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Candy Stripe Nurses

Candy Stripe Nurses(1974)

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Inspired by the trend of "three young girls" films like Three Coins in the Fountain that culminated in Jacqueline Susann's '60s pop culture sensation Valley of the Dolls, Roger Corman hit upon a durable formula that served him well throughout the 1970s: take three beautiful young women working in a single industry, give them each a sexy or cutting edge storyline of their own, mix well with some acceptable levels of T&A, and voila! Box office gold.

This recipe for success extended to a string of films Corman made at New World involving stewardesses and fashion models, but its most famous incarnation is easily the quintet of nurse films made from 1970 to 1974. Four of these (minus the first one, The Student Nurses) are gathered in a two-disc set from Shout Factory entitled Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Nurses Collection as part of its lavish ongoing line of Corman releases, and interestingly, the four are scrambled way out of order for reasons never made quite clear.

First up in the set but last to be released chronologically is Candy Stripe Nurses, directed by UCLA grad Alan Holleb (who only made one other film, the high school ghost comedy School Spirit). As a curtain closer for the series, it makes a more than appropriate intro as well as it follows three young women working as volunteer nurses, all for very different reasons. Sandy (the late Candice Rialson from Hollywood Boulevard) ostensibly takes her assignment to be close to her doctor boyfriend, but she spends much of her time bedding both the staff and patients. Dianne (soap actress Robin Mattson) actually does want to be a physician and hopes the experience will get her on the right path, while troubled Marisa (MarĂ­a Rojo) has to work as community service duty after getting involved in a nasty knife fight on school grounds. Their misadventures include a series of attempted and completed sexual assaults, proving the innocence of a wounded man accused of a robbery, tangling with familiar drive-in actors like Dick Miller and Sally Kirkland, and even trying to cure the impotence of an over-the-hill rocker. It all climaxes, naturally, with a basketball game, a tire-screeching car chase against time, and an emergency room crisis. The film is mainly Rialson's show, however, and it's not hard to see how she amassed a sizable cult following; not surprisingly, Corman used her again the same year for the not dissimilar Summer School Teachers. Also, the cut-rate "animated" opening titles (complete with rocking theme song) are not to be missed.

Then we move back chronologically to the third of the nurse cycle, Night Call Nurses, an unexpected offering from director Jonathan Kaplan (who went on to helm The Accused, Over the Edge, and White Line Fever) and writers George Armitage (future director of Miami Blues and Grosse Pointe Blank) and Danny Opatsohu (Get Crazy). This time the location shifts somewhat to a hospital psych ward, where the patients range from truly bonkers to politically revolutionary. The action stars with a pre-credits sequence involving a partially POV-shot suicide jump off the hospital roof, after which the film careens through the antics of brown-haired Barbara (Patti Byrne), soul sister Sandra (Mittie Lawrence), and perky blonde Janis (Alana Stewart). They have the work through the usual quagmire of disturbed patients, frowning supervisors, horny attendants, and flaky boyfriends, all scored to growling rock music. Oh, and character actor Dennis Dugan runs around in drag wagging a cleaver and leaving creepy notes for all of our heroines. It's all good fun, and while the actresses aren't quite up to the caliber of the other film on this disc, they're still strong, beautiful, and brave enough to keep the sometimes random chain of events grooving along just fine.

The only extra on disc one is the 14-minute "Anatomy of a Nurse Film," which features both Kaplan and Holleb recalling how they got their start at New World. They talk at length about Corman's intentions for the films including necessary product placements, the exact parameters of female nudity to include, and the roles each girl would play (blonde = comedy storyline, brunette = kinky, "girl of color" = political). Kaplan gets the funniest moment talking about the unorthodox methods suggested to convince an actress to go topless, which involves scouting for hookers on Sunset Boulevard.

The second disc then hops back another entry in time to the flimsiest offering of the entire series, Private Duty Nurses, which was both written and directed by Armitage. It's far from his most accomplished feature, however, and apart from an interesting soundtrack contribution from semi-obscure '70s rock band Sky, it's mostly a wash. The fatigue here is obvious as this is basically a less humorous rehash of The Student Nurses, with another curvy threesome navigating a sea of obstacles including a drug smuggling ring, racial discrimination against the hiring of black doctors, and, uh, marine pollution. Very little of it has a connection to the actual hospital, and while the nightclub and biker scenes have some interest as snapshots of '70s SoCal life, the lack of narrative direction ultimately grounds the entire enterprise. For the record, the three nurses this time around are Spring (TV actress Kathy Cannon), Lola (Joyce Williams), and Lynn (Pegi Boucher).

Finally we hit the fourth chronological film of the series and last in the set, 1973's The Young Nurses, which was the only directorial effort for Corman actor Clint Kimbrogh (Bloody Mama). At times this one feels more like an intended Pam Grier vehicle as Michelle (Cleopatra Jones' Angela Elayne Gibbs) juggles her time Coffy-style between her nursing job and taking care of the drug dealers who are destroying her friends and neighborhood. It all leads to none other than cult director Samuel Fuller in a small but pivotal role as a corrupt doctor! Comic actor Allan Arbus (M*A*S*H) pops up as well, one year after his astonishing turn in Robert Downey's Greaser's Palace. The other storylines are far less interesting, with Kitty (Jeane Manson) and Joanne (Ashley Porter) getting a grip on a boat racing competition and the best way to wriggle out of their tight nurse uniforms.

The second disc also features only one extra, but it's a keeper. In the 12-minute "Paging Dr. Corman," both Roger and his wife/producer Julie talk about starting off New World on the right foot and their own ingredients for the series, including the fact that the girls always had to solve their own problems and the integration of political elements like news voiceovers in the background. Julie also has some great observations about women's liberation at the time and society's restrictions, such as the fact that she herself couldn't get a credit card in her own name because she was married. No theatrical trailers are included for any of the films, but they are available on various other drive-in trailer collections.

All of these films were previously released on DVD by Corman's New Horizons label, but these were essentially bare bones and featured atrocious transfers from very dated, full frame video masters (several of which were actually cropped instead of open matte). They also appeared in unauthorized, watermarked transfers with even cruddier transfers as part of Infinity's lackluster Presenting Roger Corman's...Best of B*s Collection 2: Naughty Nurses & Tawdry Teachers , which should be avoided at all costs. All four looks infinitely better in the Shout Factory collection with satisfying 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers, rich colors, appropriate film grain levels in the darker scenes, and vastly improved black levels; across the board, it's a major upgrade in every respect.

For more information about Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Nurses Collection, visit Shout! Factory.

by Nathaniel Thompson