Watching 1939: Henry Goes Arizona

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: Henry Goes Arizona (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 8, 1939

Frank Morgan, Virginia Weidler, Guy Kibbee, Slim Summerville, Douglas Fowley, Owen Davis Jr., Porter Hall (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Henry (Morgan) is a down-on-his-luck New York vaudeville actor. He thinks he has a stroke of luck when he inherits his half-brother’s ranch in Arizona. But he may not be so lucky when he finds out his brother has been murdered.

1939 Notes:
• Douglas Fowley was in nine films released in 1939
• Frank Morgan was in four films released in 1939
• Virginia Weidler was in 10 films released in 1939.
• Slim Summerville was in four films released in 1939

Other trivia: 
• Dennis O’Keefe was originally set to play the role of Danny but O’Keefe was injured in a wreck. George Murphy replaced O’Keefe, but the role went to Owen Davis Jr., according to the Hollywood Reporter.
• Working title was “Spats to Spurs”
• Native American athlete Jim Thorpe appears in the film in an uncredited, non-speaking role.

Douglas Fowley, Guy Kibbee, Virginia Weidler and Frank Morgan in “Henry Goes Arizona”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
In 1939, Frank Morgan performed in the role that he is best remembered for today: the Great Wizard of Oz in “The Wizard of Oz.” Of the four films Morgan made in 1939 in addition to “Oz,” two were musicals with top stars: Balalaika with Nelson Eddy and Broadway Serenade with Jeanette MacDonald.

And then there was “Henry Goes Arizona,” a low budget comedy with a title that feels like it’s missing a word.

But this hour-long comedy is actually quite delightful and I will argue to say more fun than the Eddy or MacDonald high dollar films.

There aren’t any real surprises in “Henry Goes to Arizona.” Each lead actor plays the character type that you expect to see:
– Frank Morgan is a nervous flibbertigibbet who is a fish out of water New Yorker in Arizona.
– Virginia Weidler is a fearless child who isn’t afraid of anyone, even in the face of danger. But below the fiesty exterior, she is also a sweet child.
– Guy Kibbee is a doddering judge (who also drinks too much)

Each character is one you have seen these actors play in another film, and they always perform the role well. “Henry Goes Arizona” is no exception. It is a funny film with some drama and danger thrown in from an evil farmhand played by Douglas Fowley.

As far as the year 1939 goes, “Henry Goes Arizona” is representative of other light, low budget films that came out of MGM during the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is also interesting to see that after performing in three other more important films, that Frank Morgan was also cast in this comedy. Nevertheless, it’s a fun to watch and won’t take up too much of your time.

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