Watching 1939: Miracle on Main Street (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:  Miracle on Main Street (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 19, 1939

Cast:  Margo, Walter Abel, Jane Darwell, Lyle Talbot, William Collier Sr., Veda Ann Borg, Wynne Gibson, Jean Brooks (billed as Jeanne Kelly), Pat Flaherty, George Humbert

Studio:  Columbia Pictures Corporation

Director:  Steve Sekely

Plot:
On Christmas Eve in the Spanish quarter of Los Angeles, Maria (Margo) is performing as a hoochie coochie in her husband Dick’s (Talbot) show. When one of the attendees is a police officer, the couple run from the police, but Dick says they should separate so they aren’t caught. Maria hides in a church where she finds an abandoned baby. While her husband remains absent for a year, Maria’s life is changed for the better by the baby and a new man she meets, Jim (Abel).

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Watching 1939: Streets of New York (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:  Streets of New York

Release date:  April 12, 1939

Cast:  Jackie Cooper, Marjorie Reynolds, Martin Spellman, Dick Purcell, George Cleveland, Sidney Miller, George Irving, Robert Emmett O’Connor, David Durand

Studio:  Monogram Pictures

Director:  William Nigh

Plot:
Jimmy Keenan (Cooper) owns a newsstand in New York, takes care of orphaned
Gimpy (Spellman) and goes to night school with dreams of being a lawyer. He tries to practice the ideals of Abraham Lincoln as he faces challenges such as, dealing with his rich, racketeer older brother Tap (Purcell), and a gang who tries to bring him trouble and take over the newsstand. While Jimmy tries to stay kindhearted, young Gimpy is rough and jaded. Jimmy befriends Judge Carroll (Irving), who invites Jimmy, Gimpy and his friends to his home for Christmas, showing them that life doesn’t always have to be rough and cruel.

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Watching 1939: Day-Time Wife (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:  Day-Time Wife (1939)

Release date:  Nov. 24, 1939

Cast: 
Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Warren William, Binnie Barnes, Wendy Barrie, Joan Davis, Leonid Kinskey, Joan Valerie, Renie Riano, Marie Blake (uncredited)

Studio:  20th Century Fox

Director:  Gregory Ratoff

Plot:
Jane (Darnell) finds out her husband Ken (Power) is stepping out with his secretary Kitty (Barrie) on their second anniversary. Jane decides to become a secretary herself to find out why husbands go after their secretaries. Her boss is architect Barney Dexter (William), who takes more than a professional interest in her.

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Watching 1939: Judge Hardy and Son (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: Judge Hardy and Son (1939)

Release date: Dec. 22, 1939

Cast: Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Ann Rutherford, Sara Haden, June Preisser, Maria Ouspenskaya, Henry Hull, Martha O’Driscoll, Leona Maricle, Margaret Early, George P. Breakston, Egon Brecher

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: George B. Seitz

Plot: An older couple (Ouspenskaya, Brecher) come to Judge Hardy (Stone) for help when they are about to be evicted from their home. Judge Hardy enlists the help of his son, Andy (Rooney), to find the couple’s daughter. The Hardys also encounter other troubles: Mrs. Hardy falls ill, Andy is in hock up to his ears and tries to con his way into making money.

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Watching 1939: You Can’t Get Away with Murder (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:  You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939)

Release date:  March 24, 1939

Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Gale Page, Billy Halop, Harvey Stephens, John Litel, Henry Travers, Harold Huber, Joe Sawyer, George E. Stone, John Ridgely, Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Director:  Lewis Seiler

Plot:
Teen Johnnie Stone (Halop) is raised by his sister Madge (Page). Madge worries about Johnnie who has fallen in with tough characters, like Frank Wilson (Bogart). Madge hopes her upcoming marriage to her boyfriend Fred (Burke) will help Johnnie when the three of them move away for Fred’s job. On the eve of announcing their wedding plans, Johnnie goes on “a job” with Frank, and someone is killed with a gun Johnnie stole from Fred. Fred is accused of murder and sent to jail in Sing Sing, along with Frank and Johnnie who are booked for another crime. Johnnie has to pick between saving Fred’s life or putting his own life in danger by confessing.

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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.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

 

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.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

 

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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