Four Girls in White (1939)
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon with a story from Endre Bohem & Nathalie Bucknall and a screenplay by Dorothy Yost this B movie comedy romance drama features Florence Rice Una Merkel Ann Rutherford and Mary Howard in the title roles; they play nursing students hoping to become nurses. Rice’s character Norma Page is the exception she hopes to marry a rich doctor or a wealthy patient of the hospital; Rutherford plays her younger sister Pat. Howard plays the tragic character Mary Forbes a single mother who hopes that her three year investment in school will enable her to better provide for her two year old daughter Susan (no mention of where Susan is staying in the interim). Merkel’s ravenously hungry “all the time” character Gertie Robbins is of course the film’s comic relief along with Buddy Epsen’s gawky lanky orderly Express. Neither is given a lot of screen time relatively (especially Merkel) and their characters are all but forgotten by the end. Alan Marshal plays Dr. Stephen Melford the first man Norma has designs on and Kent Taylor plays the other Robert Maitland a wealthy patient whose father helped found the hospital. Jessie Ralph plays the nurses’ stern taskmaster Miss Tobias; Sara Haden plays Miss Bennett the nurse who’s one of the hospital’s ranking administrators.
There’s really not a whole lot unique or compelling in this short sub-75 minute picture. The students are initially “green” and not serious enough in Miss Tobias’s opinion about their tasks at hand. But in her drill sergeant way she whips them into shape while Norma works diligently to get Dr. Melford’s attention. The passage of time is shown through montages of their training. Though Norma does “hook” Melford she comes to realize that he’s too idealistic to leave his $5000/year job as the hospital’s “top dog” surgeon for ten times better pay in private practice. When Maitland is checked into the hospital (with a bullet wound?) she gets her chance to move on to another more promising opportunity. Irresponsible Norma asks Mary to watch her patient while she tends to Maitland who though he’s initially rightly suspicious of her gold-digging intention falls under her spell after too easily accepting her self righteous denial of it. Naturally something bad happens while Mary is trying to be in two places at the same time for Norma such that she’s the one who gets in trouble for covering for her friend. Mary’s vacation is suspended by Miss Bennett such that she’s unable to visit her now almost 5 year old daughter.
When Maitland is ready to check out of the hospital he arranges to take Norma and her sister along as nurses to tend to his complete recovery. After a short time on his yacht however the joke is on Norma since Maitland becomes interested in her “tom boy blooming into womanhood” sister Pat. So she instead of Pat returns to the hospital in hopes of graduating. But of course while she vacationed and Mary could not Mary gets killed. The fact that Mary had been paying attention to her daughter’s drawing in lieu of watching her dangerous patient is lost on the other nurses who would rather blame Norma for the tragedy. Naturally even Dr. Melford couldn’t save Mary despite his surgical talent and the emergency operation. Norma decides to resign but just after she’s mailed her resignation a nearby train accident-dam break incident requires the hospital’s entire staff to respond. Miss Tobias sees that Norma would like to help and invites her along despite her letter. Given a second chance Norma performs bravely and is almost killed when the dam finally breaks and the flood almost kills she and Dr. Melford who were in a partially submerged train car recovering other patients. After they’re rescued Norma rededicates herself to her newfound profession.