Musical Monday: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) – Musical #358

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Ernst Lubitsch

Starring:
Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, Charles Ruggles, George Barbier, Hugh O’Connell, Elizabeth Patterson (uncredited)

Plot:
While Lt. Nikolaus ‘Niki’ von Preyn (Chevalier) is standing at attention for the visiting king of Flausenthurm, he winks at his girlfriend Franzi (Colbert). The king (Barbier) is furious, thinking Niki is laughing at his daughter, the Princess Anna (Hopkins). To escape a potential court marshall, Niki says he was winking at Princess Anna, which complicates his love life.

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Watching 1939: Maisie (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: Maisie

Release date: June 22, 1939

Cast:  Ann Sothern, Robert Young, Ruth Hussey, Ian Hunter, Cliff Edwards, George Tobias, John Hubbard (credited as Anthony Allan), Art Mix, Willie Fung

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Plot:
Maisie Ravier (Sothern) is a fast-talking, brassy New York vaudeville performer who travels to Wyoming for a show. When she arrives, she finds that the show folded after one performance, and now she’s broke and stranded. Maisie meets cowboy Slim (Young), who is a manager of a nearby ranch. He instantly dislikes her, but begrudgingly takes her to the ranch so she has a place to stay for the night. The owner of the ranch and Slim’s boss, Clifford Ames (Hunter) arrives with his wife Sybil (Hussey). Instead of leaving, Maisie starts working as Sybil’s maid, but Maisie gets in over her head when she discovers Sybil’s extracurricular romance.

1939 Notes:
• The first of the 10 Maisie films released by MGM. The last film was released in 1947. There was also a spin-off radio show called “The Adventures of Maisie” which broadcast from 1945 to 1947 and again from 1949 to 1953.
• Ann Sothern signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer because of this film.
• Ruth Hussey was in seven films released in 1939
• Ann Sothern was in four films released in 1939
• Robert Young was in four films released in 1939
• Ian Hunter was in five films released in 1939

Other trivia: 
• The film rights were purchased with plans for Jean Harlow to star in the film. However, Jean Harlow died in 1937 and the film idea was shelved. When MGM execs saw Ann Sothern in Trade Winds (1938), they felt she was perfect for Maisie and signed her to a contract to play the role, according to a 2015 film introduction by former TCM host Robert Osborne.
• The concept was based on the book “Dark Dame” by Wilson Collison
• The working title for the film was Maisie Was A Lady and Broadway to Wyoming. One of the films was titled “Maisie Was a Lady” and was released in 1941.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:

This week’s 1939 film is significant: It started a film series that spanned from 1939 to 1947 (and it had a spin-off radio show) and it boosted actress Ann Sothern’s career.

From Boston Blackie to the Saint, there were several film series during the classic era of film.

But to me, few film series stand out as much as the “Maisie” series, which kicked off in 1939. The character of Maisie Ravier is the brassy showgirl with clanging bracelets and loud clothing. But she has a heart of gold. I could certainly see Jean Harlow in the role since the story was purchased with her in mind, but Ann Sothern makes this her role and is perfect for the part.

After the first “Maisie” film was released in 1939, nine more followed, with the last released in 1947. While each film follows Maisie’s adventures, there was no continuation of the storyline from the previous film and she has a different boyfriend in each story.

The year of 1939 was a turning point for Ann Sothern. Not only was the first “Maisie” film released in 1939, but this film boosted her career. Sothern had steadily in Hollywood for several years but with no large successes. Her film career began in 1927, where she was in uncredited parts until 1930. Sothern was signed a film contract with Columbia Pictures in 1934 and then RKO Radio Pictures in 1936, but her roles were not of a high callibur. Ann Sothern did not find true success until MGM signed her and she was cast as Maisie.

Ann Sothern, who I feel is an underrated actress, is perfect for this role and makes the Maisie films so much fun. While her character is sassy and fast-talking, she’s also warm and funny.

Robert Young, Ruth Hussey and Ian Hunter co-star in “Maisie” (1939), and all do a terrific job. Robert Young plays his usual nice guy role (with a touch of grumpiness) and Ian Hunter is his usual stalwart, loveable character. Ruth Hussey, who is also underrated and can play any type of role, makes it easy to dislike her character in this one.

The “Maisie” series is one of my favorite film series. I’ll never forget when Warner Archive released the series on DVD in 2012 how thrilled I was (I was so happy I think I cried). If you don’t have the two volume Warner Archive Maisie set, I highly recommend it. All of the Maisie films are as delightful as the first film in the series.

The Maisie films never rose above a B-level budget movie and all of them were filmed in black and white. But these B-movies always made MGM money. They were cheap to make and made money, which executives liked, according to the late Robert Osborne.

Regardless of budget, the Maisie films are a delight and Ann Sothern is wonderful in the role. The year 1939 was a good year for Sothern and us since we still get to enjoy this film.

Ann Sothern and Robert Young

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Musical Monday: Chasing Rainbows (1930)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Chasing Rainbows (1930) – Musical #355

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Charles Reisner

Starring:
Bessie Love, Charles King, Jack Benny, George K. Arthur, Polly Moran, Marie Dressler, Gwen Lee, Nita Martan, Eddie Phillips, Ann Dvorak (uncredited)

Plot:
A group of actors travels across the country, touring their show. Carlie (Love) is in love with her vaudeville partner Terry (King), who falls in love with every leading lady.

Trivia:
-Introduced the song “Happy Days Are Here Again”
-The original released included a two-strip Technicolor finale, which is now lost.
-First titled “Road Showed”
-First film Jack Benny made in Hollywood, though not the first film released with him in it

Highlights:
-Marie Dressler sing/talk

Notable Songs:
-“Happy Days Are Here Again” performed by Charles King and the chorus
-“Lucky Me, Lovable You” performed by Charles King
-“My Dynamic Personality” performed by Marie Dressler

My review:
As I have noted before, musicals made shortly after the dawn of sound can be haphazard. Songs may be thrown in or randomly performed that don’t seem to fit in with the plot and dance numbers can be clumsy.

However, “Chasing Rainbows” is an exception. The mix of song and plot are done a little better in “Chasing Rainbows.” Perhaps it works better because the lead characters are in a musical show. So some songs are their performances, and others are to the person that they love.

What’s interesting is that our two leads, Charles King and Bessie Love, were both mainly done with Hollywood in 1931. Bessie Love’s career picked back up in 1950, when she started playing small roles in film and TV, but nothing at the caliber she was once at.

The actors that went on to be the biggest stars were the supporting characters: Marie Dressler and Jack Benny.

But “Chasing Rainbows” is disappointing, but it is not the fault of the director, writers or actors. When the film was released in 1930, the end of the film shift from black and white to 2-strip Technicolor finale with three songs, including Bessie Love and Charles King singing “Everybody Tap,” Charles King singing “Love Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” and Marie Dressler reprising “My Dynamic Personality.”

However, this footage is lost and the movie ends abruptly. Bessie Love runs out of her dressing room and the movie ends. It would have been amazing to see that number that is now lost. It is also curious that the film preservationists chose not to add a photo still with a song playing over it, like is done in so many films with lost portions. But perhaps that wasn’t an option.

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Watching 1939: Arizona Legion

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: Arizona Legion

Release date: Jan. 20, 1939

Cast: George O’Brien, Laraine Day (billed as Laraine Johnson), Carlyle Moore Jr., Chill Wills, Tom Chatterton, Edward LeSaint, Glenn Strange, Harry Cording

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director: David Howard

Plot:
When a stagecoach is robbed by Whisky Joe (Cording), everyone is too afraid to speak up and identify or accuse the criminal. Boone Yeager (O’Brien) is a hard-drinking cowboy who the judge (LeSaint) asks to infiltrate the clan of Whiskey Joe. The daughter of the Judge, Letty (Day/Johnson) is engaged to Boone and she doesn’t understand his recent behavior.

1939 Notes:
• Laraine Day was billed Laraine Johnson. Laraine changed her last name to “Day” after signing a contract with M-G-M. She only made three films released in 1939 and the last is what helped boost her career, Calling Dr. Kildare (1939). It was her first role in the Dr. Kildare film series, where she played the doctor’s girlfriend, Mary Lamont.

George O’Brien and Laraine Johnson (Day)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
There are several great westerns of the classic film era. And there are even more low-budget westerns that graced the silver screen. “Arizona Legion” (1939) would fall in the latter category.

The film plot isn’t anything new or different, though it is an entertaining film. During this point in his career, George O’Brien starring almost exclusively in westerns from 1937 to 1940. Many of these films barely (or don’t) surpass a 60-minute length.

While the film type or plot isn’t anything new to films at this time, O’Brien’s leading lady was. The lead actress is billed as Laraine Johnson, who later changed her name to Laraine Day and became one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s contract players. “Arizona Legion,” Day’s fifth film, wasn’t necessarily important to her career, but 1939 was the year she broke out in films.

This same year, Laraine Johnson was signed to MGM, changed her name and was cast in the Dr. Kildare film series (starring Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore) as Dr. Kildare’s love interest. In 1940, she even went on to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940).

While some films released in 1939 are not of great importance in the grand scheme of things, some were the catalyst to a successful career. That could be the case for Laraine Day and this film.

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Musical Monday: Two Girls on Broadway (1940)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Two Girls on Broadway (1940) – Musical #586

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Alfred E. Green

Starring:
Lana Turner, Joan Blondell, George Murphey, Kent Taylor, Wallace Ford, Richard Lane, Otto Yamaoka, Lloyd Corrigan

Plot:
When Eddie Kerns (Murphey) sells his song and is offered a job to perform it in a show, he calls his girlfriend Molly Mahoney (Blondell) and tells her to join him in New York. Molly Mahoney and her sister Pat (Turner) have been running a dance school in Nebraska, and both go to New York, also hoping to hit it big. The only problem is when they audition for the show Eddie is in, producer Buddy Bartell (Lane) only wants to hire Pat to perform with Eddie.

Trivia:
-Remake of The Broadway Melody (1929)
-Joan Blondell’s first film with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
-Released in Great Britain under the name “Choose Your Partner.”
-The song “Maybe It’s the Moon” by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest was written for the film but not performed.
-Costumes by Dolly Tree
-Produced by Jack Cummings

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Watching 1939: Blackmail (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: Blackmail

Release date: Sept. 9, 1939

Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Ruth Hussey, Gene Lockhart, Bobs Watson, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, John Wray, Arthur Hohl, Esther Dale, Willie Best (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: H.C. Potter

Plot: John Ingram (Robinson) has a successful business fighting oil fires and lives a happy life with his family (Hussey, Watson). But his not so savory past comes to light when he’s seen in a newsreel and someone tries to blackmail him.

1939 Notes:
• Edward G. Robinson was only in two films in 1939.
• Bob Watson was in five films released in 1939.
• Ruth Hussey was in seven films released in 1939.
• Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams was in nine films in 1939.

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Musical Monday: Carmen Jones (1954)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Carmen Jones (1954) – Musical #585

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Otto Preminger

Starring:
Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Brock Peters, Diahann Carroll, Olga James, Joe Adams, Roy Glenn, Nick Stewart, Alvin Ailey (uncredited), Carmen De Lavallade (uncredited), Bernie Hamilton (uncredited)

Plot:
Set during World War II in North Carolina, the plot is a modern version of the opera “Carmen.” Joe (Belafonte) is in the Army and is about to be sent to flight school to become a pilot and officer. His girlfriend Cindy Lou (James) comes to see him off and wants to get married before he leaves. All of these plans are thwarted when Carmen Jones (Dandridge) sets her eyes on Joe. Carmen works in a parachute factory on base and gets in a fight with another worker and is sent to jail. Joe has to take her to jail, but she escapes, which cause Joe to be thrown in the brig and be demoted in rank. When he gets out of jail, Joe tells Dorothy he’s still going to flight school, but she is angry that Joe would think of leaving her. The two run away to Chicago, making Joe A.W.O.L. With Joe in hiding from the military police, Carmen starts to see boxer Huskey Miller (Adams).

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Olympics to Hollywood: Vera Ralston

Vera Hrubá Ralston

At the start of World War II, Olympic athlete Vera Ralston found herself without a country. The Nazis invaded her home country of Czechoslovakia while she was touring in the United States with ice skating shows. The United States became her home, and she turned to acting as her ice skating contemporaries Sonja Henie and Belita had.

Born Vera Hrubá, Vera studied ballet as a child and turned to ice skating when she was 10 years old, according to her 2003 Los Angeles Times obituary.

She competed for Czechoslovakia in the women’s figure skating singles in the 1936 Winter Olympics, which are now famous because of Adolf Hitler’s attendance. Vera came in 17th place at the Olympics.

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Watching 1939: Ice Follies of 1939 (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: Ice Follies of 1939

Release date: March 10, 1939

Cast:  Joan Crawford, James Stewart, Lew Ayres, Lewis Stone, Marie Blake, The International Ice Follies, Bess Ehrhardt, Roy Shipstad, Eddie Shipstad, Oscar Johnson, La Verne Busher

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Reinhold Schünzel

Cast: Joan Crawford, Lew Ayres, James Stewart, Lewis Stone, Marie Blake, Darla Hood (uncredited), Lionel Stander, Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, Bess Ehrhardt, The International Ice Follies

Plot:
Larry Hall (Stewart) and Eddie Burgess (Ayres) are a successful ice skating act until Larry and Mary Mckay (Crawford) fall in love and she’s included in the act as a singer. The trio fails and they lose their job. Larry and Mary gets a job as an actress in Hollywood to help support them. She doesn’t realize until later that her contract says that she isn’t allowed to be married without the studio’s consent. Larry can’t handle both their fame and their secret marriage. He leaves saying he will return when he makes a success with ice capades show.

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Olympics to Hollywood: Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie

She was the youngest athlete in the first Winter Olympics, the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals, and one of Hollywood’s top-grossing stars.

Norwegian athlete turned actress Sonja Henie skated across the silver screen in 12 films, bringing a novelty to movies and helping popularize figure skating in the United States.

“People would go out and buy skates, costumes and take lessons because of her. Ice skating developed in the United States because of her,” Henie’s former skating partner Geary Steffen said in the documentary “Sonja Henie: Queen of the Ice” (1995).

Born in Norway in 1912, Henie’s father, Wilhelm, was the track cycling World Champion of 1894, setting two world records, and he was a speed skater. Because of his athletic interest, Wilhelm encouraged his children Leif and Sonja to become involved with sports, according to the documentary.

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