Watching 1939: Daughters Courageous (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:
Daughters Courageous (1939)

Release date:
June 23, 1939

Fay Bainter, Claude Rains, John Garfield, Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, Lola Lane, Gale Page, Jeffrey Lynn, May Robson, Dick Foran, Frank McHugh, George Humbert

Warner Bros.

Michael Curtiz

After her husband left 20 years ago, Nan Masters (Bainter) has been raising her four daughters on her own ever since: Tinka (Rosemary Lane), Linda (Lola Lane), Cora (Page) and Buff (Priscilla Lane). The sisters are high spirited, adore their mother and have fun with their boyfriends (Lynn, Foran, McHugh). Nan decides to remarry and gets engaged to her Sam Sloane (Crisp), who has been a fixture in the family for 12 years. Shortly after their engagement, Nan’s ex-husband Jim Masters (Rains) turns up in the home; turning the household upside down.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Donald Crisp was in seven films released in 1939.
– Fay Bainter was in four films released in 1939.
– The Lane sisters (Priscilla, Rosemary and Lola) were in two movies together released in 1939. – Rosemary Lane was in five films released in 1939
– Lola Lane was in two films released in 1939.
-Priscilla Lane was in five movies released in 1939 and she co-starred with Jeffrey Lynn in four of them: Four Wives, Yes, My Darling Daughter, Daughters Courageous and Roaring Twenties.
– Jeffrey Lynn was in six films in 1939.
– Gale Page was in six films released in 1939.
– Dick Foran was in four films released in 1939.
– Claude Rains was in five films released in 1939.
– John Garfield was in seven films released in 1939.
– May Robson was in seven films released in 1939.
– George Humbert was in 11 films released in 1939.
– Frank McHugh was in eight films released in 1939.

Other trivia:
• In response to the success of “Four Daughters” (1938), “Daughters Courageous” was made in with the same cast. “Daughters Courageous” was not part of the trilogy but had a similar formula and the same cast. Michael Curtiz directed “Daughters Courageous” in 1939. Two more “Four Daughters” films were made: “Four Wives” and “Four Mothers” (1941)
• Based on the play “Fly Away Home,” which opened in New York Jan. 1935.
• Ernest Haller had to replace James Wong Howe as director of photography when Howe became ill, according to Michael Curtiz’s biographer.
• Working titles were American Family, A Family Affair, Family Affair, Fly Away Home and Family Reunion.
• A version of “Fly Away Home” was released in 1942 as “Always in My Heart” with Kay Francis and Walter Houston.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
In 1938, “Four Daughters” was a success for Warner Bros.

The three Lane Sisters were partnered with Gale Page to play four sisters. Several of them are in love with a man played Jeffrey Lynn. Then a drifter comes into town, played by John Garfield, turns the household upside down.

With the success of this film, Warner Bros. was kick to recast many of the players in new film the following year: “Daughters Courageous” (1939). The same stars were brought over from “Four Daughters,” include Claude Rains, Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, Lola Lane, Gale Page, John Garfield, May Robson, Dick Foran, Frank McHugh and Jeffrey Lynn. The new cast members include Fay Bainter and Donald Crisp.

The director was also the same, Michael Curtiz, and Max Steiner composed the score for both films.

“Daughters Courageous” follows a single mother and her four daughters. Her husband left 20 years prior and as soon as she’s ready to remarry, her ex-husband reappears. His resurgence isn’t welcome by his wife but his daughters are drawn to him.

John Garfield was said to like this film, and director Michael Curtiz called it his obscure masterpiece, according to his biographer.

While “Daughters Courageous” is generally said to not be as good as “Four Daughters,” I still enjoy it and think it’s important in the 1939 cannon. It’s notable because it’s another film that teamed three of the Lane sisters. Also, 1939 was successful for John Garfield, Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn, because of how Four Daughters (1938) jumpstarted their careers.

I was charmed by this film as soon as we saw the sisters behind the credits and then on the beach. The film has the same homey energy as “Four Daughters,” with the added bonus of excellent actors like Fay Bainter and Donald Crisp. Bainter is one of my favorite actresses and I’m always happy to see her in anything.

I will also say, this film ends differently than most films of this era. I liked the ending because I was expecting it to end differently. Thank goodness it doesn’t.

One other connection to “Four Daughters” (1938) to “Daughters Courageous” (1939): You hear a big of “Mickey’s Theme” during the credits of “Daughters Courageous.”

Overall, I find this a lovely film that while it sometimes is trying to be “Four Daughters,” stands on its own with a different type of charm.

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