Watching 1939: 6,000 Enemies (1939)

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. 

6000 enemies1939 film: 

6,000 Enemies (1939)

Release date: 

June 9, 1939

Cast: 

Walter Pidgeon, Rita Johnson, Paul Kelly, Nat Pendleton, Harold Huber, Grant Mitchell, John Arledge, J.M. Kerrigan, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Tom Neal, Arthur Aylesworth, Willie Fung, Esther Dale, Helena Phillips Evans, Ernest Whitman

Studio: 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: 

George B. Seitz

Plot:

District attorney Steve Donegan (Pidgeon) usually wins his cases; sending thousands to prison. But when Steve is framed by gangster Joe Silenus (Huber) for taking brides, he is sent to jail where he is surrounded by everyone he has imprisoned.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Walter Pidgeon was in four films released in 1939.
– Rita Johnson was in seven films releaed in 1939.
– Paul Kelly was in six films released in 1939.
– Harold Huber was in nine films released in 1939.
– Nat Pendleton was in eight films released in 1939.
– John Arledge was in five films released in 1939.
– Arthur Aylesworth was in 18 films released in 1939.
– Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams was in nine films released in 1939.
– Grant Mitchell was in seven films released in 1939.
– Willie Fung was in 10 films released in 1939.
– Helena Phillips Evans was in two films released in 1939.
– Tom Neal was in 12 films released in 1939.
– Ernest Whitman was in five films released in 1939.
– Bernadene Hayes was in eight films released in 1939.
– J.M. Kerrigan was in 15 films released in 1939.
– Esther Dale was in 13 films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• During the boxing fight, Walter Pidgeon’s rib was broken. Nat Pendleton was pulling a punch but lost his balance. The scene where Walter Pidgeon is in a hospital bed with a broken rib was filmed before this incident occurred, according to an April 23, 1939, news brief.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I went into this film, assuming it would be like most low-budget, 60-minute prison film. But I walked away blown away by the storytelling, camera work and surprised by how gritty this little picture is.

Walter Pidgeon stars as Steve, a district attorney who is framed for bribery and sent to jail. While shouting he is framed, he is reminded that he recently has told the accused that there is no such thing as being framed.

While in jail, Steve quickly finds that he is not going to be making any friends, since most of the prisoners are there because of him. Several prisoners are planning their own revenge plans, while the prison’s physician, Dr. Malcolm Scott (played by Paul Kelly), tries to protect Steve, or give him tips on how to survive. While Steve is in jail, his younger brother Phil (John Arledge), is trying to clear his name.

The title of course refers to the prisoners who dislike Walter Pidgeon.

While Walter Pidgeon is now best known for his Academy Award-nominated roles in “Mrs. Miniver,” and his stalwart, leading man prescience. News briefs leading up to this film note that this was one of Pidgeon’s first and best leading dramatic roles, after often playing “the other man” to Clark Gable or Nelson Eddy.

It is a surprisingly gritty film for Walter Pidgeon. Usually dressed in a white dinner coat while smoking a pipe, here he’s in a prison uniform and doing hard labor in jail.

One of the most compelling scenes is during a boxing match with Walter Pidgeon and Nat Pendleton (who won an Olympic silver medal for wrestling before his acting career). The fight is meant for Pidgeon’s character to prove himself to the other prisoners. George B. Seitz’s direction is really interesting during this scene, as he makes each punch the point of view of the camera. The camera shows quick closeups as Pidgeon is punched in the face, showing the intensity of the fight.

Pidgeon did sustain an injury from this fight, according to a news brief, when Pendleton stumbled while trying to pull a punch.

My only complaint is that the rest of the film is wrapped up very quickly. Also this is a spoiler, but it’s becoming a film fact: John Arledge dies in nearly every movie I watch with him. That is all the more sad since he died young at age 40.

“6,000 Enemies” (1939) isn’t one of 1939’s best films, but it’s an intriguing MGM B-level movie that was a better film than I expected it to be.

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Musical Monday: Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:

Annie Get Your Gun (1950) – Musical #93

Studio:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:

George Sidney

Starring:
Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Keenan Wynn, Louis Calhern, J. Carrol Naish, Edward Arnold, Benay Venuta, Clinton Sundberg

Plot:
A fictionalized biographical film about sharpshooter Annie Oakley (Hutton) and how she met and fell in love with her husband, Frank Butler (Keel) as they traveled with Buffalo Bill’s (Calhern) wild west show.

Trivia:
• Based on the 1946 Broadway musical of the same name.

• Howard Keel’s first credited film role.

• Filming originally started April 9, 1949, and for this film was shut down on May 6, 1949, for a number of reasons:

– Judy Garland was originally set to play Annie Oakley, but had to pull out of the film for health reasons.

– Frank Morgan was originally cast as Buffalo Bill, but he died of a heart attack on Sept. 18, 1949. Louis Calhern replaced Morgan.

– Howard Keel broke his ankle while riding a horse on set.

• Before Betty Hutton was cast, other actresses considered for the role included Ginger Rogers, Betty Garrett, Betty Grable and Doris Day.

• Some of the songs from the original show were removed, including “I’m a Bad, Bad Man,” “Moonshine Lullaby” and “I Got Lost in His Arms.”

• The song “Let’s Go West Again” was deleted from the film. This was the only original song written by Irving Berlin for the film.

• Busby Berkeley was replaced by Charles Walters as director. George Sidney was the director of the final project.

• MGM purchased the film rights to the Broadway show in 1947. The film purchase rights said that the film version couldn’t be released until the Broadway run ended.

• In early planning, Bing Crosby was considered for the role of Frank Butler opposite Judy Garland.

Highlights:
• The Technicolor cinematography.

Notable Songs:
• All of the songs

My review:
As I was getting interested in classic movie musicals, I kept running across photos and songs from the film version of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. I was dying to see it, and finally checked it out from the library.

I remember watching it one night with my parents over the summer. We all had a fabulous time. I remember laughing at Betty Hutton when her jaw drops each time she sees Howard Keel, and her impression of Keel when she sings “The Girl That I Marry.” I was in love with the soundtrack, and marched up and down the cul-de-sac singing “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun.”

I still find this film to be great fun. It’s colorful, has toe-tapping tunes and makes me want to get a jaunty western outfit like Annie Oakley wears. I also have a bit of a personal tie to this film. In 2012, this was the first play I was in. I was in the chorus and got to perform in most of the musical numbers. It was a great time.

I know there is much discussion Betty Hutton vs. Judy Garland in the role of Annie Oakley. I love Judy Garland, but I really feel Betty Hutton is perfect for this role.

I know there are alleged issues on set, which vary from each cast member. I wrote about this in 2011, which you can read by clicking here.

However, I find the outtakes with Garland incredibly sad. Garland is sweet and elegant in her roles, and the energy of Annie Oakley did not fit her.

Though instead of comparing Hutton vs. Garland, considering other actresses of the time is also interesting. Howard Keel wrote in his autobiography that after working with Doris Day, he thinks she would have been great, which I agree with. Betty Garrett was also considered, and she would have been fun too.

But that said, I love Hutton’s mix of energy and comedy in this film.

I caught the 4K restoration from the original nitrate Technicolor negative during the At Home Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival, and it was stunning. The colors were even more vibrant in this restoration.

While ANNIE GET YOUR GUN may not be the most accurate account of Annie Oakley’s life, it is at least sure to put a smile on your face. I was under the weather when I revisited this, and it almost made me forget that I wasn’t feeling well.

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Musical Monday: West Side Story (1961)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

west side story6This week’s musical:
West Side Story (1961) – Musical No. 1

Studio:
United Artists

Director:
Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins

Starring:
Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer, Ned Glass, Simone Oakland, William Bramley

Sharks: Jay Norman, Jose de Vega, Eddie Verso, Gus Trikonis, Jamie Rogers, Larry Roquemore, Robert E. Thompson, Nick Covacevich, Rudy Del Campo, Andre Tayir

Jets: Tucker Smith, David Winters, Eliot Feld, Tony Mordente, Bert Michaels, David Bean, Robert Banas, Anthony Teague, Harvey Evans, Tommy Abbott

The Girls: Susan Oakes, Carole D’Andrea, Gina Trikonis, Yvonne Wilder, Suzie Kaye, Joanne Miya, Maria Jimenez Henley

Plot:
In a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, the story is set in the west side of New York City. The feud is between the American gang, the Jets, and the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. An American, Tony, falls in love with a Puerto Rican, Maria, who is also the sister of the Sharks’ gang leader, Bernardo.

west side story

Trivia:

  • Film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical.
  • Several actors were in the original Broadway cast, such as: William Bramley as Officer Krupke, David Winters (who plays A-Rab in the film but Baby John on stage), Jay Norman, Larry Roquemore, Rudy Del Campo, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente (who played A-Rab on the stage), Gina Trikonis, Carole D’Andrea (who played Anybodys on stage)
  • Some actors were on the West End production, such as: George Chakiris (as Riff), Yvonne Wilder, David Bean
  • Irene Scharaff created the costumes for both the film and Broadway productions.
  • The character of Ice, played by Tucker Smith, was created for the film.
  • Jimmy Bryant dubbed the singing voice of Richard Beymer. Marni Nixon dubbed the singing voice Natalie Wood. Tucker Smith dubbed Russ Tamblyn during the “Jet Song.” Betty Wand partially dubbed Rita Moreno in “A Boy Like That.”
  • Several people were considered while casting this film:
    • Tony: Elvis Presley, Warren Beatty, Richard Chamberlain, Bobby Darin, Gary Lockwood, Troy Donahue, Tab Hunter, George Preppard, Scott Marlowe
    • Maria: Anna Maria Alberghetti, Denise Alexander, Ann-Margret, Pier Angeli, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Ashley, Diane Baker, Suzanne Pleshette, Angie Dickinson
  • In his autobiography, Tab Hunter wrote that he really wanted the role of Tony and passed up roles for it, especially with his musical experience in “Damn Yankees.” He hoped he would get it, especially since and Natalie Wood had been “America’s Sweethearts” in the late-1950s.
  • Rita Moreno was unhappy that the makeup used for the Puerto Rican characters was all the same shade of brown. “Puerto Ricans … are born with a broad palette of skin colors, from outright white to true black,” she wrote in her autobiography.
  • Natalie Wood hoped she could do her own singing, and arranged for vocal lessons. Robert Wise remembered agreeing to “try and see,” according to Wood’s biographer Suzanne Finstad.
  • Tony Mordente worked one-on-one with Natalie Wood on her dance numbers, according to Suzanne Finstad.
  • The scene where Maria waits on the roof for Tony after the “Rumble” was not in the Broadway play, but was created for Natalie Wood, according to biographer Gavin Lambert.
  • Jerome Robbins was eventually fired from the film, according to Rita Moreno’s autobiography. According to her, he had impossible standards and was such a perfectionist that he would never say “It’s a print!” after a scene.
  • Jerome Robbins choreographed every dance but the mambo, according to Moreno.
  • Won 10 Academy Awards.
  • Filmed on location in New York City.

west side story3

Highlights:

  • The set design and colors
  • Jerome Robbins’s choreography
  • Leonard Bernstein’s score

west side story4

Notable Songs:

  • Jet Song” performed by Russ Tamblyn, dubbed by Tucker Smith, and the Jets
  • Something’s Coming” performed by Richard Beymer, dubbed by Jimmy Bryant
  • Maria” performed by Richard Beymer, dubbed by Jimmy Bryant
  • America” performed by Rita Moreno, George Chakiris and the Sharks
  • Tonight” performed by Richard Beymber (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) and Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon)
  • Gee, Officer Krupke” performed by Russ Tamblyn and the Jets
  • One Hand, One Heart” performed by Richard Beymber (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) and Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon)
  • I Feel Pretty” performed by Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon), Suzie Kaye, Yvonne Wilder, and Nobuko Miyamoto
  • Quintet” performed by Rita Moreno, Richard Beymer (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant), Natalie Wood (dubbed by Marni Nixon), Russ Tamblyn, Tucker Smith, George Chakiris, The Jets, and The Sharks
  • Somewhere” performed by performed by Richard Beymber (dubbed by Jimmy Bryant) and Natalie Wood (performed by Marni Nixon)
  • Cool” performed by Tucker Smith
  • A Boy Like That” performed by Rita Moreno (partially dubbed by Betty Wand) and Natalie Wood (dubbed by Marni Nixon)

My review:

There would be no Musical Monday feature without WEST SIDE STORY (1961). There maybe wouldn’t be a Comet Over Hollywood.

I was 14-years-old when I first watched WEST SIDE STORY with my parents in March 2002. I already liked Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn films, so they thought I would enjoy this musical.

“While watching you watch the movie, I thought, ‘This was going to be Jessica’s new favorite movie,’” my mom said when I recently discussed that first viewing with her.

As the credits started to roll, I found myself thinking of the film constantly. I felt overwhelmed with how much I loved the film. I was OBSESSED in all capital letters.

Because of this, I sought out other movie musicals to see if any other film made me feel the way WEST SIDE STORY did—which is why I’ve seen so many musicals.

Magnificent Obsession

The obsession lasted about three years, though I continue to love the film.

Shortly after that March 2002 viewing, I made my parents drive me to Best Buy so I could purchase the CD and later received the 40th anniversary special edition DVD as a gift. I tried to learn the dances (which makes me laugh now), learned how to snap because of this film, plastered my room with West Side Story images, and listened to the soundtrack constantly. I brought the film up to anyone who would listen, including classmates.

This week, I polled friends and family for a testimonial to see their memories of this time:

Adrien Wamboldt, friend and former childhood classmate:

“Oh my gosh, Jessica was crazy about West Side Story. I had no idea what she was even talking about it, but it made her happy so I was pro-West Side Story too.”

 Lisa Pickens, my mom

“I remember you being glued to the television during the movie and teary at the ending. I knew right away that you loved the movie. The next day I could tell that you were thinking about the movie a lot. When you weren’t thinking about the movie, you were talking about it. You found lots of pictures of the movie online and printed them and covered your closet door with them. You got the soundtrack CD and played it over and over, even listening to it in the shower. You watched the movie a lot and tried to learn the dance steps and hoped to use the dance moves at the eighth grade dance. You read everything you could find about the movie and all the actors, and you watched other movies that starred the West Side Story actors. You also knew the names of every dancer, and followed their careers. In your Spanish class your name was Julieta. You hoped every year that marching band would perform the music from West Side Story.”

Bill Pickens, my dad

“My sister Katy and I watched older movies growing up, and West Side Story was one of our favorites. When Jessica started watching West Side Story and became a very enthusiastic fan of the movie and soundtrack, it made me very happy that she enjoyed something I also liked.”

Erin Pickens, my oldest sister

“I wasn’t really living at home when you had your West Side Story ‘phase,’ but I do remember continuous watching of the movie on repeat, always talking about it, many pictures and conversations about it and a lot of singing of the songs.”

The film

Though WEST SIDE STORY was my gateway drug into movie musicals, I’ve held off reviewing it since I began Musical Monday reviews in 2013. The reason for the delay is simple: It’s such a personal film, and I have so much to say that I worried it wouldn’t be enough. As I wrote this, I revised and reorganized this review many times. I still maybe didn’t say everything I wanted to share.

I think it’s obvious from what I’ve already said that I love this film. The music, the choreography, the colors are mesmerizing. For a 2 hour and 45 minute film, it doesn’t feel that long. It moves at a brisk pace with each song arriving to help move along the story.

The film is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” However, the story isn’t a carbon copy just set in contemporary times. It is a story all its own (another example of a Shakespeare adaptation that does this well is “All Night Long,” a retelling of Othello).

In this adaptation, the story is set in the west side of New York City. The feud is between the American gang, the Jets, and the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. An American, Tony, falls in love with a Puerto Rican, Maria, who is also the sister of the Sharks’ gang leader, Bernardo. While the two gangs hate each other, they also have one common enemy: the law enforcement. Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke don’t try to understand the problems of contemporary teens and are racist against the Puerto Ricans moving into the neighborhood. The racial issue was a timely topic, especially for the 1960s.

This film is what made me a fan of all of its stars and I sought out other films of Natalie Wood (Maria), Rita Moreno (Anita), George Chakiris (Bernardo), Russ Tamblyn (Riff) and Richard Beymer (Tony) — who was also a crush of mine for a while after this film.

Even more than our lead performers, I’ve come to enjoy watching the performances of the dancers in the Jets and the Sharks (who I highlighted in this 2016 article, click here to read).

I’ve heard reviews of the film saying it is silly, because gangsters are performing ballet and modern dance in the streets and during fights. But if you are at all interested in dancing and athletics, these dancers are extremely athletic and the choreography is difficult. This is why I laugh at my teen self, trying to learn these dances — I didn’t take into consideration that these were professional dancers with years of experience.

By today’s standards, some of the casting isn’t perfect. Several actors were in brown face, like American actress Natalie Wood, Greek actor George Chakiris and Greek-American actor Gus Trikonis. Other issues are Asian-American actors performing as Puerto Ricans, like Filipino actor Jose de Vega or actress Nobuko Miyamoto (billed as Joanne Miya) as one of the Shark girlfriends, Francisca. Vega and Miyamoto later created The Great Leap, Inc., to work to end racial stereotypes in films.

Also, a downside for some is that several of the actors didn’t perform their own singing and were hired for their acting and dancing abilities. Wood and Beymer were both dubbed, and Russ Tamblyn was even dubbed during “The Jet Song” by fellow Jet, Tucker Smith.

My hot take: Elvis Presley was considered for the role of Tony. Today, we remember him for bright, colorful fluff films, but Presley wanted to be a serious actor. If allowed to act as a serious performer, I think Presley would have been an excellent Tony (even though I love Richard Beymer). I also feel Michael Callan, who was in the original Broadway cast, could have been a great lead member in this film.

But acknowledging those flaws, I still love this film. Even grouchy New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it a “cinematic masterpiece.”

It’s difficult to pick a favorite song, because I love all of them in their own way. I think that the “Quintet” is one of the most innovative and interesting sequences performed on screen.

My favorite scene hands down is “The Dance at the Gym.” It’s an excellent showcase of all of the dancers in the film, as they also get to demonstrate different dance forms — from contemporary jazz to the mambo. As an aside: This was a dance I practiced, because it could happen at the eighth grade dance. You never know!

A work of art

As a teen, I loved the movie for the romance, choreography and gorgeous score. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve studied the movie with a more critical eye. I spot something new every time I watch this film.

I equate this film to a work of art. The camera movements, the set design and costuming are just as much a part of the storytelling as the music and script. One of my favorite moments that demonstrates this is at the beginning, as the Jets and Sharks chase each other. The camera has the effect of spinning to the next scenario of the gangs battling in the streets, and the camera work moves with the notes of Leonard Bernstein’s score. I love when the camera zooms in on Baby John (Eliot Feld) painting “Sharks Stink” on the wall, with it zooming in with every music que.

Once years ago, after watching this film with a friend, I was discussing performances of actors and symbolism in the set design. I mentioned the window that looks like a cross above Tony and Maria during “One Hand, One Heart,” and the looks of empathy when Lt. Schrank (Oakland) is harassing the Sharks in Doc’s Candy Store.

“You’re thinking too much about it. It’s just a movie,” they said.

With any film and with any competent filmmaker, everything is there for a reason. These things don’t happen by accident. Every shot and scene is carefully planned, just like details in a painting.

While I love this film and generally oppose remakes, I will most likely see the new WEST SIDE STORY, set to be released in Dec. 2021. After all, this is an adaptation of a Broadway stage play, so even the 1961 version isn’t original. I also feel that the story is in the capable hands of director Steven Spielberg and composer David Newman, son of 20th Century Fox’s musical director Alfred Newman. Both have demonstrated a love and understanding of classic films over the years.

In conclusion, I hope I appropriately conveyed how important this film is to my classic film love. While I recognize “Since You Went Away” as my favorite film now, WEST SIDE STORY is still one of my top films.

west side story5

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Musical Monday: It’s Love Again (1936)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
It’s Love Again (1936) – Musical #636

Studio:
Gaumont-British Picture Corporation

Director:
Victor Saville

Starring:
Jessie Matthews, Robert Young, Sonnie Hale, Ernest Milton, Robb Wilton, Sara Allgood, Warren Jenkins, Cyril Wells, Terry-Thomas (uncredited)

Plot:
Peter Carlton (Young) is a gossip columnist who invents the glamorous Mrs. Smythe-Smythe, a noble Englishwoman that no one has ever met. Elaine Bradford (Matthews), who happens to be in love with Peter, is a struggling performer who poses as Mrs. Smythe-Smythe to get ahead in her career. Peter doesn’t tell Elaine that Mrs. Smythe-Smythe is a phony.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: Harum Scarum (1965)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Harum Scarum (1965) – Musical #660

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Gene Nelson

Starring:
Elvis Presley, Mary Ann Mobley, Fran Jeffries, Michael Ansara, Jay Novello, Phillip Reed, Theodore Marcuse, Billy Barty, Brenda Benet, Barbara Werle, Wilda Taylor

Plot:
Johnny Tyronne (Presley) is an American movie star whose film premieres in the Middle East. He is kidnapped and his kidnappers want him to kill the king. In the process, he falls in love with Princess Shalimar (Mobley), who is the king’s daughter.

Continue reading

Musical Monday: The Beggar’s Opera (1953)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Beggar’s Opera (1953) – Musical #656

beggar's opera

Studio:
British Lion
U.S. Distribution: Warner Bros.

Director:
Peter Brook

Starring:
Laurence Olivier, Hugh Griffith, George Rose, Dorothy Tutin, Mary Clare, Stanley Holloway, Eric Pohlmann

Plot:
A beggar (Griffith) is thrown in jail and is carrying an opera he’s writing about Captain Macheath, a dashing real-life character and highway robber who has multiple wives. The beggar meets the real Macheath (Olivier) in prison, who reads and sings the opera. The opera is told in a retrospective story of how Macheath ended up in jail.

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Watching 1939: They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

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: 
They Made Me a Criminal (1939)

they made me a criminal2

Release date: 
Jan. 21, 1939

Cast: 
John Garfield, Claude Rains, May Robson, Gloria Dickson, Ann Sheridan, The Dead End Kids (Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsly), Louis Jean Heydt, Robert Gleckler, John Ridgely, Barbara Pepper, Ward Bond, Irving Bacon (uncredited), Ronald Sinclair (uncredited), Janet Shaw (uncredited)

Studio: 
Warner Bros.

Director: 
Busby Berkeley

Plot:
Johnnie Bradfield (Garfield) is a successful boxer. When a reporter is found dead, Johnnie is falsely accused of the murder. But police also think Johnnie is dead when the burned body of a man is found in the wreckage of a car with Johnnie’s girlfriend (Sheridan). Johnnie is advised to change his identify and travel west. While traveling across the country, he comes across a farm in Arizona run by Grandma Rafferty (Robson) and Peggy (Dickson). The women are guardians of teenagesr (the Dead End Kids), who work on the farm rather than go to reform school. While Johnnie begins to enjoy life on the farm, a New York detective (Rains) doesn’t believe Johnnie is really dead and is investigating the case.

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Musical Monday: Favorite under-the-radar musicals

On April 1, 2009, I started Comet Over Hollywood — both as part of a college journalism assignment and a way to share my classic film thoughts without boring my friends on Facebook. The Musical Monday feature later started on June 3, 2013, with Rose of Washington Square (1939) as the first review.

To celebrate 12 years of Comet, this week’s Musical Monday is a bit different. I’m sharing my favorite off-the-beaten-path classic movie musicals by special request from Conrad Barrington on Twitter. Of course, I love the top-tier musicals like “West Side Story,” “Singin’ in the Rain” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” but you won’t find any of those mentioned here, nor will you see anything starring Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers or Judy Garland. These are strictly musicals that I feel are under-discussed; the hidden gems people may have missed and have little pomp and circumstance.

Reveille with Beverly (1943)

Andrew Tombes and Ann Miller in “Reveille with Beverly”

This is one of my favorite musicals. It’s only 80 minutes long and rather low budget, but it’s pure joy. Ann Miller plays a radio deejay who plays popular music for the armed forces. Her character and the radio show are based on a real program of the same name run by Jean Ruth Hay. If you love 1940s music, you will love this film. Each time Beverly puts on a record, we see the musician or singer perform — from Ella Mae Morse, Duke Ellington, Bob Crosby and the Mills Brother. Still early in Miller’s career before she became a success at MGM, we only see her dance once at the end, but it’s still so fun. Read more in my full 2016 review.

The Thrill of Romance (1945)

Esther Williams and Frances Gifford in “Thrill of Romance”

“The Thrill of Romance” is one of my all-time favorite movies and one I watch to lift my spirits. The film follows newly-married Esther Williams, who is left alone at a resort on her honeymoon, and war hero Van Johnson helps occupy her time. On the surface, this movie is beautiful with vibrant Technicolor and costume designs by Irene and Kay Dean. But on a deeper level, it’s a fascinating look at how Louis B. Mayer and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer included both popular and classical music in their films. Bandleader Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra perform in the film. Dorsey led one of the most popular big bands of the era, and an appearance in a musical from him can be compared to any popular singer of today appearing in a film. On the classical side, opera singer Lauritz Melchior also is in the film, which exhibits Mayer’s desire to include classical music and cultural experiences in his films. Read more in my full 2013 review.

Rosalie (1937)

In my opinion, Eleanor Powell is one of the best dancers to ever grace the silver screen, and I had to include one of her films. While it’s difficult for me to choose a just one favorite Powell musical, I have a special soft spot for “Rosalie.” Powell plays the title character, a princess attending college in America. She falls in love with an American student, played by Nelson Eddy, however, she’s betrothed to someone else. This film features one of Powell’s most lavish numbers where she is carried in on a giant drum, and then she dances down more giant drums that are sized like star steps. This was one of MGM’s largest musical numbers. We also get to see Ilona Massey and Ray Bolger in early roles. My full 2017 review.

Lillian Russell (1940)

Alice Faye as Lillian Russell performing “Blue Lovebird.”

This musical film was a major film of 1940 but is largely forgotten today. I’d also argue that the lady this biographical film is about, Lillian Russell, isn’t well remembered. Alice Faye plays the title character in this fictionalized biography in what is probably her greatest film role. Faye was one of 20th Century Fox’s top stars at the time, but I would argue that she is under-discussed now too. “Lillian Russell” is lavish and completely gorgeous as the story of a larger-than-life stars is told. The all-star cast includes Don Ameche, Lynn Bari, Henry Fonda and Edward Arnold. The black-and-white cinematography is striking, and my favorite moment is when a mournful Faye emerges to sing “Blue Lovebird.” She stands in a black dress against a black backdrop, leaving the effect that only her face, shoulders, jewels and canes are seen. My full 2021 review.

Romance on the High Seas (1948)

Jack Carson and Doris Day meet onboard the ship in “Romance on the High Seas.”

With a recent Blu-ray release, “Romance on the High Seas” may not be considered “overlooked” today. However, in the grand scheme of Doris Day’s romantic comedies of the late-1950s and 1960s, this early role could easily be forgotten, though I consider it one of her best. This film was Doris Day’s first film role, and it’s easily in my top three favorites of Day’s films. We see Day pre-fame cast a role a bit different from the rest of her characters. Originally set to star Betty Hutton, we can see traces of that character in Day’s performance. Day smokes, is a brash nightclub singer, and falls in love with a man she thinks is married. It’s a sassy character we never saw Day perform again. The story is told with vibrant Technicolor and magnificent songs, like “It’s Magic” and “Put it in a Box.” It’s a really a treat. More on Day’s first leading role here in a 2013 article.

Seven Sweethearts (1942)

seven sweethearts

Kathryn Grayson in “Seven Sweethearts.” Her sister Frances Raeburn is pictured as well.

There is so much to love about this musical, which was producer Joe Pasternak’s first film at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Van Heflin plays a reporter covering the tulip festival in a small Michigan town. He stays at an inn, run by S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, and his seven daughters. The spoiled, haughty daughter Regina, played by Marsha Hunt, tries to woo Heflin, but it’s Billie that he falls for, played by Kathryn Grayson. Though “Seven Sweethearts” may seem like an odd role for Heflin, this was still early in his career, and it was only Grayson’s fourth film. While this is an adorable film, it is also a fun family affair, as Grayson’s brother Michael Butler and sister Frances Raeburn also appear in the film. It really isn’t much, but I love this film. My 2013 review can be found here.

 

Hans Christian Andersen (1952)

Danny Kaye as Hans Christian Anderson tells stories to village children.

This fictionalized musical biopic on writer Hans Christian Andersen is a storybook dream. The film describes itself as “a fairytale about the great spinner of fairy tales.” “Hans Christian Andersen” is my favorite Danny Kaye film, with gorgeous, lilting music. There is something nostalgic about all the songs that remind you of childhood. Perhaps this is such a lovely story, because it omits the tongue-twister, fast comedic tunes that Kaye was famous for at this time. And the songs are by Frank Loesser, not Sylvia Fine, which I think this film greatly benefits. It also features ballet performances by French dancer Zizi Jeanmarie, who performs “The Little Mermaid” ballet in the film. Read more in my full 2013 review of this film.

Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)

Tom Drake, Gloria DeHaven, Van Johnson and June Allyson in “Two Girls in a Sailor”

“Two Girls and a Sailor” is one of my all-time favorite films. Starring June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven as sisters and Van Johnson and Tom Drake as their love interests, all of these actors were Hollywood newcomers at the time this film was produced. “Two Girls and a Sailor” follows sisters who want to open a canteen during World War II, and they can thanks to a mystery donor. Just in case the new contract players fell flat with audiences, MGM executives padded the film with musical performances, like Harry James, Lena Horne and Xavier Cugat. The result is a joyously fun film featuring toe-tapping tunes. It also made Allyson, DeHaven and Johnson stars. I know some readers hate June Allyson — I don’t care. She’s a favorite of mine, and save your hate for someone who wants to read it. This is a simple film but tons of fun. My full 2017 review.

Moon Over Miami (1941)

Betty Grable and Hermes Pan doing the “Kindergarten Conga” in “Moon Over Miami” (1941)

The idea of someone posing rich to catch a wealthy spouse isn’t a new film plot. But this well-used plot is told with such color and zest in “Moon Over Miami.” Betty Grable and Carole Landis are cast as sisters who travel to Florida with their aunt, played by Charlotte Greenwood. Don Ameche and Robert Cummings play their potential suitors. The songs and dances in this film are some of my all-time favorites, such as “You Started Something” and “Kindergarten Conga.” The dance number that accompanies “Kindergarten Conga” is especially fun, as Grable dances with Hermes Pan. I love how in the 1940s, popular big band and swing motifs were incorporated into 20th Century Fox film scores. The costumes designed by Travis Banton are also divine. Betty Grable was one of the top stars of her day, but I include this as an overlooked film, because many of Grable’s films aren’t easily accessible, as with most 20th Century Fox films. More in my full 2013 review.

Holiday in Mexico (1946)

Jose Iturbi with his grandchildren in “Holiday in Mexico.”

It’s difficult to pick just one favorite Jane Powell film, but my favorite is probably “Holiday in Mexico.” Powell lives in Mexico with her father, played by Walter Pidgeon, who is the United States Ambassador to Mexico. With no mother, Powell fancies herself as the lady of the house, and she starts to feel replaced when her father rekindles with an old flame, played by Ilona Massey. This is another Technicolor extravaganza that is a feast to the eyes. MGM again mixes classical music with popular performers. Jane Powell, known for her soprano voice, performs opera and classical piano player José Iturbi performs with his sister Amparo. On the popular music side, bandleader Xavier Cugat performs with his band. An added bonus is that Iturbi’s real-life grandchildren appear in the film. My full 2016 review.

Panama Hattie (1942)

Ben Blue, Red Skelton, Ann Sothern and Rags Ragland in “Panama Hattie”

“Panama Hattie” is a MGM musical that is often forgotten, an adaptation of a Broadway play that is no longer mentioned, and is a great example of casting with MGM’s second-string of stars. It’s an all-star cast with the B-level actors: Ann Sothern, Dan Dailey, Red Skelton, Marsha Hunt, Rags Ragland and Virginia O’Brien. Sothern plays Hattie, a woman who runs a saloon and is in love with Dick Bulliard (Dailey). Hattie has to compete with the admiral’s daughter, played by Marsha Hunt, and there is a subplot of Nazi spies to tie the film into the start of World War II. I think it’s a shame that Sothern wasn’t cast in larger musicals. My full 2017 review.

Honorable Mentions to add to your list:
St. Louis Blues (1958) – because of W.C. Handy’s music and a lead role by Nat King Cole.
Can’t Help Singing (1944) – Deanna Durbin’s only Technicolor film
Ziegfeld Girl (1941) – I don’t actually think this one is underrated, but it’s also not “top tier.” I love it so you should see it.

Addendum: I realize that the majority of these were produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Sadly, I have huge blind spots in musicals released by Paramount and 20th Century Fox due to accessibility. For example, all of Betty Grable and Alice Faye’s films aren’t available on DVD.

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Musical Monday: Melody for Two (1937)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Melody for Two (1937) – Musical #667

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
Louis King

Starring:
James Melton, Patricia Ellis, Marie Wilson, Fred Keating, Dick Purcell, Wini Shaw, Charley Foy, Craig Reynolds, Bill Elliott, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson

Plot:
Bandleader Tod Weaver (Melton) has a hard time finding success and is unhappy. Tod is unhappy that he’s scheduled to play at a small-time venue while his girlfriend singer Gale Starr (Ellis) performs at a top-notch nightclub. However, when Weaver’s band and singer Lorna Wray (Shaw) play swing music (thanks to an idea from janitor Exodus Johnson, played by Eddie Anderson), Weaver’s band finds success while Starr’s nightclub act does poorly.

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Musical Monday: Her Majesty, Love (1931)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Her Majesty, Love (1931) – Musical #643

Studio:
First National Pictures

Director:
William Dieterle

Starring:
Marilyn Miller, Ben Lyon, W.C. Fields, Leon Errol, Ford Sterling, Virginia Sale, Chester Conklin, Harry Stubbs, Clarence Wilson, Ruth Hall, Harry Holman, Mae Madison, William Irving, Irving Bacon (uncredited)

Plot:
Lia Toerrek (Miller) is a barmaid in a cabaret who falls in love with Fred von Wellingen (Lyon). When Fred introduces Lia and her father Bela (Fields) to his family, they are shocked that Lia is a bartender and Bela was a circus performer. Fred’s family tries to break up their upcoming marriage.

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