Watching 1939: Mystery Plane (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: 
Mystery Plane (1939)

Release date: 
March 8, 1939

Cast: 
John Trent, Marjorie Reynolds, Milburn Stone, Jason Robards Sr., George Lynn (billed as Peter George Lynn), Polly Anne Young, Lucien Littlefield, Tommy Bupp, Betsy Gay

Studio: 
Monogram Pictures

Director: 
George Waggner

Plot:
As a child, “Tailspin” Tommy Tompkins idolizes World War I aviation hero, ‘Brandy’ Rand (Lynn), who became a stunt flier after the war. After meeting Brandy as a child, Tommy doesn’t hear about his whereabouts again and Tommy himself becomes an aviator as an adult. Tommy and his aviation partner Skeeter (Stone) design a radio-controlled bombing device, which they would like to present to the U.S. Army. Little do they know that a ring of spies is also eager to get their hands on the device – including Tommy’s childhood hero.

1939 Notes:
• By the Numbers:
– John Trent was in four films released in 1939. In all of those films, he was billed as “Tailspin Tommy.” Trent was an aviator who went into films and left films by 1941.
– Peter George Lynn was in 10 films released in 1939. Later billed as George Lynn, in 1939, he was billed as Peter Lynn and Peter George Lynn.
– Polly Ann Young was in four films released in 1939.
– Lucien Littlefield was in seven films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• One of four “Tailspin Tommy” films released in 1939, all released by Monogram Pictures. Prior to the feature-length 1939 series, there were Tailspin Tommy serials in 1934.
• The character of Tailspin Tommy is based on a comic strip by Hal Forrest and Glenn Chaffin.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
In the 1930s, Hollywood talent scouts seemed to pluck any every day (but good-looking) person from their daily life and put them in front of the cameras.

One of those people was John Trent, a commercial pilot noticed by a film executive on a flight. Trent was given a screen test, signed a contract, and made 15 films from 1931 to 1941 before giving up on his film career.

Towards the end of his career, Trent was cast as the comic strip character Tailspin Tommy, which followed a young aviator’s adventures.

Tailspin Tommy was first seen in serial shorts in the mid-1930s, and Trent brought the character to screen in four feature-length films in 1939.

The first of these films is today’s 1939 film, “Mystery Plane.”

The film begins in the 1920s as we see former World War I hero, Brandy Rand, performing aviation stunts with a group of children marveling at his performance. One of those children is Tommy, who gets the opportunity to meet his hero and is encouraged to work towards an aviation career.

As an adult, Tommy is working his dream job as a pilot and inventing aviation materials to aid the Army. Enemy spies are also interested in Tommy’s work – including Brandy Rand.

For a low-budget Monogram film, “Mystery Plane” is a fun film. I had never heard of Tailspin Tommy before watching “Mystery Plane,” so it was interesting to learn about that character. I also love discovery stories like John Trent’s.

The film co-stars Marjorie Reynolds (who has recently been in several of our 1939 features) as a female aviator. We also see Loretta Young’s sister, Polly Ann Young, who sounds just like her sister if you close your eyes.

Running at only an hour, this film does jump around a bit and potentially have some plot holes, but if you are looking for mindless, brief entertainment, this won’t disappoint.

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Watching 1939: Rough Riders’ Round-Up (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: 
Rough Riders’ Round-up (1939)

Release date: 
March 13, 1939

Cast: 
Roy Rogers, Trigger, Lynne Roberts (billed as Mary Hart), Raymond Hatton, Eddie Acuff, William Pawley, Dorothy Sebastian, George Meeker, Duncan Renaldo, Jack Rockwell, Guy Usher

Studio: 
Republic Pictures

Director: 
Joseph Kane

Plot:
At the end of the Spanish-American War, Roy (Rogers) and his unit of Rough Riders are reassigned as border patrol near Mexico. The Border Patrolmen are trying to stop outlaws from smuggling gold from stay coaches. In the process, Dorothy Blair (Hart/Roberts) is kidnapped during a raid.

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Watching 1939: Mr. Wong in Chinatown (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. Wong in Chinatown (1939)

Release date: 
Aug. 1, 1939

Cast: 
Boris Karloff, Marjorie Reynolds, Grant Withers, Huntley Gordon, George Lynn (billed as Peter George Lynn), William Royle, James Flaven, Lotus Long, Lee Tung Foo, Bessie Loo, Richard Loo, Angelo Rossitto (uncredited)

Studio: 
Monogram Pictures

Director: 
William Nigh

Plot:
Chinese Princess Lin Hwa (Lotus Long) is killed in the San Francisco home of detective James Lee Wong (Karloff). Wong helps Inspector Bill Street (Withers) determine why the princess was killed, with reporter Bobbie Logan (Reynolds) also trying to crack the case. Their only clue is the note “Captain J” written on a slip of paper by the princess before she died.

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Watching 1939: Timber Stampede (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: 
Timber Stampede (1939)

Release date: 
June 30, 1939

Cast: 
George O’Brien, Chill Wills, Marjorie Reynolds, Morgan Wallace, Robert Fiske, Guy Usher, Earl Dwire, Bob Burns, Elmo Lincoln (uncredited)

Studio: 
RKO Radio Pictures

Director: 
David Howard

Plot:
Disguising it as bringing law and order to the west, Jay Jones (Usher) and Foss Dunlap (Wallace) promise to bring a railroad to the town of Wagon Wheel, when really their plan is just to strip the town of its timber. People are also filing fake claims on the land. To help write that Jones and Dunlap are bringing progress, reporter Anne Carr writes the stories they feed her, thinking she’s doing right. Scott Baylor (O’Brien) and his friend Whopper Hatch (Wills) are both cattlemen, and their livelihood is threatened by the changes in town. When Baylor tries to work with the sheriff, the sheriff is killed by one of Jones and Dunlap’s men who then takes the position for himself. Baylor has to investigate on his own.

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Watching 1939: First Love (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: 
First Love (1939)

Release date: 
Nov. 8, 1939

Cast: 
Deanna Durbin, Robert Stack, Helen Parrish, Eugene Pallette, Leatrice Joy, Lewis Howard, Mary Treen, Frank Jenks, June Storey, Kathleen Howard, Charles Coleman, Thurston Hall, Marcie Mae Jones

Studio: 
Universal Studios

Director: 
Henry Koster

Plot:
Connie Harding (Durbin) was orphaned when her parents died, and her Cncle James Clinton (Pallette) has been paying for her go to boarding school. When she graduates, Connie goes to New York to live with her uncle and his family – her flighty Aunt Grace (Joy), glamour girl brat cousin Barbara (Parrish) and lazy cousin Walter (Howard). No one seems interested in Connie, who becomes lonely but befriends the household staff (Treen, Howard, Coleman). Connie happens to meet Ted Drake (Stack), while she is doing a favor for Barbara (who bosses her around). Connie develops a crush on Ted and is excited when she is going to attend a ball with her family that the Drakes are throwing. Barbara, who also likes Ted, tries to prevent Connie from going to the ball. But with the help of the servants, Connie is able to attend.

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Watching 1939: Sorority House (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: 
Sorority House (1939)

Release date: 
May 5, 1939

Cast: 
Anne Shirley, James Ellison, Barbara Read, Pamela Blake (billed as Adele Pearce), J.M. Kerrigan, Helen Wood, Doris Davenport (Doris Jordan), June Storey, Elisabeth Risdon, Margaret Armstrong, Selmer Jackson, Chill Wills, Marge Champions (uncredited), Frank Sully (uncredited)

Studio: 
RKO Radio Pictures

Director: 
John Farrow

Plot:
Alice Fisher (Shirley) is a smalltown girl who helps her father (Kerrigan) at his grocery store. Nearly thinking she won’t be able to attend Talbot College, her father makes financial sacrifices by using his life savings so that she can attend college. Upon arriving, Alice learns of sororities and is eager to join, as all the girls excitedly discuss rushing. While not wanting to be a social pariah, Alice has to determine if joining the exclusive (and expensive) groups is worthwhile.

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Watching 1939: Dancing Co-Ed (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: 
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)

Release date: 
Sept. 29, 1939

Cast: 
Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford, Richard Carlson, Roscoe Karns, Lee Bowman, Thurston Hall, Monty Woolley, Leon Errol, Mary Field, Walter Kingsford, Mary Beth Hughes, June Preisser, Chester Clute, Edward Arnold Jr. (uncredited), Robert Walker (uncredited), Lynn Lewis (uncredited)
Himself: Artie Shaw and his Orchestra

Studio: 
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: 
S. Sylvan Simon

Plot:
Before starring in another film together, husband and wife dancing duo Freddy (Bowman) and Toddy Tobin (Hughes) discover they are going to have a baby and Toddy has to be replaced in their upcoming film, “Dancing Co-Ed.” In a publicity stunt, the studio announces that they are going to have a contest at colleges across the country to find a dancing student. The only thing is that dancer Patty Marlow (Turner) has already been planted at Midwestern College to win the contest. School newspaper reporter Pug Braddock (Carlson) suspects that the contest is phony and tries to uncover a plant.

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Watching 1939: The Great Man Votes (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 Great Man Votes (1939)

Release date: 
Jan. 13, 1939

Cast: 
John Barrymore, Virginia Weidler, Peter Holden, Katharine Alexander, Donald MacBride, Esther Dale, Benny Bartlett, Elisabeth Risdon, Brandon Tynan, Elisabeth Risdon, Granville Bates, Luis Alberni, William Demarest

Studio: 
RKO Radio Pictures

Director: 
Garson Kanin

Plot:
Gregory Vance (Barrymore) was a Harvard graduate and successful college professor. But after his wife died, he became an alcoholic and now works as a nightwatchman, caring for his two children, Joan (Weidler) and Donald (Holden). Joan and Donald still believe their father is a great man. When a political giant, Iron Hat McCarthy (MacBride) is trying to win the election for mayor, Vance is finally treated as a great man when the political machine realizes he holds the deciding vote for the election.

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Watching 1939: Raffles (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: 
Raffles (1939)

Release date: 
Dec. 29, 1939

Cast: 
David Niven, Olivia de Havilland, Dame May Whitty, Dudley Digges, Douglas Walton, E.E. Clive, Lionel Pape, Peter Godfrey, Margaret Seddon

Studio: 
Samuel Goldwyn Productions

Director: 
Sam Wood

Plot:
Charming cricket player A. J. Raffles (Niven) leads a double life. One of an athlete who is invited into high society circles, and another as a jewel thief. Raffles steals jewels and priceless art and gives it to those who are financially in need and could benefit from the reward offered for the item. Raffles’s illegal activities complicate his relationship with his girlfriend Gwen (de Havilland), especially when her brother Bunny (Walton) runs into financial issues, and Raffles plans to steal a priceless necklace to help him out.

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Watching 1939: Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (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: 
Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939)

Release date: 
Nov. 3, 1939

Cast: 
Jean Rogers, Raymond Walburn, Marjorie Rambeau, Glenn Ford, Richard Conte (billed as Nicholas Conte), Eddie Collins, Ward Bond, Irving Bacon, Kay Linaker

Studio: 
20th Century Fox

Director: 
Ricardo Cortez

Plot:
Joe Riley (Ford) leaves New York City to hitchhike across the United States to a 20-acre ranch he bought in Arizona. Along the way he meets drifter Tony Casselli (Conte) who convinces Riley to ride the rails with him. They also meet Spanish refuge Anita Santos (Rogers), who is trying to find her uncle in California. The trio also picks up Prof. B. Townsend Thayer (Walburn) who joins the group as they travel to Arizona. They experience tragedies along the way, and the ranch isn’t quite what Joe expected.

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