Watching 1939: Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (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.

nd hidden staircase1939 film:
Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (1939)

Release date:
Sept. 9, 1939

Cast:
Bonita Granville, Frankie Thomas, John Litel, Frank Orth, Renie Riano, Vera Lewis, Louise Carter, William Gould, George Guhl, John Ridgley, William Hopper, Dick Elliott, Don Rowan

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
William Clemens

Plot:
After their father dies, the Turnbell sisters (Lewis, Carter) are set to inherit their family home. However, the stipulation is that the ladies must stay in the house every night for 20 years or they lose the home. Over the years, the women have affidavits from witnesses to prove they have been in the home every night, which lawyer Carson Drew (Litel) is handling. On the eve of their inheritance, someone tries to steal the affidavits and disprove the women, and their one witness is murdered. Teen sleuth Nancy Drew (Granville) and her pal Ted (Thomas) try to figure out who is trying to take a home away from the women.

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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

Cast:
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

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Gregory Ratoff

Plot:
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.

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Watching 1939: Let Us Live (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:
Let Us Live (1939)

Release date:
March 29, 1939

Cast:
Henry Fonda, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ralph Bellamy, Alan Baxter, George Lynn, Martin Spellman, Stanley Ridges, Henry Kolker, William V. Mong (uncredited), Dick Elliot (uncredited), Milton Kibbee (uncredited), Charles Lane (uncredited), Ann Doran (uncredited)

Studio:
Columbia Pictures

Director:
John Brahm

Plot:
Sweethearts Brick Tennant (Fonda) and Mary Roberts (O’Sullivan) are about to be married. Brick has just purchased his own taxi to start in business on his own and life looks promising. That is until Brick and his pal Joe Linden (Baxter) are accused of holding up a movie theater and killing someone in the process, the two find that even if you didn’t commit the crime, public opinion can still be stacked against you.

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Watching 1939: Chicken Wagon Family (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.

chicken wagon21939 film:
Chicken Wagon Family (1939)

Release date:
Aug. 11, 1939

Cast:
Jane Withers, Leo Carrillo, Spring Byington, Marjorie Weaver, Kane Richmond, Hobart Cavanaugh, Inez Palange

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Herbert L. Leeds

Plot:
The Fippany family travels to towns, swapping goods for chickens. After living on the road, Mrs. Fippany (Byington) and their grown daughter Cecile (Weaver) have grown weary of life on the road, which Mr. Fippany (Carrillo) and their daughter Addie (Withers) thrive on. However, the family makes the decision to settle down and take their mule-driven wagon to New York City where they find a very different life and Mrs. Fippany’s old flame (Cavanaugh).

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Watching 1939: Blackwell’s Island (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.

blackwells island 31939 film:
Blackwell’s Island (1939)

Release date:
March 1, 1939

Cast:
John Garfield, Rosemary Lane, Dick Purcell, Victor Jory, Stanley Fields, Morgan Conway, Granville Bates, Anthony Averill, Peggy Shannon, Charley Foy, Leon Ames (uncredited), Vera Lewis (uncredited), Brenda Marshall (uncredited)

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
William C. McGann

Plot:
Newspaper reporter Tim Hayden (Garfield) is trying to uncover a crime ring led by Bull Bransom (Fields). When Bull and Tim both land in jail at the same time, Bull takes over the prison and Tim works to get to the bottom of the story while he’s close to Bull.

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Watching 1939: The Day the Bookies Wept (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.

bookkies wept1939 film:
The Day the Bookies Wept (1939)

Release date:
Sept. 13, 1939

Cast:
Joe Penner, Betty Grable, Richard Lane, Tom Kennedy, Thurston Hall, Bernadene Hayes, Carol Hughes, Chill Wills (uncredited)

Studio:
RKO Pictures

Director:
Leslie Goodwins

Plot:
New York taxi drivers are tired of losing money at the race track, so they decide to buy and train their own race horse. They send dopey taxi driver Ernie (Penner) to Kentucky to buy the horse, and he is tricked into buying a horse that has a yen for alcohol.

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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

Cast:
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

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
William Clemens

Plot:
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).

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Watching 1939: The Fighting Gringo (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.

fighting gringo1939 film:
The Fighting Gringo (1939)

Release date:
Aug. 8, 1939

Cast:
George O’Brien, Lupita Tovar, William Royal, Lucio Villegas, Glenn Strange, LeRoy Mason, Mary Field

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
David Howard

Plot:
When Don Aliso del Campo (Villegas) is wrongly accused of the murder of John Courtney (Mason), Wade Barton (O’Brien) and his men work to clear his name.

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Watching 1939: Golden Boy (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:
Golden Boy (1939)

golden boy3

Release date:
Sept. 5, 1939

Cast:
Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, William Holden, Lee J. Cobb, Joseph Calleia, Sam Levene, Edward Brophy, Beatrice Blinn, Don Beddoe

Studio:
Columbia Pictures

Director:
Rouben Mamoulian

Plot:
Joe Bonaparte (Holden) is torn between two careers: becoming a prizefighter or a violinist, like his father (Cobb) wants him to be.

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Watching 1939: Unheralded and underseen films of the year

I started Comet Over Hollywood 13 years ago in April 2009. Over the years, I’ve written about several topics, from actress beauty tips to movie musicals. And I’ve continued to be drawn to one particularly theme: the films of 1939.

Often heralded as the greatest year on film, I wanted to figure out what made it so special. What was the mystical, magical element that elevated it against other years? In 2011, I decided to try and see every film made in 1939, and in 2018, I started the “Watching 1939” series, where I watched and reviewed any and all films released in 1939 — from the A-list to the B, C and D budget films.

We all know about the greats of the years, from “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” to “Ninotchka.” But was there something special in these lesser known films?

For Comet Over Hollywood’s anniversary, I wanted to share some of the 1939 that I’ve discovered and enjoyed that may not receive the most accolades:

These Glamour Girls

glamour2

The cast of “These Glamour Girls” (1939): Tom Brown and Ann Rutherford, Richard Carlson and Jane Bryan, Lew Ayres and Lana Turner, Sumner Getchell and Anita Louise, Peter Lind Hayes and Marsha Hunt, Owen Davis Jr. and Mary Beth Hughes

On the surface, this is a B-budget MGM collegiate dramatic vehicle for starlet Lana Turner. But really, THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS is an interesting study of snobbery and cruelty of debutantes and college boys. It’s all about appearance. While Lana Turner and Lew Ayres are the stars of the films, this film has an outstanding ensemble cast. And it’s Marsha Hunt’s performance that you will be thinking about at the end of the film. Full review here.

The Rains Came

rains came5

Too much rain in “The Rains Came”

Whenever anyone tries to mock special effects in older films, I point them to this film. While this is a star-studded film, the main character is the rain. The rain, the earthquake and the rush of the water that follows. The intense special effects will have you biting your fingernails. Of all the big budget films of 1939, I feel this one is overlooked and undermentioned. The cast is led by Myrna Loy, Tryone Power and George Brent, with an equally impressive supporting cast (Maria Ouspenskaya, Joseph Schildkraut, Mary Nash, Jane Darwell, Marjorie Rambeau, Henry Travers, H.B. Warner). Full review here.

Beauty for Asking

beauty for the asking 1939

Lucille Ball and Inez Courtney working as beauticians at the start of “Beauty for the Asking” (1939).

Man, I love this film. Lucille Ball plays a jilted woman. Rather than sit at home and cry, she becomes a cosmetic magnet. Originally set to be an exposé of the beauty industry, the film picks fun at the extent customers will go to stay beautiful and look young — even if it’s all bologna (something that continues to ring true today). For example, Ball’s character tells a customer that she is going to use petroleum on her skin, which is luxurious. When she’s later asked what it is, she says it’s “another word for Vaseline.” This is really just a delicious film — and you get a makeover montage. What more could you ask for? Full review here.

Beau Geste

beau geste2

Ray Milland, Robert Preston and Gary Cooper in “Beau Geste.”

Beau gest … a beautiful gesture. And a beautiful film. This is one of my favorite films of 1939. It opens with a stunning, eerie moment and then the film is told as a flashback as we learn what happens. Directed/produced by William Wellman and with cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout, visually this is a gorgeous film. I also love Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston as a trio, however, Brian Donlevy steals the show. A must see. Full review here.

First Love

first love

Helen Parrish and Deanna Durbin

This updated Cinderella story leaves me feeling so happy that I could bust. Actress, singer Deanna Durbin started acting at age 14, and at age 18 in this film, is allowed to finally mature into a grownup role. She even gets her first on-screen kiss (from dreamy Robert Stack). This is just a sweet, fun movie that will leave you smiling. Full review here.

In Name Only

in name only 5

Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Kay Francis in “In Name Only”

Never will you want to smack Kay Francis like you do in this movie. But oh is she good — and so are her costars Cary Grant and Carole Lombard. IN NAME ONLY is a frustrating, delicious film involving a loveless marriage that leads to an affair. The film was also transformative for two of its leads: Carole Lombard had the opportunity to play a dramatic role after years of being cast as a screwball comedian. And it gave Kay Francis one of her best roles in years, after being one of Warner Bros. top stars in the 1930s. Full review here.

Here I Am a Stranger

here i am stranger3
I went in to this film having never heard of it and knowing nothing about it, and it is now one of my favorite films of 1939. It’s the story of estranged father (Richard Dix) and son David (Richard Greene). When they reconnect, David’s now-society matron mother isn’t pleased. David’s father changes some of his snobbish views and opens his eyes to a new world. It’s sweet, funny but also sad. I also love Brenda Joyce’s off-beat, unladylike character, who we first meet throwing an apple core out the front door (and almost into the face of guests). Full review here.

Midnight

midnight2
What a charmer. Few films of 1939 glitter quite like MIDNIGHT does, starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore. This is a witty, attractive and even sexy screwball comedy. Colbert and Ameche are well-paired, Francis Lederer is unexpectedly hot, but it’s John Barrymore who steals the whole show. Full review here.

Nurse Edith Cavell

edna may

Anna Neagal and Edna May Oliver in “Nurse Edith Cavell”

Not only did I like this movie, but I also learned about the real figure, Nurse Edith Cavell, who I wasn’t familiar with. Anna Neagel plays the title character, who was a nurse during World War I. She was a controversial figure at the time because she cared for both English and German patients. Neagle is flanked by Zasu Pitts, May Robson and Edna May Oliver. With this trio, you would expect comedy, but the three play dramatic roles and are in some quite tense scenes. Full review here.

Invitation to Happiness

invitation
INVITATION TO HAPPINESS asks the difficult question: Can you strive to reach your goals and have a successful career … while maintaining a healthy relationship? Irene Dunne plays a society woman who marries boxing hopeful King Cole, played by Fred MacMurray. His ultimate goal is to be the champ, and “any day now” stretches out to 10 years. The couple are apart more than they are together, and King never gets to know his son. While the story is sad and thought provoking, this is still a lovely film. Full review here.

Just for Fun

That’s Right — You’re Wrong: Plain and simple, I love Kay Kyser and his band. This was Kyser’s first film as an actor, and it’s such a good time. It’s mixed with great music and movie audiences of today get a look at his radio program, The Musical Kollege of Knowledge.

The Under-Pup: Hard to find, but worth your time when you do. In Gloria Jean’s first film, she goes off to camp, has to deal with bratty little girls and sings. What more could you ask for?

Everybody’s Hobby: This is brisk, 60 minute movie about a family who all have distinct hobbies … except for dad (played by Henry O’Neill). The hobbies end up helping the family in the end. It’s a good time.

The Cat and the Canary: This creepy comedy starring Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope keeps you guessing about “whodunit” but also brings the laughs.

Honorable Mention

Back Door to Heaven
Four Girls in White
Dancing Co-Ed
Calling Dr. Kildare/The Secret of Dr. Kildare
Miracle on Main Street

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