Watching 1939: Eternally Yours (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: 
Eternally Yours (1939)

Release date: 
Oct. 7, 1939

Cast: 
Loretta Young, David Niven, Hugh Herbert, Eve Arden, C. Aubrey Smith, Billie Burke, Zasu Pitts, Raymond Walburn, Broderick Crawford, Virginia Field

Studio: 
United Artists

Director: 
Tay Garnett

Plot:
On the eve of her wedding to Don Burns (Crawford), Anita Halstead (Young) attends a performance of magician Tony, or Arturo the Great (Niven). Anita and Tony marry and travel the world as Tony performs his acts. Anita is unhappy, as Tony comes home every night with lipstick on his collar, and performs dangerous stunts – like jumping out of a plane blindfolded. She dreams of returning to the United States and living in a private cottage. Anita finally leaves him, and Tony pursues her to get her back.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Loretta Young was in three films released in 1939. This was Loretta Young’s first film after leaving 20th Century Fox.
– Tay Garnett directed two films released in 1939.
– David Niven was in five films released in 1939.
– Hugh Herbert was in four films released in 1939.
– Billie Burke was in six films released in 1939.
– Raymond Walburn was in five films released in 1939.
– C. Aubrey Smith was in eight films released in 1939.
– Zasu Pitts was in five films released in 1939.
– Broderick Crawford was in eight films released in 1939.
– Eve Arden was in seven films released in 1939.
– Virginia Field was in seven films released in 1939.
– Werner Janssen composed the music for three films in 1939, all of which were Walter Wanger Productions.

Hugh Herbert and David Niven

Other trivia: 
• Originally set to be a film version of Sacha Guitry’s play, “L’illusionniste.” However, it was deemed “too lusty” for the code.
• The scene where Tony jumps from a plane was filmed at the New York World’s Fair. The New York Times says Paul Widlicksa did the jump.
• Gowns by Travis Banton
• Working title was “Whose Wife”
• Composer Werner Janssen was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score.
• Producer Walter Wanger received a complaint from magician groups that the film exposed how some magic tricks worked, according to Wanger’s biographer Matthew Bernstein.

Broderick Crawford and Loretta Young

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I hated the first 30 minutes of this movie; writing a scathing review in my head as I watched and would announce that the best thing about this film are the Travis Banton costumes. But I warmed to it slightly in the last hour, though the Banton costumes were still a large bonus.

Eight years before THE BISHOP’S WIFE (1947), Loretta Young and David Niven are paired as a married couple (very different from the bishop and Julia of their future). Young and Niven play Anita and Tony, who marry after meeting once. Tony is a successful and glamorous magician, and they travel the world on tour. Tony soon adds a death-defying trick where he jumps out of a plane handcuffed, which distresses Anita. Anita also longs to settle down in a home where they can start a family. Tony resists this type of life, and Anita leaves him, falling back into the arms of her former suitor, Don (played by Broderick Crawford).

I can’t put my finger on why I hated the start of this film, I just did. It partially had to do with Werner Janssen’s score. The film starts with a very intense theme being sung over the credits. Then at one point, Loretta Young is just picking David Niven’s laundry up off the floor, and a dramatic piano is playing abstract notes over the scene. The score made everything feel disjointed. It was before it’s time, but then also didn’t fit a romantic comedy. It’s like someone told Janssen to chill mid-way through and the second half, the music was more traditional.

I also felt like the plot jerked you around in all sorts of directions. We start at Anita’s bridal shower to Don. She meets Tony at a performance. The next thing we see is Anita and Tony performing a magic act together. You’re thinking wait, how much time has passed? Is this the same day? We don’t know until after that scene that it has been a year and a half and they married.

Then after all the travels and the broken marriage, the film turns into another type of comedy. The divorced-husband-tries-to-win-his-wife-from-another-man comedy, and of course, they all somehow end up in a cabin together.

Of course, David Niven and Loretta Young are both impossibly good-looking in this film, and Young is wearing the height of fashion by Travis Banton. Every costume is exquisite.

The cast is brimming with well-known supporting players and every single one is wasted.

C. Aubrey Smith plays Young’s bishop grandfather, who is barely in the film. Which is a shame, because I always love to see Smith in anything. Billie Burke and Zasu Pitts also have little screentime. Burke appears mainly at the beginning and Zasu appears in the last 30 to 45 minutes of the 90-minute film. And then the biggest disappointment of all is that we only see Eve Arden in two scenes at the very beginning.

Hugh Herbert also plays against the type of character he played throughout much of his career. Herbert plays a subdued manservant to Niven, who spends most of his time shaking his head at his antics.

Broderick Crawford plays “the other man,” and I do feel bad for his character. He’s not a bad guy, he just gets jilted twice. He’s an interesting pick for a lover of Loretta Young, and probably someone like Ralph Bellamy would have fit better. But, maybe Crawford tugs at my heartstrings a bit more.

“Eternally Yours” is certainly not a “must-see” of 1939. However, 1939 was a pretty big year for two of it’s stars.

Crawford was in one film per year in 1937 and 1938, and then his roles took off in 1939.

David Niven, his acting career began in 1932, but he wasn’t in a prominent leading role. Though his roles steadily grew in the late-1930s, 1939 was Niven’s first step towards stardom. He played a supporting character in “Wuthering Heights” and then leads in “Eternally Yours” and “Bachelor Mother,” casting him in romantic leading roles for the first time.

Looking at this film just from the cast, you’d think it can’t miss. But the disjointed storytelling and the score really lost me early on. But, if you can get past the first 30 or 45 minutes, maybe you’ll settle into it a bit more too.

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