Watching 1939: Boy Friend (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.

boyfriend21939 film:
Boy Friend (1939)

Release date:
May 19, 1939

Cast:
Jane Withers, Arleen Whelan, Richard Bond, George Ernest, Douglas Fowley, Warren Hymer, Minor Watson, Robert Shaw, Robert Kellard, Robert Shaw, Ted Pearson, William Conselman Jr., Myra Marsh, Edward Gargan (uncredited), Lillian Yarbo (uncredited)

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
James Tinling

Plot:
Jimmy Murphy (Bond) is in police school. He disappoints everyone when he quits to go work for a gang. When one of Jimmy’s friends and former classmates, Tommy (Kellard) is killed in a robbery, Jimmy’s sister Sally (Withers) and Tommy’s brother Billy (Ernest) try to get to the bottom of it.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Jane Withers was in four films released in 1939.
– Arleen Whelan was in three films released in 1939.
– George Ernest was in six films released in 1939.
– Richard Bond was in 11 films released in 1939.
– Robert Kellard was in four films released in 1939.
– Douglas Fowley was in nine films released in 1939.
– Warren Hymer was in seven films released in 1939.
– Lillian Yarbo was in 10 films released in 1939.

Other trivia:
• Working title was “Police School.”
• The film was reshot to emphasize the teenage aspect.

boyfriend

Jane Withers, Warren Hymer and George Ernest in “Boy Friend” (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Actress Jane Withers started in films at age 6 in 1932, with her first lead role coming in 1935 in the film GINGER. As a child, her characters were funny and mischievous. But something happens to all child stars — they grow up.

By the spring of 1939, Jane Withers was 13 and weathering the storm of those awkward years. And unlike some child stars, she was acting all through those early teen years.

One of the four films she released that year was BOY FRIEND. And though Withers may have been in those transitional child-to-adult years, she still was hilarious and fun as ever.

BOY FRIEND has a bit of a convoluted plot, but is still fun.

The film begins with a group of men in police school, and they all live at a boarding house run by Mrs. Murphy (Myra Marsh), her daughter Sally (Withers) and her son Johnny (Bond), who is also training to be a police officer. The Murphy’s father also was a policeman, but was killed several years earlier.

On the surface, Johnny is an argumentative student and spouts that his father was a sucker for dying on the job, eventually quitting school. This is all a ruse. Johnny does all this so he can get in with a gang and expose them to the police.

While this is happening, Billy Bradley (Ernest), brother of one of the police officers, comes to visit his brother and stay in the home. It’s love at first sight for Sally. When Johnny starts to exhibit odd behavior and Billy’s brother is killed while trying to stop a hold up, Billy and Sally work to sleuth on their own to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

So there’s a lot going on here: police school, undercover cops, and Nancy Drew-like sleuthing. But I still really enjoyed BOY FRIEND. While watching the film, I didn’t even think about how all over the place it was, you just go with it.

It was only after as I was processing the plot that I realized it seemed producers and writers couldn’t decide to do a police crime film or a teen film—so why not do both? The film was edited during production to make it more of a teenage comedy, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

And while this isn’t the most important film of 1939, it is an important coming of age role for Jane Withers. She was transitioning away from child roles into teen roles. Her obituaries this week noted that BOY FRIEND was the film where she received her first kiss. While this isn’t inaccurate … let’s not get too carried away. Withers receives a quick kiss on the cheek at the end of the film from Ernest.

BOY FRIEND is lots of fun and very funny in scenes. Jane Withers tries to act sophisticated for George Ernest, and then the two end up in the back of a dog pound truck. I also loved seeing Warren Hymer in a larger role, who was quite funny.
For Halloween lovers, a portion of this film is set during All Hallow’s Eve. A funny note is that one of the boarding house residents comes in with a Charlie Chan mask, another 20th Century Fox character.

Jane Withers also does a singing number which is great fun.

While this film is fun, I’ll note that I had to watch it via dubious means. With many of Jane Withers’s roles (especially of the teenage era), they aren’t as easy to find.

Another hard to find Fox film that I had to get by dubious means

But if you can locate this one, I thought it was quite a treat.

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