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DVD Review: Roger Corman’s Best of the B’s, Collection 2: Naughty Nurses & Tawdry Teachers

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When the films included in Roger Corman’s Best of the B’s, Collection 2: Naughty Nurses & Tawdry Teachers were made, in 1970-1975, home VCRs were rare and DVDs didn’t exist. Films like these had modest budgets ($120,000 for The Student Nurses), breakneck schedules (The Student Teachers was shot in 15 days), and the briefest of shelf lives. Other than screenings on TV, most B movies—low budget quickies made to play as the lesser half of double features—were never seen by the public after their original theatrical runs, and it seems unlikely these soft core features ever aired again. (Corman, by the way, claims not to have made bottom-of-the-bill B movies, describing his work as “low-budget exploitation films.”)

Following last year’s first Best of the B’s Corman collection, Hot Bikes, Cool Cars & Bad Babes, this four-DVD box collects seven films made for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures production company. Given the ephemeral nature of these films, it is sort of remarkable that Night Call Nurses, for instance, exists in any form. Either existing prints of these early ’70s flicks are in deplorable shape or, most likely, they were reproduced from inferior sources, possibly even VHS tape. The digital transfers range from surprisingly decent, for The Student Nurses, to barely watchable, on the washed-out, gauzy looking Private Duty Nurses. There are lots of contrast problems, with scenes either too dark or so oversaturated that it’s impossible to discern the action.

And, oh, is there action.

Corman’s nurse and teacher films each have three or four young women in the title vocations, each with her own storyline, all of which had to play out between the frequent outbursts of nudity that were the movies’ true raison d’être. As he explained to Jonathan Kaplan, the director of this set’s Night Call Nurses, Corman’s formula for these films was “exploitation of male sexual fantasy, a comedic subplot, action and violence, and a slightly left-of-center subplot . . . and then frontal nudity from the waist up, total nudity from behind, no pubic hair, and get the title in the film somewhere.”

While the mission statement characterizes all these titles, the actors, writers, and directors—like other Corman alums, several of whom went on to some acclaim in the TV and film industries—have varied levels of success making something entertaining out of it. In keeping with the times, there are overwhelmingly negative portrayals of The Establishment in the characters of priggish head nurses, questionable psychological therapists, corrupt businessmen, and wrong-headed, inflexible administrators. Although the teachers and nurses always prevail, there is also a casual underlying misogyny running throughout these movies, unfortunately, also in keeping with the era in which they were made. Of course, free love, that hallmark of the 1970s, drives many of the subplots.

The Student Nurses actually deals with the consequences of drug-fueled casual sex in a surprising manner, leading to one of the nurses having an abortion. A graphic bullet removal and the outbreak of violence at a protest lend this film a measure of gravity, and similar elements crop up in many of the Nurses & Teachers features.

There is an inexplicable tone deafness in the way titillation is juxtaposed with violence. Three of the films include rape scenes, one at gunpoint; the most brutal, in The Student Teachers, immediately follows a funny mock sex-ed movie. It may be there was an intended message that reality will always intrude on the groovy times or that even empowered women can become victims. Or it could just be bad editing and rushed filmmaking.

Some performances stand out, particularly the bubbly Candace Rialson, who has fun with her role in Candy Stripe Nurses; Corman regular Dick Miller brings his usual smarm and surliness to several roles, delivering lines like “Your mother blows goats!” with gusto; and familiar character actors, such as James Millhollin, spice up their small parts. Dennis Dugan, later of TV’s The Rockford Files and Richie Brockleman, plays a role in Night Call Nurses that may have inspired Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill. And Doug Fieger’s pre-Knack band, Sky, turns up onscreen and provides some excellent music to the Private Duty Nurses soundtrack.

The films in the Naughty Nurses & Tawdry Teachers collection are:

  • The Student Nurses, Stephanie Rothman, director. Sample dialog: “What’s my thing? I got lots of things.”
  • Private Duty Nurses, George Armitage, director. Sample dialog: “There’s a quota on black doctors, you know.”
  • Night Call Nurses, Jonathan Kaplan, director. Sample dialog: “Where’d you learn your etiquette, in a dirty book store?”
  • The Young Nurses, Clinton Kimbro, director. Sample dialog: “When you get around to treating your nurses like human beings … then give me a call.”
  • Candy Stripe Nurses, Alan Holleb, director. Sample dialog: “Would you let Isaac Stern use his violin as a shoehorn?”
  • The Student Teachers, Jonathan Kaplan, director. Sample dialog: “If you really dig each other, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get it on.”
  • Summer School Teachers, Barbara Peeters, director. Sample dialog: “Since I don’t believe you know what caring’s all about, I’ll excuse myself!”

For all their faults, several of the Naughty Nurses & Tawdry Teachers films are surprisingly entertaining, particularly for those of us who have fond memories of the drive-in experience. When they offend, fail to articulate their “slightly left-of-center” message, or just plain look cruddy, remember they were made to be viewed through a steamy windshield. This is a cut rate collection of low-budget films, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

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About James A. Gardner

  • http://ppad.blogspot.com Pat

    Excellent review – makes me want to see them!