A Minor Picture Compendium of Classic Movie Nurses

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Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

I’ve been wrestling with a nasty cold bug all week and while perusing TCM’s Now Playing Guide I noticed that they’ve got three nurse films programmed for Saturday beginning with The Nun’s Story (1959) starting at 5PM EST/8PM PST followed by One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and The Caretakers (1963). While I attempt to nurse myself back to health, I thought it might be beneficial (and fun!) to share “A Minor Picture Compendium of Classic Movie Nurses” with you.

Movie nurses come in all stripes. They can be mean and cruel like Nurse Ratched (pictured above) or gentle as doves like Audrey Hepburn’s character in The Nun’s Story. They can also be sexy, smart, compassionate, laugh-out-loud funny and ruthless blood thirsty monsters. What follows is a picture gallery featuring some of my favorite movie nurses. If I overlooked one of yours, feel free to add them in the comments below.

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Nurse Louise (Joan Crawford) in Possessed (1947)

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Nurse Lucretia (Joan Crawford) in The Caretakers (1963)

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Nuse Maloney (Joan Blondell) in Night Nurse (1931)

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Nurse Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) also in Night Nurse (1931)

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Nurse Connell (Frances Dee) in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

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Nurse Nina (Jane Adams) in House of Dracula (1945)

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Nurse Corum (Angie Dickinson) in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)

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Nurse Price (Jenny Agutter) in An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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Nurse Schöntag (Constance Bennett) in After Tonight (1933)

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Nurse Sebastian (Coleen Gray) in The Sleeping City (1950)

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Nurse Bowers (Maggie Smith) in Death on the Nile (1978)

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Nurse Vernia (Sue Lyon) in Murder in a Blue World (1973)

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Nurse Barker (Sara Allgood) in The Spiral Staircase (1946)

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Nurse Kelly (Peggy Dow) in Harvey (1950)

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Nurse Ruth (Marianna Hill) in Medium Cool (1969)

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Nurse Lee (Carole Lombard) in Vigil in the Night (1940)

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Nurse Ashford (Agnes Moorehead) in Magnificent Obsession (1954)

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Nurse Davidson (Claudette Colbert), Nurse O’Doul (Paulette Goddard ) & Nurse D’Arcy (Veronica Lake) in So Proudly We Hail (1943)

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Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) in High Anxiety (1977)

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Nurse Barkley (Jennifer Jones) in A Farewell to Arms (1957)

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Nurse Lorie (Dorothy Malone) in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

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Nurse ‘Bim’ Nolan (Frank Faylen) in The Lost Weekend (1945)

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Nurse Kenny (Rosalind Russell) in Sister Kenny (1946)

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Nurse Wilkes (Kathy Bates) in Misery (1990)

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Nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson) in Persona (1966)

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Nurse Denton (Shirley Eaton) in Carry On Nurse (1969)

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Nurse Anson (Paula Kelly) in The Andromeda Strain (1971)

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Nurse Jane (Uta Levka) in Scream and Scream Again (1970)

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Nurse Nightingale (Kay Francis) in The White Angel (1936)

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Nurse David (Helen Craig) in The Snake Pit (1948)

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Nurse Preen (Mary Wickes) in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

If I didn’t include one of your favorite movie nurses, feel free to share them in the comments below.

30 Responses A Minor Picture Compendium of Classic Movie Nurses
Posted By Arthur : January 29, 2016 1:06 am

Nurses bring us in, and take us out, of this world, that is. The first and the last hands to touch us. Men may think they rule the world, but women give birth to it and nurture it, nurse it. The nurse is the official embodiment of Mother. Interesting to see Hollywood’s take on this. . .

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 29, 2016 1:09 am

Lovely comment Arthur, Thanks for sharing it!

Posted By Autist : January 29, 2016 1:13 am

What about Hot Lips Houlihan?

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 29, 2016 1:18 am

Good one, Autist! She totally slipped my mind. If I get a chance I may try and add some reader suggestions to the post later on once I’m feeling more like myself. Maybe together we can come up with a “major” picture compendium of classic movie nurses instead of a “minor” one.

Posted By Arthur : January 29, 2016 1:39 am

Thank you, Kimberly for raising this topic. These pix are worth thousands of words. My mom was a nurse. Lucky me and my siblings.

Posted By Anne Billson : January 29, 2016 1:42 am

Not sure if she counts because she was a Matron in all of these, but Hattie Jacques in Carry on Doctor, Carry on Again Doctor and Carry on Matron.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 29, 2016 1:48 am

Thanks for the suggestion, Anne! I haven’t seen any of those Carry On films so I appreciate the input.

Posted By robbushblog : January 29, 2016 4:49 am

Thelma Ritter in REAR WINDOW. She didn’t wear the typical nurse uniform, but she was a nurse.

Posted By Doug Miller : January 29, 2016 5:20 am

Thanks for this — and for the Kellerman and Ritter catches. I was going to suggest Jo Ann Pflug in a Peter Sellers movie called “Where Does It Hurt?”, but then realized she might have been a mistress but not a nurse. Then I remembered that she *was* a nurse in “M*A*S*H” — Nurse Dish! I found a nursing website that does movie reviews based on the degree of realism in the portrayal of nurses. The reviewer there gave Altman and co. 4 stars for artistic expression but 1 star for nursing! I’m not making this up.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 29, 2016 5:28 am

Arthur – thanks for sharing your story about your mom. She sounds like a lovely lady.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 29, 2016 5:29 am

Rob – Great suggestion! I love Thelma Ritter.

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : January 29, 2016 5:32 am

Doug – Thanks for stopping by! I’m curious about that website you mentioned. I did a quick Goggle search but didn’t spot it. My heads’s in a Nyquil fog at the moment so I may have overlooked it but feel free to share a link here if you can.

Posted By madeupname : January 29, 2016 8:34 am

‘Ice Cold in Alex’ has a couple, Sister Diana Murdoch [Sylvia Syms] and Sister Denise Norton [Diane Clare].

[Hmmm..... Having nipped off to check their mames, it seems it has/had a different title in the US 'Desert Attack'.

54 minutes shorter than the UK release. Can't let mere entertainment get in the way of all those yummy adverts, can we?]

PS
Hope you are recovered soon.

Posted By LD : January 29, 2016 10:33 am

One of my favorite performances is Elsa Lanchester’s in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. I love the interaction between her and Laughton. Another actress to add to the list of nurses is Jeanne Crain playing the title role in PINKY.

Hope you feel better soon Kimberly!

Posted By LD : January 29, 2016 10:36 am

Mary Wickes also played a nurse in NOW VOYAGER.

Posted By Emgee : January 29, 2016 10:52 am

Kimberly, Doug might refer to this:

http://www.truthaboutnursing.org/media/films/

or possibly :

http://onlinebsn.org/2011/the-15-best-movies-about-nursing/

PS Renée Zellweger as Nurse Betty comes to mind; hmmmm, i wonder why…..

Posted By Kathy Shaidle : January 29, 2016 12:40 pm
Posted By swac44 : January 29, 2016 1:57 pm

I have a number of friends and family members who are nurses, and I was very thankful to our local nurses’ union this week, who came to our workplace picket line (oh joy, I’m on strike) with words of support and gifts of coffee and tea, and to bolster our numbers on the sidewalk. It’s a tough, sometimes thankless, job, but nurses are some of the hardiest, and best-humoured, people I know.

Glad to see the Carry On movies rated a mention, with the lovely Shirley Eaton, and in Anne’s plug for the great Hattie Jacques. I’m in the middle of a big Carry On binge for a podcast (Illusion Travels By Streetcar) we’re taping tonight, and I’ve watched most of the ones mentioned above, but noticed that Jacques reprises her matron character in other films in the series, notably Carry On Regardless, where there’s a sequence set in a hospital as Sid James waits in line for a millionaire who hates waiting to see a doctor. (The film also includes a The 39 Steps spoof sequence, which I didn’t expect.)

But the Carry Ons sure loved hospital comedy. I guess it was cheap (they reuse the same sets, or location, in each entry), and they could mix bedroom and bathroom humour with equal abandon.

Posted By Patricia : January 29, 2016 2:52 pm

Two films about student nurses would make additions to the list: “The Lamp Still Burns” (1943) from the UK and “Four Girls in White” (1939). Anna Neagle from the UK appeared as both Florence Nightingale in “The Lady with the Lamp” (1951) and Edith Cavell in “Nurse Edith Cavell” (1939). June Allyson was a nurse in “Battle Circus” (1953) and Joan Blondell was also a nurse in “Miss Pinkerton” (1932) (in a role that Lee Patrick reprised in “The Nurse’s Secret” (1941).

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) : January 30, 2016 1:12 am

My husband wants me to mention Muriel Pavlow as Nurse Joy Gibson in “Doctor in the House”. H’m, I think a secret crush has been uncovered.

Posted By Lloyd : January 30, 2016 4:40 am

Lots of nurses to choose from “In Harm’s Way,” which is set in the “South Pacific.” Patricia Neal gets my vote, FWIW.

Posted By osg : January 30, 2016 6:05 am

How about Constance Towers as Kelly, a reformed prostitute turned nurse to handicapped children, in Sam Fuller’s “The Naked Kiss”.

Posted By kingrat : January 30, 2016 10:01 pm

Kimberly, thanks for a great selection of movie nurses. Kay Francis looks like she’s wondering where her mink and her chapeau are.

Patricia Neal in THE HASTY HEART is another of my favorites.

I had to laugh, seeing Joan Crawford in THE CARETAKERS and remembering that her assistant is played by Constance Ford. How would you like those two to look after you?

Posted By jim otto : January 31, 2016 4:27 am

A favorite of mine is Donna Reed in They Were Expendable. I was quite taken with the similar setting (WWII, Pacific, Bataan) to So Proudly We Hail, which you cite above. I also thought that she and Paulette Goddard, from that film, look so much alike.

Posted By Emgee : January 31, 2016 11:39 am

“How would you like those two to look after you?” That’s the stuff of nightmares. Can i have Stanwyck and Blondell instead?

Posted By John Fickes : February 3, 2016 11:10 pm

Thanks for offering this tribute. My late mother became a nurse, realizing that it was that or teach grade-schoolers — the two leading career opportunities for the educated woman of 1951.

Note the tailored, predominantly white uniforms, then realize that they are largely gone today. One could have some fun playing out an analogy with classic film!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : February 7, 2016 9:37 pm

Just wanted to pop back in and say thanks for all the great additions to the list I started! My bad cold managed to turn into walking pneumonia so I’m still down for the count but hopefully on the mend.

Posted By Arthur : February 7, 2016 9:53 pm

Get well soon, Kimberly! Down the road you might want to do other classic professions/roles such as: doctor, detective, lawyer, teacher, spy, cowboy, Native American, etc.

Posted By LD : February 7, 2016 11:10 pm

Kimberly, having experienced my own bout with pneumonia I wish you all the best and a speedy recovery.

Posted By Mick Carter : May 6, 2016 1:30 pm

Nurse Ratchet has to be the scariest of them all. Poor McMurphy (“Medication time!!!!”)

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