Watching 1939: Nancy Drew – Trouble Shooter (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:
Nancy Drew … Trouble Shooter (1939)

Release date:
June 17, 1939

Bonita Granville, John Litel, Frankie Thomas, Aldrich Bowker, Charlotte Wynters, Renie Riano, Edgar Edwards, Willie Best, Roger Imhof, Erville Alderson

nancy drew

Bonita Granville and Frankie Thomas

Warner Bros.

William Clemens

When Matt Brandon (Bowker) is accused of murder, he calls on his friend lawyer Carson Drew (Litel) for help. To keep his daughter Nancy Drew (Granville) from meddling, Carson disguises their trip to help Brandon as a vacation. But Nancy soon figures it out and is on the case with her friend Ted Nickerson (Thomas). Against the backdrop of figuring out who really committed murder, Carson Drew also has a romance with Brandon’s neighbor, Edna Gregory (Wynters).

1939 Notes:
• First film of Aldrich Bowker.
• By the numbers:
– Bonita Granville four films in 1939 and only one of them wasn’t a Nancy Drew film, “Angels Wash Their Faces.”
– John Litel was in 13 films in 1939.
– Frankie Thomas was in seven films in 1939.
– Charlotte Wynter was in five films released in 1939.
– Renie Riano was in 14 films released in 1939.
– Aldrich Bowker was in 10 films released in 1939.
– Willie Best was in 12 films released in 1939.
– Edgar Edwards was in 14 films released in 1939.
– Roger Imhof was in six films released in 1939.
– Erville Alderson was in 14 films released in 1939.

• This is one of three Nancy Drew films released in 1939 by Warner Brothers starring Bonita Granville. The others were: “Nancy Drew…Reporter” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.” The Nancy Drew series ended in 1939.

• In 1962, Justice Arthur J. Goldberg in a Supreme Court Decision disallowed a practice called “block booking,” where motion picture distributors required televisions stations to buy packages of films to get the ones they wanted. Goldberg named one of the Nancy Drew films in his statement:
“Station WTOP in Washington, in order to get such film classics as Casablanca and Treasure of the Sierra Madre , also had to buy Nancy Drew, Troubleshooter and Gorilla Man,” according to “Translate Nancy Drew from Print to Film,” an essay by Diana Beeson and Bonnie Brennan.

nancy drew trouble shooter4

Other trivia:
• One of four Nancy Drew movies from 1938 to 1939. Three of these films were released in 1939. This is the third film to be released.
• Based on Nancy Drew stories by Carolyn Keene

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I was pretty critical the last time I reviewed one of the Warner Bros. Nancy Drew films. As a life long Nancy Drew fan (I have a cardboard cut out of her in my home), you have certain ideas of how the teen sleuth should be portrayed. But as a classic film fan who also loves Bonita Granville, I’ve softened a bit and find these films cute and zany fun. We could call this review “How I stopped worrying and learned to love the Warner Bros. Nancy Drew films.”

In the third film of the series, Carson Drew (Litel) gets a letter from his old friend Matt Brandon (Bowker) who has been jailed under suspicion of murder. The man Brandon has had a longstanding feud with has disappeared, so the sheriff automatically accuses Brandon. Carson Drew packs up the family to head to Sylvan Lake under the guise of a vacation — he doesn’t want his meddling daughter Nancy (Granville) to realize there is a case to solve. Nancy, of course, quickly catches on and is eager to help; involving her friend Ted Nickerson (Thomas), whose family is also vacationing at the Lake. While trying to solve the mystery, Carson Drew become smitten with a local, Edna Gregory (Wynters), much to Nancy’s chagrin.

This Nancy Drew character in these B-budget films isn’t quite the Nancy that you are used to in the books. In the books, she’s organized, sophisticated and always has an answer for everything. In the films she’s a flibbertigibbet teen, who often wrecks her car and causes trouble. For example, in this film, Nancy is cooking dinner for a party and is struggling. Potatoes are spilt on the floor, and food is both getting burnt or isn’t cooking on the old wood stove. In the books, Nancy would have been cool under pressure and presented a meal that was fit for a 5-star restaurant.

I think the difference that irks me the most is the housekeeper Effie (Riano) is afraid of her own shadow. She is nothing like tough-as-nails Hannah from the books.

But despite the differences, if you look at these films as their own fun, 1930s teen films and not compare them to the “Nancy Drew” novels, they are cute and fun. I decided it was best to just avoid the heartburn and enjoy myself. Besides, I love Bonita Granville and Frankie Thomas in their other films.

Admittedly, NANCY DREW … TROUBLESHOOTER (1939) is more of a comedy than a mystery. While I’ve read that as a complaint by some, I thought it made this film pretty fun. Nancy’s attitude toward her father’s budding romance is pretty funny in some scenes and got a laugh-out-loud reaction from me.

But some of the mystery plot points make for an interesting story – like solving the mystery with a rare flower that isn’t native to that area. The film caps off with a pretty zany incident as Nancy and Ted end up in a plane.

nancy drew trouble shooter2

Of the four Nancy Drew series films, three of them were released in 1939. In fact, of Granville’s 1939 film work, only one of her films wasn’t a Nancy Drew picture. While they are B-budget level, these films definitely left their mark on 1939.

There are some pretty silly moments, but some funny ones too. Definitely a good bit of fun packed into 68 minutes.

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