Registered Nurse is a pre-code medical melodrama, but one without a great deal to offer.
Bebe Daniels plays Sylvia Benton (known to her friends as Ben). She is married to James Benton, a self-pitying alcoholic with a nasty streak. After a drunken argument James smashes up his car and the resulting head injury leaves him insane. He has lucid moments but they are interspersed with such dangerous periods of insanity that he has to be permanently hospitalised.
Ben resumes her nursing career but doesn’t tell anybody at the hospital that she’s married. Being young, beautiful and likeable she soon attracts the attention of two men at the City Hospital - the kindly if slightly randy middle-aged Dr Hedwig (John Halliday) and the handsome young Dr Connelly (Lyle Talbot). Both want to marry her. Well actually both want to get her into bed but they’re prepared to marry her in order to do so. Ben favours the young Dr Connelly but of course she’s not free to marry either of them.
Ben lives in a state where divorce is possible only in cases of adultery and James, for all his faults, has never been guilty of that. So she’s stuck. And she wouldn’t divorce him anyway since she once loved him and she feels sorry for him.
Things get really complicated when her mad husband becomes a patient at the City Hospital. He’s heard that Dr Hedwig can perform an operation that might cure him. This is somewhat alarming for Ben since she just wants to be free to marry the hunky Dr Connelly. And the course of true love certainly does not run smoothly for Ben.
Another of Ben’s patients is wrestling promoter Frankie Sylvestrie (Sidney Toler). He ended up in the hospital after a fight with his girlfriend Sadie (Irene Franklin), apparently a fairly common occurrence. Sadie runs the local whorehouse (this is after all a pre-code movie). Sadie ended up in the hospital as well. Frankie is not exactly a completely honest citizen but he’s basically good-hearted and he will play a key role in the resolution of Ben’s marital problems. This resolution is not the sort of thing movie would get away with once the Code started to be enforced.
There’s a sub-plot involving another nurse and a good-natured cop, a sub-plot that doesn’t really contribute much to the film apart from padding out the running time to a rather modest 63 minutes.
Bebe Daniels handles her role competently enough. Lyle Talbot is always fun to watch. But it’s Sidney Toler who steals the picture with his delightfully cynical and very pre-code performance.
Director Robert Florey does a solid if not inspiring job. The screenplay by Lillie Hayward and Peter Milne is rather pedestrian and has only moments of the outrageous dialogue pre-code fans will be looking for.
Registered Nurse is at best moderately entertaining and can be recommended only if you’re a fan of medical melodramas with a touch of pre-code naughtiness.
It’s available as part of a pre-code double-header made-on-demand DVD from the Warner Archive series, paired with The Crash. Neither movie would be really worth buying on their own but as a two-movie deal it’s certainly worth a look. Both transfers are reasonably good.