Watching 1939: Maisie (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: Maisie

Release date: June 22, 1939

Cast:  Ann Sothern, Robert Young, Ruth Hussey, Ian Hunter, Cliff Edwards, George Tobias, John Hubbard (credited as Anthony Allan), Art Mix, Willie Fung

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Maisie Ravier (Sothern) is a fast-talking, brassy New York vaudeville performer who travels to Wyoming for a show. When she arrives, she finds that the show folded after one performance, and now she’s broke and stranded. Maisie meets cowboy Slim (Young), who is a manager of a nearby ranch. He instantly dislikes her, but begrudgingly takes her to the ranch so she has a place to stay for the night. The owner of the ranch and Slim’s boss, Clifford Ames (Hunter) arrives with his wife Sybil (Hussey). Instead of leaving, Maisie starts working as Sybil’s maid, but Maisie gets in over her head when she discovers Sybil’s extracurricular romance.

1939 Notes:
• The first of the 10 Maisie films released by MGM. The last film was released in 1947. There was also a spin-off radio show called “The Adventures of Maisie” which broadcast from 1945 to 1947 and again from 1949 to 1953.
• Ann Sothern signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer because of this film.
• Ruth Hussey was in seven films released in 1939
• Ann Sothern was in four films released in 1939
• Robert Young was in four films released in 1939
• Ian Hunter was in five films released in 1939

Other trivia: 
• The film rights were purchased with plans for Jean Harlow to star in the film. However, Jean Harlow died in 1937 and the film idea was shelved. When MGM execs saw Ann Sothern in Trade Winds (1938), they felt she was perfect for Maisie and signed her to a contract to play the role, according to a 2015 film introduction by former TCM host Robert Osborne.
• The concept was based on the book “Dark Dame” by Wilson Collison
• The working title for the film was Maisie Was A Lady and Broadway to Wyoming. One of the films was titled “Maisie Was a Lady” and was released in 1941.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:

This week’s 1939 film is significant: It started a film series that spanned from 1939 to 1947 (and it had a spin-off radio show) and it boosted actress Ann Sothern’s career.

From Boston Blackie to the Saint, there were several film series during the classic era of film.

But to me, few film series stand out as much as the “Maisie” series, which kicked off in 1939. The character of Maisie Ravier is the brassy showgirl with clanging bracelets and loud clothing. But she has a heart of gold. I could certainly see Jean Harlow in the role since the story was purchased with her in mind, but Ann Sothern makes this her role and is perfect for the part.

After the first “Maisie” film was released in 1939, nine more followed, with the last released in 1947. While each film follows Maisie’s adventures, there was no continuation of the storyline from the previous film and she has a different boyfriend in each story.

The year of 1939 was a turning point for Ann Sothern. Not only was the first “Maisie” film released in 1939, but this film boosted her career. Sothern had steadily in Hollywood for several years but with no large successes. Her film career began in 1927, where she was in uncredited parts until 1930. Sothern was signed a film contract with Columbia Pictures in 1934 and then RKO Radio Pictures in 1936, but her roles were not of a high callibur. Ann Sothern did not find true success until MGM signed her and she was cast as Maisie.

Ann Sothern, who I feel is an underrated actress, is perfect for this role and makes the Maisie films so much fun. While her character is sassy and fast-talking, she’s also warm and funny.

Robert Young, Ruth Hussey and Ian Hunter co-star in “Maisie” (1939), and all do a terrific job. Robert Young plays his usual nice guy role (with a touch of grumpiness) and Ian Hunter is his usual stalwart, loveable character. Ruth Hussey, who is also underrated and can play any type of role, makes it easy to dislike her character in this one.

The “Maisie” series is one of my favorite film series. I’ll never forget when Warner Archive released the series on DVD in 2012 how thrilled I was (I was so happy I think I cried). If you don’t have the two volume Warner Archive Maisie set, I highly recommend it. All of the Maisie films are as delightful as the first film in the series.

The Maisie films never rose above a B-level budget movie and all of them were filmed in black and white. But these B-movies always made MGM money. They were cheap to make and made money, which executives liked, according to the late Robert Osborne.

Regardless of budget, the Maisie films are a delight and Ann Sothern is wonderful in the role. The year 1939 was a good year for Sothern and us since we still get to enjoy this film.

Ann Sothern and Robert Young

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