Watching 1939: Hotel for Women (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:
Hotel for Women (1939)

hotel for women

Release date:
Aug. 14, 1939

Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Lynn Bari, James Ellison, Jean Rogers, June Gale, Joyce Compton, John Halliday, Kay Aldridge, Alan Dinehart, Sidney Blackmer, Ruth Terry, Amanda Duff, Gregory Gaye (uncredited), Mary Healy (uncredited), Kay Linaker (uncredited)
Themselves: Elsa Maxwell

20th Century Fox

Gregory Ratoff

Marcia Bromley (Darnell) travels from Syracuse, N.Y. to New York City to follow her boyfriend Jeff (Ellison), who has been working as an architect for a year. While Marcia has been carrying the torch for Jeff, he has moved on. Ready to head back home, the girls at the women’s hotel she’s staying at help Marcia get on her feet and into a career of modeling.

1939 Notes:
• Linda Darnell’s first film.
• Society hostess and gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell’s first appearance in a feature film. Maxwell was originally brought on to help with writing the film for the party scenes, but ended up helping develop the story. A role was adapted for Maxwell in the film and eventually made larger, because she ended up being good in the film.
• By the numbers:
– Linda Darnell was in two films released in 1939.
– Ann Sothern was in four films released in 1939.
– Jean Rogers was in four films released in 1939.
– Lynn Bari was in eight films released in 1939.
– James Ellison was in five films released in 1939.
– June Gale was in nine films released in 1939.
– Joyce Compton was in eight films released in 1939.
– Sidney Blackmer was in nine films released in 1939.
– Kay Aldridge was in two films released in 1939.
– John Halliday was in two films released in 1939.
– Alan Dinehart was in eight films released in 1939.
– Ruth Terry was in four films released in 1939.

hotel for women2

Ann Sothern, Jean Rogers, Linda Darnell, Lynn Bari

Other trivia:
• Also known by the full title “Elsa Maxwell’s Hotel for Women.”
• In the opening credits, the cast are listed by their room numbers rather than their character names.
• Writer Myrtle Louise Stonesifer sued 20th Century Fox for plagiarism in 1941. She said “Hotel for Women” was the same as her play “Women’s Hotel,” which Darryl F. Zanuck denied. The court ruled that Stonesifer would get 20 percent of the profits.
• Film was followed by two films that had different characters: Free, Blonde and 21 (1940) and Girl in 313 (1940).

hotel for women6

Jean Rogers, June Gale, Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
She was just 15 when she starred in her first film. The year 1939 would mark the first time actress Linda Darnell would grace the silver screen. While some stars play small, uncredited roles, Darnell had the rare Cinderella story of starring in her first film.

Originally, 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck said Darnell was too old to be a child performer and too young to be a leading lady — sending her back home to Texas until she got a bit older. But when RKO started to express interest in the young teen, Zanuck changed his mind and brought the 15-year-old back to Hollywood for her first vehicle, “Hotel for Women,” according to the A&E “Biography” spotlight, “Linda Darnell: Hollywood’s Fallen Angel.”

At age 15, Darnell is lovely, fresh-faced … and playing a role beyond her years (which she would continue to do, playing Tyrone Power’s wife in her next film). I expect her character is supposed to be between 18 to 21 years old.

In the film, Darnell plays Marcia, who arrives in New York City carrying the torch for her boyfriend, Jeff (Ellison), who moved to the city a year earlier to pursue a career as an architect. However, when Marcia arrives, she finds that Jeff has changed and also moved on. Prepared to go home to mend her broken heart, the girls in the women’s hotel that Marcia is staying in guide her into a modeling career. Marcia quickly becomes a popular new model famous all over the city and now it’s Jeff has a yen for Marcia, who isn’t interested in him. However, Marcia catches the eye of Jeff’s boss, John Craig (Halliday), who already had a relationship with model Barbara Hunter (Bari), who also lives in Marcia’s hotel. Barbara doesn’t take being jilted lightly.

The year 1939 was a great year for large female casts, such as “The Women,” “Tail Spin” and this film, “Hotel for Women.” In a way, this made me think of “The Women”-lite and a mix of “Stage Door” (1936). “Hotel for Women” is a great mix of humor, drama and tragedy.

There’s a brief stunning, alarming and relatable scene where actress June Gale says she has to get married soon, because her “days are slipping as a model, I’m losing my freshness” and mentions she’s getting hard around the mouth. Jean Rogers, Ann Sothern and Linda Darnell each freeze, thinking of themselves and some putting a hand to the area around their mouth, before quickly shaking off the worry of aging. I loved this and it made me gasp.

While Ann Sothern receives top billing, Linda Darnell is the star. But as always, Sothern is excellent in this film. There’s a great scene where she is cheerfully laughing to a man on the phone and as soon as she hangs up, her face falls as she laments that she has to find a date for his buddy. This year was also a big year for Sothern, but not with 20th Century Fox. Sothern hit it big in 1939 when she signed with MGM and played the role of “Maisie” for the first time.

It’s amazing that this is Linda Darnell’s first film, because she is great. She’s sweet and effective. It’s hard to believe Darnell was 15 and turned 16 two months after the film’s premiere. Because she was young, Darnell had to follow studio labor laws and go to school on set. Seeing sweet, young Darnell in “Hotel for Women” made me a bit sad, because I believe becoming a star so quickly and so young I think led to her later issues in life.

This is a great ensemble cast, with fun opening credits that lists the cast by room numbers. This great rounded out by Lynn Bari and Jean Rogers, who are also both great. Bari and actress Amanda Duff, who plays a receptionist on the film, both remember enjoying making the film, and that Darnell was sweet, but nervous about her first film.

Another highlight in the film was socialite and gossip columnist Elsa Maxwell, who plays herself in the film. For her first feature film, Maxwell has some natural comedic features in this film. In addition to appearing in the film, Maxwell co-wrote the script. Audiences also got to catch a glimpse of Elsa Maxwell’s famous parties in the film, when she throws a party and gives each guest their own individual cocktail shaker to mix their own drinks. What a fun idea.

hotel for women7

Elsa Maxwell and Linda Darnell

The only unfortunate fact about this film is that it’s hard to access, and if you do find it, the print is awful. I watched a bad print someone uploaded on the internet, that was so fuzzy you couldn’t always decipher who the actor was in long shots. Too bad no one cares about preserving 20th Century Fox classic films.

If you don’t mind enduring a bad print, this is a fun film that launched the career of Linda Darnell. Highly recommend.

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