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 Secret of Dr. Kildare”
Release date: Nov. 24, 1939
Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day, Lionel Atwill, Helen Gilbert, Sara Haden, Nat Pendleton, Samuel S. Hinds, Emma Dunn, Walter Kingsford, Marie Blake, Alma Kruger, Robert Kent, Grant Mitchell, Martha O’Driscoll, Nell Craig, Frank Orth, George Reed, Walter Baldwin (uncredited)
Director: Harold S. Bucquet
Dr. James “Jimmy” Kildare (Ayres) is helping Dr. Gillespie (Barrymore) with research pneumonia causes and cures. At the same moment, Blair General Hospital’s medical head Dr. Carew (Kingsford) wants the doctors to help cure an heiress, Nancy Messenger (Gilbet), when her wealthy father Paul Messenger (Atwill) comes to Dr. Carew for help. Nancy has odd mood swings that are injuring her social and love life. Dr. Gillespie is ill with cancer and is very tired, but wants to continue driving on with the research. To let Dr. Gillespie rest, Dr. Kildare takes Nancy’s case, not letting her know he’s a doctor. Dr. Gillespie is angry about his decision and so is Dr. Kildare’s girlfriend, Nurse Mary Lamont (Day).
• This is the fourth Dr. Kildare film out of the 9-film series. This is one of two Dr. Kildare films released in 1939.
• Lionel Barrymore was in four films released in 1939.
• Marie Blake was in eight films released in 1939.
• 1939 helped get Laraine Day her start because she was signed to MGM this year where she found more success. This was her second “Dr. Kildare” film released that year.
• Helen Gilbert’s second film. Her first was “Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever” (1939)
Searching for the “1939 feature”:
On the surface and as a stand-alone film, “The Secret of Dr. Kildare” (1939), isn’t the most important movie released in 1939, or isn’t a very important film in the grand scheme of film history.
However, if you delve a little deeper, it’s important to the film series (which made MGM a great deal of money) because it helps develop a few ongoing plotlines a bit further.
“The Secret of Dr. Kildare” was the third Dr. Kildare film in the series of nine films and the second Dr. Kildare film to be released in 1939 (the other released was “Calling Dr. Kildare). In 1939, we meet a new nurse at Blair General Hospital and Dr. Kildare’s future romantic interest, Nurse Mary Lamont, played by Laraine Day.
In “Calling Dr. Kildare,” Nurse Lamont is introduced, but a romance doesn’t seem probable for much of the film (his interest has turned to Lana Turner). But by this film, “The Secret of Dr. Kildare,” it’s clear that Jimmy Kildare and Mary Lamont are an item. We see him having to break a date with her, but still makes time to cuddle up with her in the car for a little while.
While Mary Lamont’s character is built up more in the film, so is the career of the actress who played her. Starting in the Dr. Kildare films in 1939 was what helped put actress Laraine Day on the map. Prior to this, she was in low budget westerns and acting under the name Laraine Johnson. But in 1939, she was signed to MGM which helped change the fate of her career.
Outside of their importance in 1939, I love the Dr. Kildare films. They are light, exciting entertainment and often include humorous scenes (especially from character actors Marie Blake and Nat Pendleton). In each Dr. Kildare film, we get at least one scene of gruff Dr. Gillespie advising patients in his “tough love” and no nonsense manner. Each film is often 90 minutes or less, which is an added bonus for any movie in my book! It’s also fun to hear Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie discuss medicine and cases and see just how far medicine has come. Though I do wonder if some of what they say was bologna written in a script, or if there was a medical advisor on the films.