Watching 1939: Full Confession (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:
Full Confession (1939)

Release date:
Sept. 8, 1939

Victor McLaglen, Sally Eilers, Joseph Calleia, Barry Fitzgerald, Elisabeth Risdon, Pamela Blake (as Adele Pearce), Malcolm ‘Bud’ McTaggart, George Humbert (uncredited)

RKO Studios

John Farrow

Near Christmas, Pat McGinnis (McLaglen) kills a police officer during an attempted robbery, but then is is arrested for stealing a fur coat (to throw police off the trail of his other crime) and sent to prison for the theft. Months later, night watchman Michael O’Keefe (Fitzgerald) is arrested for being drunk and disruptive while celebrating his son’s wedding. While arrested, police hold O’Keefe for the murder of a police officer who was shot with his gun, which also had his fingerprints on it. While McGinnis is working toward parol, O’Keefe is going to be sent to the electric chair. Priest Father Loma (Calleia) tries to help both men, receives a confession that could help O’Keefe, but struggles with his religious ethics of sharing that confession or not.

1939 Notes:
• Victor McLaglen was in eight films released in 1939.
• John Farrow directed six films released in 1939.
• Joseph Calleia was in five films released in 1939.
• Barry Fitzgerald was in three films released in 1939.
• Sally Eilers was in two films released in 1939.

Other trivia:
• Originally set to be star Chester Morris.
• Lucille Ball was considered for the female lead.
• Pamela Blake is billed as Adele Pearce.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Who has the higher power: the law or God?

That is what a priest, Father Loma grapples within “Full Confession” (1939).

In the film, Pat McGinnis, played by Victor McLaglen, attempts a robbery and kills a police officer. The officer was killed with the gun that belonged to nightwatchman, Michael O’Keefe, played by Barry Fitzgerald. Michael is wrongly accused for Pat’s crime, and goes to jail. After Michael is found guilty and faces the electric chair, Father Loma, played by Joseph Calleia, receives a confession from Pat saying he committed the crime.

Father Loma is conflicted if he should report the confession to the police, which would violate his sacrament as a priest, or if he should keep the confession confidential.

It isn’t often that audiences have the opportunity to see Joseph Calleia play a good guy. Often times, he plays a gangster or criminal, but here he plays a priest.

Victor McLaglen’s rough character is similar to many of his other roles, but he is less likable than he is in other films. Mainly because he is going to let sweet Barry Fitzgerald take the rap for him.

Sally Eilers isn’t a very memorable leading lady, but her role isn’t very large. Her role is more of the tortured girlfriend of criminal McLaglen.

“Full Confession” is only 76 minutes long and isn’t a very large budget film, but it poses an interesting question for Joseph Calleia’s priest character. The mood of the film is similar to an earlier Victor McLaglen film, The Informer (1935).

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