Watching 1939: Torchy Runs for Mayor (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:  Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939)

Release date:  May 13, 1939

Cast:  Glenda Farrell, Barton MacLane, Tom Kennedy, John Miljan, Frank Shannon, Charles Richman, Joe Downing, John Miljan, Irving Bacon, John Ridgely (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Director:  Ray McCarey

Plot:
Reporter Torchy Blane (Farrell) is writing stories about the corruption of Mayor Saunders (Richman) and how he takes money from crime bosses. To make Torchy stop, the mayor threatens to pull his advertising from her newspaper, which forces Torchy’s editors to stop publishing her stories. Torchy asks papers all over town to publish her stories and is rejected until one small paper accepts. After publishing the article, the editor of the paper is killed, and Torchy’s police officer boyfriend Steve (MacLane) investigates, and Torchy meddles. To get back at Torchy for butting into his case, Steve writes Torchy’s name in as a mayor candidate – which she embraces.

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Watching 1939: Invisible Stripes (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: Invisible Stripes

Release date: Dec. 30, 1939

Cast:  George Raft, Jane Bryan, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart, Flora Robson, Paul Kelly, Lee Patrick, Henry O’Neill, Frankie Thomas, Moroni Olsen, Margot Stevenson, Marc Lawrence, Leo Gorcey, Bruce Bennett (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited), William Hopper (uncredited), John Ridgely (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

Plot:
After he’s paroled from Sing Sing, Cliff Taylor (Raft) finds life is hard as an ex-con. His girl leaves him, and he can’t find work. Even after he finds work, employers get nervous around an ex-con and fire him or police accuse him for crimes. His younger brother Tim (Holden) is disheartened by what he sees with his brother and becomes hard. Because of his hardships, Cliff falls back into crime, which causes problems for the rest of his family.

1939 Notes:
• George Raft was in four films released in 1939
• William Holden’s second credited role released in 1939. He was in three films total
• 1939 gave Margot Stevenson her first full-length films. She was in two films released that year: this one and “Smashing the Money Ring”

Other trivia: 
• Originally supposed to star James Cagney and John Garfield
• Flora Robson plays George Raft’s mother, though she was six years younger than Raft
• One of the last films released in 1939
• The only film that George Raft was directed by Warner Bros. director Llyod Bacon, according to George Raft: The Films by Everett Aaker

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Invisible Stripes” is an interesting crime film. It isn’t just “well here is a gangster committing crimes” or the upstanding citizen being brought into a life of crime.

It’s about an ex-con, played by George Raft, sincerely wanting to “go straight” and live a truthful, honest life and make money honestly, but society won’t let him. Employers don’t want to hire him because of his criminal background, or they are suspicious of him after he’s hired. If he is hired, other employees pick fights.

But society also doesn’t want him to commit crimes, which is the only way he can make money. The message is very much “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The film gives a sympathetic look at what people deal with after they are released from a stretch in jail. George Raft plays this character well, and the plot unsurprisingly turns him back towards a life of crime.

But while George Raft is the star of “Invisible Stripes,” William Holden was the standout star of 1939. This is the year that Holden’s career really began and it started out with a bang. Holden was coming off the success of “Golden Boy” (1939), which quickly made him a star. Warner Bros. borrowed Holden from Paramount to play the role of the eager younger brother becomes bitter as he watches the treatment of his brother.

What no mention of Humphrey Bogart? Bogart is in this film, but has a fairly small role and not as much screentime as Raft or newcomer Holden. At this point in his career, Bogart still wasn’t the star that he later became but 1939 slowly boosted him until he found fame.

“Invisible Stripes” isn’t the most memorable film of 1939, or the most memorable Warner Bros. gangster movie, but it’s interesting to see Holden early in his career and Raft and Bogart together.

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Watching 1939: The Cat and the Canary (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:  The Cat and the Canary

Release date:  Nov. 10, 1939

Cast:  Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery, Gale Sondergaard, Elizabeth Patterson, Nydia Westman, George Zucco

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Director:  Elliott Nugent

Plot:
Set in the Louisiana bayou, relatives of the late Cyrus Norman gather at his remote mansion. The millionaire left instructions for his will to be read ten years after his death and for everything in his home to remain the same until then. His housekeeper Miss Lu (Sondergaard) stayed on alone and welcomes the guests (Hope, Goddard, Beal, Montgomery, Patterson, Westman, Zucco) into the home, warning them of spirits. Norman’s lawyer, Crosby (Zucco) reads the will – announcing that Joyce Norman (Goddard) is the heir. Cyrus Norman believed insanity ran in the family, so a second person was named as a backup if Joyce dies or is insane. The guests must stay in the creepy mansion overnight and it seems Joyce’s life is at risk, or is she just imagining it?

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Watching 1939: The Man They Could Not Hang

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:  The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 17, 1939

Cast:  Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox, Roger Pryor, Don Beddoe, Ann Doran, James Craig, Joe De Stefani, Byron Foulger, Charles Trowbridge, Dick Curtis, John Tyrrell, Stanley Brown (uncredited)

Studio:  Columbia Pictures Corporation

Director:  Nick Grinde

Plot:
Dr. Henryk Savaard (Karloff) is an esteemed scientist is working on an experiment to bring a dead man back to life by stimulating the heart and keeping blood pumping. When a medical student (Brown) volunteers, his hysterical girlfriend (Doran) calls the police that Dr. Savaard is committing murder. Since the police arrive mid-experiment, the student dies, and Dr. Savaard is arrested. In his trial, Savaard is found guilty and sentenced to death, but his assistant requests the body, carries out the experiment and Savaard lives to seek revenge on the court that found him guilty.

1939 Notes:
• Boris Karloff was in six films released in 1939.
• Lorna Gray was in 18 feature-length and short films released in 1939.
• Roger Pryor was only in two films in 1939.

Other trivia: 
Based on real-life figure Dr. Robert Cornish, who tried to revive patients from heart attack, drowning and electrocution by getting blood flowing. He experimented on dogs that he brought back to life, according to the book Boris Karloff: A Bio-bibliography by Beverley Bare Buehrer.
• The film was banned in Great Britain, according to “Censored Screams: The British Ban on Hollywood Horror in the Thirties” by Tom Johnson
• Re-released in 1947

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
This week’s Watching 1939 film is interesting not so much because of the year 1939, but because of its look at medicine and science and how much has changed since that time.

Boris Karloff plays a respected scientist who wants to bring people back to life. He kills a student volunteer with gases that won’t harm the tissue and then works to revive him by getting the heart pumping and blood flowing through the veins.

Police are called and barge in, interrupting the experiment so that the young man stays dead. They call the scientist crazy and that any sort of experiment would never work.

During the trial, Roger Pryor’s character says: “He wants to butcher our young athletes so their hearts can be used to prolong the life of some doddering old man. Dr. Sakaard’s fine ideal would never be permitted in any civilized county.”

*Raises hand* Give it 40 years, Pryor, organ donation will be commonplace, but it isn’t “butchering.”

Most of the ideas Karloff’s character has that officials think are crazy are now safely and commonly practiced today: Resuscitating someone when their heart stops beating, open heart surgery, organ donation to help others. It almost makes it frustrating to watch his character be convicted because even though he is the crazy one, Karloff’s character is actually right!

Also, it’s interesting because while this is a B horror film, it also has a slightly deeper meaning. Part of the message is how science can provide good, but people either discredit it or corrupt its good.

“The Man They Could Not Hang” is entertaining and exciting, but interesting on a deeper level for it predicted what is to come in medicine.

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Classics in the Carolinas: Jean Arthur in Winston-Salem

Comet Over Hollywood is doing a mini-series of “Classics in the Carolinas.” I’ll be spotlighting classic movie related topics in South Carolina (my home state) and North Carolina (where I currently live).

Actress Jean Arthur in the 1930s

With a distinct, squeaky voice and playing determined character, actress Jean Arthur was a top leading lady of the 1930s and 1940s.

Starting her film career in 1923, she played minor roles or unremarkable characters. It wasn’t until 69 films and shorts later and signing contract with Columbia that she made her break in “The Whole Town’s Talking” (1935), co-starring Edward G. Robinson in a dual role. After this film, Arthur co-starred with Hollywood’s top leading men including John Barrymore, William Powell and Herbert Marshall. There was no doubt Arthur was a star when Frank Capra cast her in two of his films, “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town” (1936) and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” (1939).

With 95 credits to her name, Arthur retired from acting after the film “Shane” (1953). Arthur only made two other TV or film appearance: on an episode of “Gunsmoke” in 1965 and a short-lived “The Jean Arthur Show” in 1966 which only lasted 12 episodes. She also was a guest on Merv Griffin’s talk show in 1973.

After retiring from films, Jean Arthur went the route of teaching. First, she taught at Vassar in New York and then became an acting instructor in North Carolina.

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Watching 1939: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (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:Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

Release date: Oct. 17, 1939

Cast: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Guy Kibbee, Thomas Mitchell, Eugene Pallette, Beulah Bondi, Harry Carey, H.B. Warner, Astrid Allwyn, Ruth Donnelly, Grant Mitchell, Porter Hall, H.B. Warner, Larry Simms (as Baby Dumpling), Billy Watson, Delmar Watson, Garry Watson, Harry Watson, Edward Brophy (uncredited), Jack Carson (uncredited), Craig Stevens (uncredited), Robert Sterling (uncredited), Milton Kibbee (uncredited), Dickie Jones (uncredited), Frances Gifford (uncredited), Ann Doran (uncredited)

Studio:  Columbia Pictures

Director:  Frank Capra

Plot:
When a senator dies, corrupt political boss Jim Taylor (Arnold) needs to fill the position with someone he can control. Patriotic but unexperienced Jefferson Smith (Stewart) is appointed in the place by his governor (Kibbee) and he is guided by Senator Paine (Rains), who is also controlled by Taylor, in his journey to Washington, D.C. Smith’s secretary Clarissa Saunders (Arthur), thinks Smith’s patriotism is bunk and tries to railroad him with a bad press story, but once she sees he is sincere supports him. While Smith is supposed to be a “Yes” man, he becomes determined to fight the corrupt senate politics.

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Watching 1939: The Son of Frankenstein (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:  The Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Release date: 

Cast:  Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Josephine Hutchinson, Donnie Dunagan, Emma Dunn, Edgar Norton

Studio:  Universal

Director:  Rowland V. Lee

Plot:
Twenty-five years after Dr. Frankenstein and the monster’s death, his son Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Rathbone) and his family (Hutchinson, Dunagan) travel to the Frankenstein estate from the United States when it is left to them after his father’s death. The whole town resents Baron Frankenstein returning because of the terror his family brought on the village. When realizing the Monster (Karloff) is still alive, he follows in his father’s footsteps to bring him back to life with the help of Ygor (Lugosi).

1939 Notes:
• Boris Karloff’s last role playing Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.
• Josephine Hutchinson’s only film released in 1939.
• Lionel Atwill was in nine films released in 1939.
• Bela Lugosi was in five films released in 1939.
• Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone were both in six films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• Peter Lorre was originally approached to play the role of Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, which he turned down, according to 1938 articles in The Hollywood Reporter.
• Director Rowland V. Lee tested shooting the film in color, which was abandoned.
• The third Frankenstein film released by Universal. The first two were Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
• Donnie Dunagan’s second film.
• The monster makeup was created by Jack P. Pierce, and it took approximately four hours to prepare Boris Karloff for the scenes.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
The year 1939 was important for a few actors in this film. For Boris Karloff, it was the last time he would have to dress in the heavy monster costume after performing the role three times.

For Basil Rathbone, the year would end up profitable as he would end up playing his most well-known role: Sherlock Holmes.

But before becoming the famed detective, Rathbone had to play Dr. Frankenstein’s misguided son in “Frankenstein’s Son.”

Moving his family across the world and excited to shed the college professor life, Rathbone’s character views Dr. Frankenstein as a genius, rather than a madman. While the monster is supposed to be scary, Rathbone’s character is one of the main villans of this film, with Bela Lugosi’s Ygor leading the madness.

“Son of Frankenstein isn’t the most important film of the year, but it’s a fun example of the Universal horror films. I would also say it’s the last high-quality Frankenstein film before Frankenstein is teamed up in the cross-reference films, with the Wolfman and his other horror friends.

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Watching 1939: Sweepstakes Winner (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:  Sweepstakes Winner (1939)

Release date:  May 20, 1939

Cast: 
Marie Wilson, Johnnie Davis, Allen Jenkins, Charley Foy, Jerry Colonna, Granville Bates, Vera Lewis, Frankie Burke, Sam McDaniel

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  William C. McGann

Plot:
Jennie (Wilson) gets a $1,000 inheritance from her grandfather and is convinced to give it to bookies Tip (Jenkins) and Jinx (Foy) to bet on a horse. She wants to buy a horse named Firefly with the winnings, but Tip and Jinx lose her money. Broke, Jennie gets a job as a waitress but Jinx and Tip convince her to buy an Irish Sweepstakes ticket and she wins.

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Watching 1939: Blondie Meets the Boss

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:  Blondie Meets the Boss

Release date:  March 8, 1939

Cast:  Penny Singleton, Arthur Lake, Larry Simms, Danny Mummert, Jonathan Hale, Daisy the Dog, Dorothy Moore, Inez Courtney, Joel Dean, Dorothy Comingore, Stanley Brown, Don Beddoe

Studio:  Columbia Pictures

Director:  Frank R. Strayer

Plot:
Blondie (Singleton) and Dagwood (Lake) are ready to go on vacation with their Baby Dumpling (Simms). The day they leave, Dagwood’s boss Mr. Dithers (Hale) said he has to go out of town on urgent business and needs Dagwood to stay and work and cancel his vacation. Outrage, Dagwood resigns. Blondie begs Mr. Dithers for Dagwood’s job. Dithers strikes a deal with Blondie: she works in Dagwood’s place while he is on the business trip.

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Watching 1939: The Rains Came (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:The Rains Came

Release date:  Sept. 8, 1939

Cast:  Tyrone Power, Myrna Loy, George Brent, Brenda Joyce, Nigel Bruce, Maria Ouspenskaya, Joseph Schildkraut, Mary Nash, Jane Darwell, Marjorie Rambeau, Henry Travers, H.B. Warner, Laura Hope Crews, William Royle, C. Montague Shaw, Harry Hayden

Studio:  20th Century Fox

Director:  Clarence Brown

Plot:
Living in India in 1938, Tom Ransome (Brent) is an artist with a reputation of being an alcoholic. While at a reception at the palace of the Maharajah (Warner) and the Maharani (Ouspenskaya), Ransome meets his old flame from England, Lady Edwina Esketh (Loy) who is unhappily married to the much older Lord Albert Esketh (Bruce). Lady Esketh meets and falls in love with prominent doctor Major Rama Safti (Power). While romances are budding, the rainy season begins in Ranchipur brining natural disaster and disease.

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