn’t detract from any of that. In fact, the comparison factor both improves this film as well as the others on the set. For Private Duty Nurses, it gets a two out of five.




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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