Watching 1939: Pack Up Your Troubles (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:
Pack Up Your Troubles (1939)

pack up your troubles

Release date:
Oct. 20, 1939

Jane Withers, the Ritz Brothers, Lynn Bari, Joseph Schildkraut, Stanley Fields, Fritz Leiber, Edward Gargan, Lionel Royce, Adrienne D’Ambricourt

20th Century Fox

H. Bruce Humberstone

When a trio of performer (The Ritz Brothers) can’t find work or pay their bills, they decide to join the Army to serve in World War I. In France, they meet a young orphan girl, Collette (Withers). Her father was serving in the war and was killed … or so she thinks.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– Jane Withers was in four films in 1939.
– The Ritz Brothers were in three films in 1939. This was their last film under contract to 20th Century Fox.
– Lynn Bari was in eight films in 1939.
– Joseph Schildkraut was in seven films in 1939.
– Stanley Fields was in eight films in 1939.
– Fritz Leiber was in four films released in 199.
– Edward Gargan was in 24 films in 1939.
– Leon Ames was in 15 films in 1939.
– Adrienne D’Ambricourt was in five films in 1939.

pack up your troubles

Other trivia:
• Working titles were “Tin Hats” and “We’re in the Army Now.”
• The battle scenes were filmed on the Lasky Ranch in the San Fernando Valley, CA.

pack up your troubles2

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I know, you read “Ritz Brothers” in the cast listing and let out a heavy sigh.

Admittedly, so did I.

Even when the late-Robert Osborne mentioned the trio he said they were “for some reason popular” and calls them an acquired taste.

And while I don’t want you to let your Ritz Brothers guard down … they aren’t completely insufferable in PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES (1939).

Perhaps it’s because the slapstick comedic brothers, Jimmy Ritz, Harry Ritz, Al Ritz, were on their way out in 1939 and it was their last film under contract at 20th Century Fox.

In PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES, the Ritz Brothers play German-impersonating performers. They can’t find work in the states, so they join the Army. In France, they meet a French-American girl, Colette (Jane Withers), who is orphaned. Born in America, her American mother has died and her French father returned to serve in World War I. Colette is left orphaned when she is told her father has died and lives with Mme. Marchand (D’Ambricourt) and Yvonne (Bari). When Colette’s father may not be dead, she has to travel across the front to deliver a message and to see if he’s alive.

When the film is focused on Jane Withers, it’s pretty good. Withers does have the opportunity to sing, and does impressions of Eva Tanguay and George M. Cohan, which are pretty funny.

But the film opens with the Ritz Brothers and within four minutes, they have done an Al Jolson impression in blackface. This makes it appear that they are the stars of the film, but don’t despair.

Mid-way through the film, this is Jane Withers’s movie. And by default, the Rita Brothers get slightly more tolerable. They are just acting and not making goofy faces, singing or performing slapstick routines. Perhaps this more subdued nature is because the Ritz Brothers were on the outs with 20th Century Fox brass. Though there is one terrible part with a runaway hot air balloon.

While I mentioned Lynn Bari in the cast, she is wasted in the film. I feel her role could have been built out to be more interesting.

PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES is a seemingly forgotten installment of 1939, but it does have some important elements. As I’ve mentioned, it was the Ritz Brothers’s last film under contract with 20th Century Fox. They only appeared on screen three more times after this.

The year of 1939 also offered Jane Withers more coming of age, young lady roles, as she grew into a teenager.

I watched PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES shortly after Jane Withers died and found it silly, but also good fun.

Thank you for reading! What do you think?

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