Watching 1939: Mystery Plane (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: 
Mystery Plane (1939)

Release date: 
March 8, 1939

Cast: 
John Trent, Marjorie Reynolds, Milburn Stone, Jason Robards Sr., George Lynn (billed as Peter George Lynn), Polly Anne Young, Lucien Littlefield, Tommy Bupp, Betsy Gay

Studio: 
Monogram Pictures

Director: 
George Waggner

Plot:
As a child, “Tailspin” Tommy Tompkins idolizes World War I aviation hero, ‘Brandy’ Rand (Lynn), who became a stunt flier after the war. After meeting Brandy as a child, Tommy doesn’t hear about his whereabouts again and Tommy himself becomes an aviator as an adult. Tommy and his aviation partner Skeeter (Stone) design a radio-controlled bombing device, which they would like to present to the U.S. Army. Little do they know that a ring of spies is also eager to get their hands on the device – including Tommy’s childhood hero.

1939 Notes:
• By the Numbers:
– John Trent was in four films released in 1939. In all of those films, he was billed as “Tailspin Tommy.” Trent was an aviator who went into films and left films by 1941.
– Peter George Lynn was in 10 films released in 1939. Later billed as George Lynn, in 1939, he was billed as Peter Lynn and Peter George Lynn.
– Polly Ann Young was in four films released in 1939.
– Lucien Littlefield was in seven films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• One of four “Tailspin Tommy” films released in 1939, all released by Monogram Pictures. Prior to the feature-length 1939 series, there were Tailspin Tommy serials in 1934.
• The character of Tailspin Tommy is based on a comic strip by Hal Forrest and Glenn Chaffin.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
In the 1930s, Hollywood talent scouts seemed to pluck any every day (but good-looking) person from their daily life and put them in front of the cameras.

One of those people was John Trent, a commercial pilot noticed by a film executive on a flight. Trent was given a screen test, signed a contract, and made 15 films from 1931 to 1941 before giving up on his film career.

Towards the end of his career, Trent was cast as the comic strip character Tailspin Tommy, which followed a young aviator’s adventures.

Tailspin Tommy was first seen in serial shorts in the mid-1930s, and Trent brought the character to screen in four feature-length films in 1939.

The first of these films is today’s 1939 film, “Mystery Plane.”

The film begins in the 1920s as we see former World War I hero, Brandy Rand, performing aviation stunts with a group of children marveling at his performance. One of those children is Tommy, who gets the opportunity to meet his hero and is encouraged to work towards an aviation career.

As an adult, Tommy is working his dream job as a pilot and inventing aviation materials to aid the Army. Enemy spies are also interested in Tommy’s work – including Brandy Rand.

For a low-budget Monogram film, “Mystery Plane” is a fun film. I had never heard of Tailspin Tommy before watching “Mystery Plane,” so it was interesting to learn about that character. I also love discovery stories like John Trent’s.

The film co-stars Marjorie Reynolds (who has recently been in several of our 1939 features) as a female aviator. We also see Loretta Young’s sister, Polly Ann Young, who sounds just like her sister if you close your eyes.

Running at only an hour, this film does jump around a bit and potentially have some plot holes, but if you are looking for mindless, brief entertainment, this won’t disappoint.

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