Watching 1939: Streets of New York (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:  Streets of New York

Release date:  April 12, 1939

Cast:  Jackie Cooper, Marjorie Reynolds, Martin Spellman, Dick Purcell, George Cleveland, Sidney Miller, George Irving, Robert Emmett O’Connor, David Durand

Studio:  Monogram Pictures

Director:  William Nigh

Jimmy Keenan (Cooper) owns a newsstand in New York, takes care of orphaned
Gimpy (Spellman) and goes to night school with dreams of being a lawyer. He tries to practice the ideals of Abraham Lincoln as he faces challenges such as, dealing with his rich, racketeer older brother Tap (Purcell), and a gang who tries to bring him trouble and take over the newsstand. While Jimmy tries to stay kindhearted, young Gimpy is rough and jaded. Jimmy befriends Judge Carroll (Irving), who invites Jimmy, Gimpy and his friends to his home for Christmas, showing them that life doesn’t always have to be rough and cruel.

1939 Notes:
• Jackie Cooper was in six films released in 1939
• Martin Spellman, who was 13 when this film was released, was in five films released in 1939. Spellman’s film career ended in 1941 and he was in an episode of “Dragnet” in 1957.
• Dick Purcell was in five films released in 1939. His career ended only a few years later when he died in 1944.
• Marjorie Reynolds was in 10 films released in 1939

Other trivia: 
• Also known as “Abe Lincoln on 9th Avenue”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Starting in films in 1929 at age 7, Jackie Cooper who could cry like no other in films; breaking your heart as tears streamed down his sweet big cheeks.

And after Jackie grew out of this little kid crying roles, he had to transition into teen and adult roles. Cooper was still acting in his teens in both big and low budget films. It was the year before this film in 1938 when he first saw himself as a leading man. On the set of “White Banners” (1938), director Edmund Goulding chastised him for using his same-ole little kid acting tricks and called Cooper a “leading man.” Cooper wrote in his autobiography “Please Don’t Shoot My Dog” that this changed his mindset on acting.

Cooper also wrote in his autobiography that the films he made when he was sixteen and seventeen weren’t anything special. He didn’t care about acting and he mainly cared about “girls, cars and music… pretty much in that order.”

It’s not hard to understand why Cooper may not have cared about making “Streets of New York.” He doesn’t actually name the film in his book but says it is something like “Newsboys of the Streets.” “Streets of New York” is an hour long, low-budget picture made on poverty row. To add insult to injury, it’s also in public domain.

However, despite this, I enjoyed this little picture. Cooper plays a teen who faced some tough breaks in life, but he’s not letting it keep him down as he struggles to better himself by going to night school to be a lawyer. Martin Spellman plays his friend “Gimpy” that he watches over. Spellman is supposed to be the “cute kid” here (though he was 13). He wears a brace on his leg and talks tough to prove he isn’t small and weak due to his disability.

The film is rather warm and has a lot of heart. It’s also a Christmas movie. At the beginning, Cooper decorates his newsstand with a “Peace on Earth” sign. Later, he befriends a judge who wants to help him out, and the judge invites Cooper, Spellman and their friends to his home for Christmas. I enjoy Cooper in this film, but I do feel bad because he does have a bit of a crying scene. Even at 17, they wouldn’t let him outgrow that!

Trivia wise or 1939 wise, there really isn’t much to say. I could find little on it. “Streets of New York” may not be anything to write home about, but it’s enjoyable, sweet and heartwarming. It also gives you the opportunity to see Cooper as his career progressed outside of his child roles, even if he didn’t care about his films.

Though “Streets of New York” (also titled “Abe Lincoln on 9th Avenue”) is in public domain, you can watch a clean copy of this film at website or on the Film Detective app via Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV. To learn more about the film, visit

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