Watching 1939: That’s Right — You’re Wrong (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:
That’s Right — You’re Wrong (1939)

Release date:
Nov. 24, 1939

Kay Kyser’s Band as themselves: Kay Kyser, Harry Babbitt, Ginny Sims, Ish Kibble
Adolph Menjou, May Robson, Lucille Ball, Dennis O’Keefe, Edward Everett Horton, Roscoe Karns, Moroni Olsen, Hobart Cavanaugh
Themselves: Sheilah Graham, Hedda Hopper, Erskine Johnson, Feg Murray, Fred Orthman

RKO Radio Pictures

David Butler

A film studio is on the rocks financially. When they hear Kay Kyser’s (himself) successful radio program, they want to make a film with Kyser. Once the band arrives in Hollywood, several of the bandmates let success go to his head, writers can’t fit a story to Kyser, and there’s a threat that Kyser’s female singer, Ginny Simms (herself), will be replaced by another actress (Ball).

1939 Notes:
• Kay Kyser’s first film. This was the first of several films that starred the comedic bandleader, his musicians and singers.
• By the numbers:
– Kay Kyser’s only film of 1939 and his first feature film.
– May Robson was in seven films released in 1939.
– Adolphe Menjou was in four films released in 1939.
– Lucille Ball was in five films released in 1939.
– Dennis O’Keefe was in four films released in 1939.
– Edward Everett Horton was in three films released in 1939.
– Roscoe Karns was in four films released in 1939.
– Moroni Olsen was in 13 films released in 1939.
– Hobart Cavanaugh was in 22 films released in 1939.

that's right your wrong2

Other trivia:
• The film name comes from Kay Kyser’s trademark phrases from his radio show, “Kollege of Musical Knowledge.”
• In the film, Kay Kyser discusses his hometown, Rocky Mount, NC, which is his real hometown.

Notable Songs:
“The Answer is Love”

that's right your wrong

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
When big band ruled in popular music of the 1930s and 1940s, bandleader Kay Kyser offered a different twist. Kyser mixed comedy with his music, which he used on his popular radio show “Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge.”

During the show, Kyser would be dressed in a graduation cap and gown as the professor, and quiz audience members. Then his band would play.

His songs had a special structure. His singers, Ginny Simms or Harry Babbitt would sing a bar of the chorus and then Kay Kyser’s orchestra would play an instrumental version of the song. Leading in with a few bars of Kyser’s signature theme “Thinking of You,” Kyser would then announce the singers who would then sing. (Sammy Kaye and his band later blatantly ripped off this format).

The popularity of Kyser’s music and radio show led him to his first feature film, THAT’S RIGHT — YOU’RE WRONG (1939). Kyser and his equally popular bandmates (Ish Kabibble, Sully Mason, Ginny Simms and Harry Babbitt) co-star as themselves in this film. The plot is a life-imitates-art type of deal, where Kyser and band are hailed to Hollywood because of their radio popularity. That’s probably where the real-life similarity ends. In the film, producers want to pigeon hole Kyser as a romantic, European leading man and replace his singers and bandmates with actors in the film.

Kyser and his band were such a hit in this musical comedy, that they went on to star as themselves in six other feature-films (not counting their specialty number appearances in films like HOLLYWOOD CANTEEN).

It isn’t unusual in 1930s and 1940s films for popular band leaders to appear as specialty performers. Harry James, Xavier Cugat, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Spivak and Gene Krupa are just a few that appeared in a musical, performing a number in a night club and perhaps speaking a few lines.

But it is unusual for a whole film to be built around a band and the bandleader be the lead star of the film, like Kay Kyser was in the six films focused on his band from 1939 to 1944. The closest would be Glenn Miller in the films SUN VALLEY SERENADE and ORCHESTRA WIVES, but even then, Miller and his band are just a character while bigger name stars like Sonja Henie, John Payne, George Montgomery or Ann Rutherford do most of the acting.
Many people have mixed opinions about Kay Kyser and his bandmates, but I for one am a fan. I’ve seen all of his films and own several music CDs. I just love Kay Kyser. And it’s not just because I live in North Carolina. I like the fun that he brings in his music.

THAT’S RIGHT—YOU’RE WRONG (1939) is fun and joyful, with some funny moments, such as when Kyser’s botched screen test is shown.

The supporting cast is also interesting. May Robson (who is always wonderful) plays Kyser’s grandmother, and Adolphe Menjou plays a Hollywood producer, which seems to be something he often played. There’s also Dennis O’Keefe, Edward Everett Horton and Roscoe Karns who add to the fun. For Lucille Ball fans tuning into this film, prepare to be disappointed. She has a very small role.

With a few toe-tapping tunes and some funny moments, this 1939 film just makes me so darn happy.

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