Watching 1939: Waterfront (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:
Waterfront (1939)


Release date:
July 15, 1939

Gloria Dickson, Dennis Morgan, Marie Wilson, Larry Williams, Ward Bond, Sheila Bromley, Arthur Gardner, Aldrich Bowker, Frank Faylen, George Lloyd, Charles Trowbridge (uncredited)

Warner Bros.

Terry O. Morse

Quick tempered Jim Dolan (Morgan) is the president of the dockworker’s and is constantly fighting. His temper periodically lands him in jail and keeps him at odds with his girlfriend Ann (Dickson). Jim turns over a new leaf but runs into trouble when his brother is killed.

1939 Notes:
• This was the first film where Dennis Morgan was credited with his new stage name, “Dennis Morgan” rather than “Richard Stanley.”
• Aldrich Bowker started in films in 1939 at age 64 and “Waterfront” was his second film.
• By the numbers:
– Dennis Morgan was in four movies released in 1939.
– Gloria Dickson was in six movies released in 1939.
– Sheila Bromley was in seven movies released in 1939.
– Arthur Gardner was in three films released in 1939.
– Aldrich Bowker was in 10 films released in 1939.
– Larry Williams was in six films released in 1939.
– Marie Wilson was in four films released in 1939.
– Frank Faylen was in eight films released in 1939.
– Ward Bond was in 21 films released in 1939.
– George Lloyd was in 18 films released in 1939.
– Charles Trowbridge was in 30 films released in 1939.

waterfront 1939

Other trivia:
• Based on the play, “The Blind Spot” by Kenyon Nicholson. Another film version of this story is Taxi (1931).
• Filmed in San Pedro, CA.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
This 59-minute movie may not seem like much. Just a quick drama about a hot tempered docksman seeking revenge for his brother, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend.

But this film helped Dennis Morgan get the track of a Warner Bros. top star. Before WATERFRONT, Morgan was acting under different name, first Stanley Morner and then Richard Stanley. In 1939, he adopted his stage name, Dennis Morgan, in this film WATERFRONT.

In the film, Morgan’s character is quick to throw punches when he gets angry, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, played by Gloria Dickson. When he tries to turn over a new leaf, tragedy strikes his family and he wants to seek revenge. It’s one of those movies that just when you don’t think anything worse can happen, it does.

waterfront 1939This is a different role than the crooning charmers Dennis Morgan later played. It’s dark, brooding and angry, but his charm is still able to shine through.

While it’s an early film in a low-budget film, 1939 is when Morgan’s career started to show promise. By 1940, he hit his stride, gaining steam and eventually being cast in KITTY FOYLE.

Morgan’s leading lady Gloria Dickson overshadows him though. He was teamed with Dickson twice in 1939, the other in NO PLACE TO GO.

To me, the standout performance was given by Marie Wilson, who is Gloria Dickson’s friend. I like Wilson in this role, because she plays against her dumb blonde type. She is smart, making wisecracks to her boyfriend (who she thinks is dumb). Her hair is also a slightly darker blonde, which is becoming on her.

While WATERFRONT isn’t terribly memorable, it is a quick, action-packed 59-minutes. It just may leave you a bit exasperated by the end.

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