Watching 1939: The Old Maid

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:The Old Maid

Release date:  Aug. 16, 1939

Cast:  Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, George Brent, Donald Crisp, Jane Bryan, Louise Fazenda, James Stephenson, Jerome Cowan, William Lundigan, Cecilia Loftus, Rand Brooks, Janet Shaw, William Hopper, Marlene Burnett (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Edmund Goulding

Plot:
On her wedding day, Delia’s (Hopkins) former beau Clem (Brent) arrives, reminding her that she promised to marry him. Delia’s cousin Charlotte (Davis) goes after Clem to comfort him. Clem enlists with the Union in the Civil War and Charlotte discovers she’s pregnant. The child alters Delia and Charlotte’s lives and close relationship.

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Musical Monday: Luxury Liner (1948)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Luxury Liner (1948) – Musical #60

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Richard Whorf

Starring:
George Brent, Jane Powell, Lauritz Melchior, Frances Gifford, Marina Koshetz, Thomas E. Breen, Richard Derr, John Ridgely, Connie Gilchrist, Juanita Quigley (uncredited)
Themselves: Xavier Cugat, The Pied Pipers

Plot:
Polly Bradford (Powell) goes to boarding school while her cruise ship captain father Captain Jeremy Bradford (Brent) is at sea. After unsuccessfully begging to go along, Polly runs away from school and stows away from school to be with her dad and also to meet opera singer Olaf Eriksen (Melchior).

Trivia:
– George Brent starred in two films titled “Luxury Liner.” One in 1933 and one in 1948. The two films are unrelated.
– Jane Powell had a teenage crush on George Brent in this film. According to her autobiography, she and George Brent reconnected years later while she was in a play. George Brent courted Jane Powell and she enjoyed his company, but when he proposed Jane Powell turned him down because she had already been married three times and didn’t want to marry again. When Powell married her fourth husband, James Fitzgerald in 1965, Brent was angry and wouldn’t speak to Jane Powell.

Highlights:
– The Technicolor
– The musical performances

Notable Songs:
-“Spring Came Back to Vienna” performed by Jane Powell
-“Alouette” performed by Jane Powell and kitchen staff
-“Helan Gar” performed by Lauritz Melchior
-“Come Back to Sorrento” performed by Lauritz Melchior
– “Con Maracas” performed by Xavier Cugat

My review:
Some movies evoke memories.

For me, “Luxury Liner” is one of those movies. It was early in my exploration of musical films, April of 2004 to be exact. I was a freshman in high school and on spring break and my dad was painting the whole house. I remember lying in our house, which smelled of paint and being enthralled with how fun “Luxury Liner” is.

There aren’t any Jane Powell MGM musicals I dislike (though I like some more than others), but “Luxury Liner” is up there in my favorites. Revisiting it and remembering that first time viewing, I thought it was just as fun, cheerful and humorous as I did the first time.

Jane Powell’s character is a teen in boarding school who wants to become a singer. She is a true overly dramatic teenager, and the score helps emphasize that. Every time she speaks to her father, played by George Brent, in an exaggerated sad manner, the music turns to the radio serials-like violin music.

Jane Powell is sweet, bright and delightful in this movie. She practically is the personification of sunshine, and I love it. Her character is funny, has adorable clothes and she also sings some beautiful songs.

George Brent plays Jane Powell’s father, and though he doesn’t sing in this musical, he brings a great fatherly touch and humor. He gives the same tired look most dads would give to their teenage daughters, but also dotes on her. During the 1930s and 1940s, Brent so often as a romantic leading man, that it’s fun to see him as a single dad.

George Brent and Jane Powell

Jane Powell and Frances Gifford

Lovely Frances Gifford is also in the film as a woman taking a cruise to escape her troubles. Unfortunately, after modest success in films at MGM, “Luxury Liner” was one of Gifford’s last films. In 1948, Gifford was in a serious car accident and had serious head injuries. She recovered physically but the injury affected her mentally for the rest of her life. Her career ended in the mid-1950s. While she wasn’t a big star, Gifford is someone I enjoy seeing in films, so it’s bittersweet to see her in this film knowing her career will soon change.

“Luxury Liner” also benefits from the popular performers that Louis B. Mayer signed on to MGM to bring the studio class and culture. In this film we have Lauritz Melchoir, Xavier Cugat and his band, and the Pied Pipers.

Lauritz Melchior and Marina Koshetz performing Aida in Luxury Liner

Cugat and the Pied Pipers were more of the “popular” music nature, but Melchoir was the class Mayer wanted to bring to the studio.

Lauritz Melchior was a Wagnerian tenor, making his debut in the 1920s. He performed at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London, with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, with the Buenos Aires Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Chicago Opera. Melchior doesn’t play himself in the film, but another famous opera singer who Jane Powell idolizes. He takes her under his wing encourages her career.

Thomas Breen and Jane Powell

In some films, Jane Powell has a “boyfriend,” like Scotty Becket or Roddy McDowall. In this film, she has a vague crush on a shipworker played by Thomas E. Breen, who was Production Code Administration head Joseph Breen’s youngest son. Breen may be the only odd part about this film, because his character is pointless. There really isn’t any romance, he just followers her around to make sure she doesn’t get into trouble. His role in “Luxury Liner” was probably Breen’s largest in the seven films he made.

Aside from the performers, this shipboard film is beautiful to look at in Technicolor and has beautiful costumes by Helen Rose. The movie mainly takes place on the boat as it sails to it’s destination, adding something unique and fun to the premise.

It’s hard not to gush about “Luxury Liner.” If you are ever having a bad day, hop aboard and take a cruise with this musical.

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Watching 1939: Wings of the Navy

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: Wings of the Navy

Release date:  Feb. 3, 1939

Cast:  George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, John Payne, Frank McHugh, John Litel, Victor Jory, Henry O’Neill, John Ridgely, Regis Toomey, Donald Briggs, John Gallaudet, Edgar Edwards, Alberto Morin

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

Plot:
Brothers Cass (Brent) and Jerry Harrington (Payne) come from a military background. Cass is a star aviator, like their father was, and Jerry leaves the submarine service to become a flight cadet to be like his father and brother. The brothers start to share more than the same profession when Jerry falls in love with Cass’s girl, Irene (de Havilland).

1939 Notes:
• Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer wrote the song “Wings Over the Navy” for this film. This was Warren’s last film song written for Warner Brothers after starting there in 1932.
• Lloyd Bacon directed six films in 1939.
• Character actor John Rigdely was in 31 films released in 1939.
• Still early in his career, John Payne was in three full-length films in 1939.
• Victor Jory was in 10 films released in 1939
• Olivia de Havilland was in five films in 1939
• George Brent was in four films released in 1939

Character actor John Ridgely, who was in 31 films in 1939 including “Wings of the Navy.” (Screen cap by Jessica P)

Other trivia: 
• Filmed at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, and the Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado, California.

Olivia de Havilland and John Payne in “Wings of the Navy”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Wings of the Navy” isn’t anything special. But it’s enjoyable. It has the zest and excitement of a military-themed film, complete with the danger of learning how to fly a plane and test pilots risking their lives. We also have romantic rivalries within a family.

For leads like Olivia de Havilland and George Brent, this movie was just a filler contractual obligaion compared to the other films they starred in that were released in 1939. But for some supporting characters, this film was helping build their career. This year gave John Payne larger roles, like this one, and his first primary lead (Kid Nightingale).

This movie also is a good example of Warner Brothers with their usual character actor round-up: Henry O’Neill, John Litel and John Ridgely. Now, to date, John Ridgely, has been in the most 1939 films since I started this feature with 31 film credits.

Songwriter Harry Warren wrote a the song “Wings Over the Navy” with Johnny Mercer, which is played over the credits and throughout the film. Warren started with Warner Brothers in 1932 and scored 32 more musicals, including “42nd Street” and “Footlight Parade.” “Wings of the Navy” marked his last film for Warner Brothers and he left the studio in 1939.

While I enjoyed “Wings of the Navy,” if you are looking for a good romantic plot, this isn’t the film for you. While the most plot summaries make it seem like this romantic rivalry is the main point of the film, it really takes a backseat to the trials and tribulations of becoming a Navy flyer.

George Brent, Olivia de Havilland and John Payne in a publicity photo for “Wings of the Navy”

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Musical Monday: Smilin’ Through (1941)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Smilin’ Through (1941) – Musical #321

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Frank Borzage

Starring:
Jeanette MacDonald, Brian Aherne, Gene Raymond, Ian Hunter, Frances Robinson, Patrick O’Moore, Jackie Horner (uncredited)

Plot:
John Carteret (Aherne) has lived alone, sad and bitter after the murder of his bride Moonyean (MacDonald) at their wedding years before. The young niece of Moonyean, Kathleen (Horner), comes to live with John after her parents die. Kathleen grows up to favor Moonyean and falls in love with Kenneth Wayne (Raymond), the son of the man who killed Moonyean.

Trivia:
-Third film version of “Smilin’ Through.” Norma Talmadge, Wyndham Standing and Harrison Ford star in the 1922 version. Norma Shearer, Fredric March and Leslie Howard star in the 1932 version.
-The film is based on the 1919 play
-Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond were married in real life and this was their only film together.
-James Stewart and Robert Taylor were originally considered for the leading men, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Moonyean (MacDonald) visits John (Aherne)

Highlights:
-Filmed in gorgeous Technicolor

Notable Songs:
-“The Kerry Dance” performed by Jackie Horner and Jeanette MacDonald
-“Smilin’ Through” performed Jeanette MacDonald
-“There’s a Long, Long Trail” performed by Jeanette MacDonald

 

Gene Raymond and Jeanette MacDonald in Smilin’ Through

My review:
By 1941, “Smilin’ Through” wasn’t a new story.

It was introduced on the stage in 1919, then on screen in 1922 and 1932. This version was the third and last time it was on the screen. And while I haven’t seen the 1922 version, I like the 1932 and 1941 versions equally as much.

This adaptation with Jeanette MacDonald, Brian Ahrene and Gene Raymond has a leg up on the rest of them: It’s in Technicolor.

“Smilin’ Through” is visually gorgeous and the story is equally lovely, though bittersweet. I can’t say enough about the visual beauty of this film. The color really shows off Jeanette MacDonald’s red hair and the colors are so lush, particularly the blues and greens.

Jeanette MacDonald and Gene Raymond (married in real life) both play dual role. MacDonald plays Brian Aherne’s niece Kathleen and his deceased love, Moonyean (a name that was created for the 1919 play). Gene Raymond plays an enemy of Brian Aherne’s and the man’s son, who falls for Kathleen.

I really do love “Smilin’ Through.” It’s more of a romantic drama with songs added in (since Jeanette is in the film) than a full out musical, but it has nine songs total, which to me qualifies this as a musical. This adaptation is the only musical version of the film, but that is because of our leading star, Jeanette MacDonald.

MacDonald does a great job in the role, and she seems like a natural selection in a role Norma Shearer also played. The were two of Hollywood’s top stars and both shared similar dramatic delivery of lines. Gene Raymond is decent in his role, and it’s interesting to watch husband and wife Raymond and MacDonald together in their only film.

Brian Aherne and Ian Hunter, two underrated actors, are probably the highlights in the film to me. I love Hunter in everything. It is interesting to watch Aherne play most of the film as a bitter old man, but then in the flashback to his wedding, he is a lighthearted, happy and joking young man. It’s interesting to see him play those two personalities against each other.

While the message of the story is that love prevails and that bitterness and hate will keep you from who you love, it also is a sad story. I feel sad for Brian Aherne’s character, growing old and bitter and lonely, though his niece does bring him some comfort.

But while parts of the movie make me sad, I do love “Smilin’ Through.” It’s colorful, the lead actors are wonderful and a great mix of sweet and sad romance.

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Musical Monday: Footlight Parade (1933)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

Poster for Footlight Parade. I’m not sure why the girls aren’t wearing clothes.

This week’s musical:
Footlight Parade (1933)– Musical #230

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Lloyd Bacon

Starring:
James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Frank McHugh, Guy Kibbee, Ruth Donnelly, Hugh Herbert, Claire Dodd, Gordon Westcott, Arthur Hohl, Billy Barty (uncredited)

Plot:
Chester Kent’s (Cagney) Broadway musicals are failing, because of talking films, so he reinvents himself and begins producing the musical numbers shown before the movie begins. His secretary Nan (Blondell) is in love with him and helps him with ideas, but they learn that some of his ideas are leaking out to other similar agencies. To get a movie theater contract, Chester makes a dormitory out of the theater so that no one can leak the ideas.

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Watching 1939: Dark Victory

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Dark Victory (1939)

Release date:  April 20, 1939

Cast:  Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ronald Reagan, Henry Travers, Cora Witherspoon

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Edmund Goulding

Plot:
Socialite Judith Traherne (Davis) has been behaving erratically. Many people believe she’s drinking and partying, but her friend Ann King (Fitzgerald) tries to get her to see a doctor. Judith finally sees Dr. Frederick Steele (Brent), who diagnoses Judith with a brain tumor. Dr. Steele does surgery, but will Judith live?

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Gidget to Beach Parties: The second wave

In 1963, the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” peaked on the charts at No. 3, and “Beach Party” became American International Picture’s highest grossing film and created the “beach party” film genre.

The 1960s is called “The Golden Age of Surfing” as Malibu brimmed with people, and the now-popular sport was working its way into music, fashion, cars and films.

From 1963 to 1968, stars like Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon caught waves up on the silver screen.

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in their first beach film, “Beach Party.”

These films weren’t academy award winners. Movies like “Beach Blanket Bingo” or “Muscle Beach Party” mainly focused on silly gags, a non-threatening antagonist, and romantic mishaps and fights (everyone ends up together in the end).

In these films, there is also lots and lots of songs and dancing, so some of them are generally considered musicals, though it focuses more on rock n’ roll music styles of the time.

Larger studios released their answers to beach films but with more established stars, like Elvis in “Blue Hawaii” or Tab Hunter in “Ride the Wild Surf.” These still were filled with romance, but sometimes had a serious rivalry to overcome or a surf contest.

These movies even spun off into ski party films so we could have the sex and song in the winter season as well!

Sandra Dee and James Darren in “Gidget.”

And all of these movies rode in on the wave of success from the film that is regarded as the best surf film: Gidget (1959).

For three summers (from 2015 to 2017), I explored every Gidget adaptation following that first film with Sandra Dee, as Gidget decided she wanted to surf instead of chase boys like her friends. Now, I want to turn my attention to the non-Gidget films that followed because of the surf craze Gidget created.

Malibu was home to surfers before the release of Gidget (1959), but surfing wasn’t a mainstream sport. Even when the film came out, the local surfers knew their world and sport would change.

“A bunch of us went to see the movie in Hollywood and Tubesteak (the surfer Kahuanna is based on) said ‘This is the beginning of the end. Which is was,’” said early Malibu surfer, Tom Powell in the documentary ‘Accidental Icon.’

The last Gidget feature film released was Gidget Goes to Rome in 1963, the same year the new brand of beach and surf part party movies.

These films were a bit different too. Gidget films were generally moral and sweet, while the following surf films catered more to teen audiences, focusing on sex and popular music, using taglines like “When 10,000 biceps go around 5,000 bikinis.”

Beach Party (1963) (Source: Giphy)

Walt Disney star Annette Funicello and singer Frankie Avalon were cast together in eight American International Picture films together from Beach Party (1963) to Fireball 500 (1966).

Similar to how John Ford has his usual group of actors in films, so did American International Picture beach films: Donna Loren, Candy Johnson, Jody McCrea, or Harvey Lembeck, just to name a few.

In the midst of the teenage stars, we would also see some familiar faces like Vincent Price, Buster Keaton, Kenan Wynn, Mickey Rooney, Robert Cummings and Dorothy Malone. The musical acts would be performed by Frankie and Annette, and other singers performed like “Little” Stevie Wonder or Donna Loren.

Buster Keaton in “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini”

Throughout the remainder of this summer and summers to come, I’m going to look at the surfing films and their evolution past Gidget. When and why they ended: Once the 1970s came along, the surfing films were no longer popular.

Would these films have been made without Gidget? Perhaps. But the books and films may have helped bring them to the screen a bit sooner.

Musical Monday: Career Girl (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
“Career Girl” (1944)– Musical #590

Studio:
Producers Releasing Corporation

Director:
Wallace Fox

Starring:
Frances Langford, Edward Norris, Iris Adrian, Craig Woods, Linda Brent, Alec Craig, Ariel Heath, Lorraine Krueger, Gladys Blake, Charles Judels, Marcy McGuire, Bess Flowers (uncredited)

Plot:
Joan Terry (Langford) traveled from Kansas City to New York City with hopes to hit it big on Broadway. While she unsuccessfully looks for work, she moves from her hotel to a women’s acting boarding house. There are lots of different personalities in the house: stuck up and catty burlesque queen Thelma (Brent), naïve Sue (Heath) who wants to be in show business, and sassy Glenda (Adrian), who becomes Joan’s good friend. Joan has a fiance in Kansas City who is put out with her career and wants her to come home to marry him, however, Steve (Norris) who is in New York also is wooing Joan.

Trivia:
– Unoffical remake of “Stage Door” (1937)
– Marcy McGuire is in the film but billed as Marion McGuire.
– Working title was Manhattan Rhythm.
– Morey Amsterdam and Tony Romano wrote some of the songs in the film.

Highlights:
-Frances Langford’s singing

Notable Songs:
-“Someday” performed by Frances Langford
-“Blue in Love Again” performed by Frances Langford
-“A Dream Came True” performed by Francs Langford

Frances Langford and Edward Norris

My review:
The plot to “Career Girl” may feel familiar: A girl’s acting boarding house, some of the girls are hateful towards each other, one is sweet and naive and only wants to act, and our main heroine is simply working towards a career. It’s basically a low-budget rehashing of “Stage Door.”

However, the premise, plot and characters are just different enough that this little movie is it’s own.

Sure, this movie practically defines “poverty row” film, but I have a soft spot in my heart for these hour-long Frances Langford films. Langford’s songs really make the film, but the supporting characters are also delightful, particularly the sassy Iris Adrian.

This movie is only 69 minutes long so it moves quickly and is enjoyable. It may not be an MGM extravaganza but it fits the entertainment bill.

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The Romanovs: 100 years of legends and rumors

One-hundred years ago, on July 17, 1918, the last royal family of Russia—Tsar Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra, their five children and a few aides —were taken into a cellar and assassinated.

Romanov family portrait in 1913

And while this was the end of the Romanovs and the Russian monarchy, it was just the beginning of 100 years of legends, rumors and myths that surrounded the royal family. From a 1928 American film based on Romanov imposter Anna Anderson to a 2016 Broadway musical, the world has been fascinated by the Romanovs. The curiosity doesn’t just revolve around if any of them survived (DNA and science now tell us that they didn’t), but also the relationship with Rasputin, the “mad monk,” the royal lifestyle and the seemingly charmed lives that the grand duchesses lived.

Below are films released from 1928 to 1997 about the last Tsar of Russia and his family:

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Musical Monday: The Merry Widow (1952)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Merry Widow (1952) – Musical #237

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Curtis Bernhardt

Starring:
Lana Turner, Fernando Lamas, Una Merkel, Richard Haydn, Thomas Gomez, John Abbott, King Donovan, Robert Coote, Lisa Ferraday, Sujata Rubener, Joi Lansing (uncredited), Gwen Verdon (uncredited)

Plot:
Crystal Radek (Turner) is a rich widow of a man from the kingdom of Marshovia, who left $80 million to his widow. Now living in America, she is invited to Marshovia under false pretenses. The kingdom is in financial distress and has invited her there with hopes that playboy Count Danilo (Lamas) will woo and marry Crystal for her money so the country won’t be annexed to Austria. However, Crystal switches place with her secretary Kitty (Merkel) to see if people will love her for herself.

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