US / 66 minutes / bw / Paramount Dir: Alexander Hall, George Somnes Pr: B.P. Schulberg Scr: P.J. Wolfson, Allen Rivkin, Manuel Seff Story: Jules Furthman Cine: Karl Struss Cast: James Dunn, Gloria Stuart, Shirley Grey, David Manners, William Harrigan, Vince Barnett, Johnny Hines, Jack La Rue, Kitty Kelly, Edward Gargan, James Burke, Clarence Wilson, Gertrude Short, Effie Ellsler, Hal Price.
Dr. Daniel “Dan” French (Dunn) spends his leisure time cutting a swath through the nurses of the police hospital of which he is head. His current paramour, Nurse Irene Blaine (Grey), is less than amused when he falls and falls hard for a young woman brought in delirious and on the point of death after a savage beating, Mary Dolan (Stuart).
Dan throws all his medical skills and many sleepless hours into the effort to keep Mary alive and effect a full recovery. Naturally he succeeds, and the two fall in love—much to Irene’s chagrin. She responds by reporting to the Superintendent of Hospitals, Walter C. Horton (Wilson), that Mary is well enough to leave and is being kept longer in the hospital solely because she’s Dan’s fancy lady . . .
. . . which is of course largely true. What Irene doesn’t know is that Dan’s other motive is to protect Mary from the hoodlum who ordered her beating and who would surely have her killed should she not be under the hospital’s protection, art lover Peter Lawton (Harrigan). In fact, Lawton—who up until the events of this movie was a pal of Dan’s—sends in the hitman who beat up Mary, Sammy (La Rue), with orders this time to finish her off.
Lawton (William Harrigan, right) spells out some home truths to his murderous thug Sammy (Jack La Rue).
Luckily Sammy gets into an altercation outside the door of Mary’s room, #419, with Dr. Martin “Nick” Nichols (Manners), a rookie doctor whom Dan has taken under his wing. Sammy’s gun is revealed; he uses it to shoot Nick—wounding him in the arm—and then, as he flees through the hospital, Dan’s cheery aide Otto Hoffer (Barnett), this time fatally. A cop gets Sammy but, as Lawton later grimly tells Dan, he has lots of other Sammies.
Sammy (Jack La Rue) gives a long goodbye en route to the big sleep.
Dan (James Dunn) promises Mary (Gloria Stuart) that he’ll protect her from Lawton.
Dan has by this time discovered why Mary’s life is on the line. She was Lawton’s moll but, after he murdered rival hoodlum Spike Manassa, told him she drew the line at murder and wanted out. Lawton’s fear is that she might turn honest and spill the beans to the cops. Dan now persuades her that this is indeed her best course of action. But, before Lieutenant “Babs” Riley (Gargan) can reach the hospital to take her confession, some else has terminally solved the Lawton problem for her . . .
Lt. Babs Riley (Edward Gargan) on the job.
The opening half-hour or so of this movie takes the form of a comedy-crime piece, and there are intermittent moments of comedy throughout the subsequent grimness, some supplied by the loyal sidekick Otto, some by newspaperman Slug (Hines), and some by the hospital’s telephone operator Kitty (Kelly)—who, despite the fact that her voice is caustic enough to strip paint from walls, is much in demand among the male staff. Most of this humor is put to good use—such as in adding to the poignancy of Otto’s death—and some of it is actually quite funny, especially early on. For example, while Riley is investigating the scene of gangster Spike Manessa’s murder, we have this:
Riley: Awright, Slug—outside. I’ll give ya a full statement later on.
Slug: What’ll it be full of?
Dan (examining an ashtray): The kind of guys that played poker with Spike would never leave lip rouge on a cigarette.
The chronology of the movie seems strangely awry. Sometimes it seems the action must be spread over a period of weeks, but elsewhere dialogue makes it plain that this is all supposed to be happening during just a couple of days . . . even though we’re told that Dan loses several nights’ sleep waiting by Mary’s bedside. There are other oddities. A supposed dramatic moment, when Dan openly admits that he, the hospital’s Don Juan, has finally fallen in love, reveals starkly the limitations of Dunn’s thespian abilities. And the movie’s finale leaves a sour taste, as we’re supposed to condone an act of calculated murder.
Otto (Vince Barnett) dies in the arms of Dan (Jack Dunn).
For all that, there’s much to like here too. As noted, unusually in pre-Code crime movies, the humor isn’t an embarrassment; the transitions from comedy to pathos are very well handled, allowing each to counterpoint the other. La Rue’s hamminess—such a distinctive element of movies like the James Hadley Chase adaptation NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (1948)—is here deployed to advantage: it actually helps that Sammy is such a hammy hitman, somehow making him more frightening than he might otherwise seem. The action doesn’t flag, and the characterization of the villain, Lawton, admirably portrayed by Harrigan, is nicely imaginative.