Watching 1939: They All Come Out (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 All Come Out (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 4, 1939

Rita Johnson, Tom Neal, Bernard Nedell, George Tobias, Edward Gargan, John Gallaudet, Addison Richards, Frank M. Thomas, Ann Shoemaker, Charles Lane, Paul Fix (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited)
Themselves: U.S. Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons James V. Bennett

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Jacques Tourneur

Kitty (Johnson) meets jobless and down-on-his-luck Joe (Neal). After paying for his meal, Kitty hires him to be the driver for the gang she’s in, lead by Reno (Nedell). When the whole gang goes to jail, Kitty and Joe try to lead a crime-free life, but their past follows them.

1939 Notes:
• The film introduction says that it is the first film to record “scenes actually photographed in our federal prisons.”
• Director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature-length film. He directed films until 1934 in France, and then directed shorts in America from 1936 to 1939.
• Character actor Charles Lane was in 18 films released in 1939.
• Tom Neal made 10 full-length films released this year.
• Rita Johnson was in seven films in 1939

Other trivia: 
• The beginning of the film says, “Dedicated to the United States Department of Justice, whose cooperation made this picture possible.”
• The film was originally supposed to be part of a two-reel “Crimes Doesn’t Pay” series. Studio head Louis B. Mayer extended this to four-reel documentary. It was then lengthened to a seven-reel full-length film, which was director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature film, according to Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall by Chris Fujiwara.
• The film has a prologue and epilogue with the real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett
• Rita Johnson’s prison dress came from the Federal Prison Camp of Alderson, West Virginia, according to a Sept. 17, 1939 article.

Tom Neal and Bernard Nedell in They All Come Out (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
At first glance, “They All Come Out” is a run-of-the-mill B-budget movie released by MGM. However, this is an interesting 70 minute film.

The film had an interesting history and evolution. It started out as a documentary for the “Crime Doesn’t Pay” series. This explains appearances made by real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett at the beginning and end of the film.

Before filming, federal facilities in Atlanta, Chillicothe and Springfield had already been filmed, as well as the infamous Alcatraz.

But the film ended up being lengthened, giving Jacques Tourneur his first feature-length American film. This film gives an interesting look at the prison system and shows it working to help improve lives.

Since 1936, Tourneur had been filming shorts and documentary shorts in the United States. With this film launching his career, Jacques Tourneur, he went on to direct feature films such as “Cat People” (1942), “Out of the Past” (1947) and “Stars in My Crown” (1950).

The year 1939 wasn’t only important to director Tourneur, but the film’s star, Tom Neal. Neal was an amateur boxer in college in 1933. In 1938, Neal made his film debut in “Out West with the Hardys” and then proceeded to make 10 feature films in 1939. In the film, Neal’s character is a kid who gets caught up with crime and tries to lead a crime-free life once he’s out of jail. This differed drastically from his real life. Neal’s off-screen persona could be described as “violent.” For example, Neal beat actor Franchot Tone while they were both dating actress Barbara Peyton, leaving Tone with severe injuries. Later in 1965, Neal was convicted with involuntary manslaughter after his wife was found dead due to a gunshot wound to the back of her head. Seeing this kid in the film trying hard to straighten out his life and comparing it to his real life is honestly rather disheartening and sad.

While “They All Come Out” wasn’t shot in the originally planned documentary format, some of the film still has some documentary-like format. Government leaders introduce and end the film and some of the on-location filmings of the federal institutions was used in the film. 1939 critics called it “experimental, something new” in a July 1939 newspaper review.

While low budget, “They All Come Out” is an interesting film that does offer a different point of view and look at the prison system, as well as an intersting blend of documentary and narrative filmmaking.

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