Monday, April 6, 2015

Private Duty Nurses (1971)



          The second in a loose series of sexy-nurse flicks made by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, this pointless but nearly respectable drama was the directorial debut of George Armitage, who later found his niche with such gonzo projects as Vigilante Force (1975) and Grosse Pointe Blank (1997). Throughout Private Duty Nurses, one can feel Armitage struggling to integrate substantial topics, and to his credit the exploitive bits of the movie pass quickly. However, Private Duty Nurses ends up failing on two levels—it’s neither the eroticized romp promised by lurid marketing materials nor a serious drama with sociopolitical heft. In trying to serve two masters, Armitage ended up making something formless and forgettable.
          As per the norm of the sexy-nurse cycle, Private Duty Nurses follows the personal and professional lives of a group of attractive young RNs. Lola (Pegi Boucher) is an African-American woman who dates a black doctor campaigning against racist hiring practices at their hospital. Lynn (Pegi Boucher) romances an ecological activist who investigates connections between mysterious deaths and oceanic pollution. And bleeding-heart blonde Spring (Kathy Cannon) tries to coax a tormented Vietnam vet into health with sex and TLC. There’s also a meandering subplot about the girls’ landlord, Dewey (Paul Hampton), a creepy would-be stud who seduces one of the ladies back to his bachelor pad, only to prove virtually impotent. And, naturally, one of the girls gets raped, because apparently no ’70s exploitation movie was considered complete without sexual assault.
          Within individual scenes, Armitage generates fleeting moments of credible drama. He’s at his best depicting the weird dissonance between Dewey’s come-on routines and the man’s shoddy bedroom performance. Armitage does weird well—but weird is not the coin of this particular realm, and Armitage (who also wrote and produced the picture) displays zero interest in delivering a straight-up skin show. Although he manages to get each of his leading actresses topless at some point, the director’s boredom with such B-movie bits as extended scenes of dirt-bike racing is evident. It doesn’t help that the cast lacks any standouts. (Minor exception: Hampton’s oily turn as Dewey.) The leading actresses are attractive and some of them are more competent performers than others. Meanwhile, jobbing actors including Paul Gleason, Herbert Jefferson Jr., and Robert F. Simon deliver work that’s merely adequate.
          Nonetheless, proving that one should never underestimate the power of salacious marketing, Private Duty Nurses did well enough to justify a continuation of the sexy-nurse cycle. Three more movies followed.

Private Duty Nurses: FUNKY

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