Watching 1939: Boy Slaves (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:  Boy Slaves (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 2, 1939

Cast: 
Anne Shirley, Roger Daniel, James McCallion, Alan Baxter, Johnny Fitzgerald, Walter Ward, Charles Powers, Walter Tetley, Frank Malo, Paul White, Arthur Hohl, Charles Lane, Irving Bacon (uncredited), DeForest Covan (uncredited), Olin Howland (uncredited), Helen MacKellar (uncredited)

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  P.J. Wolfson

Plot:
Jesse (Daniel) runs away from home to help earn more money for his family. He falls in with a gang of boys led by Tim (McCallion). Thinking he’s helping the group, Jesse is responsible for the group working in a turpentine work camp.

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Musical Monday: Sweet Adeline (1934)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Sweet Adeline (1934) – Musical #195

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
Mervyn LeRoy

Starring:
Irene Dunne, Donald Woods, Hugh Herbert, Ned Sparks, Joseph Cawthorn, Wini Shaw (billed as Winifred Shaw), Louis Calhern, Nydia Westman, Dorothy Dare, Phil Regan, Noah Beery (uncredited), Milton Kibbee (uncredited)

Plot:
In the early 1900s, Adeline Schmidt (Dunne) is the daughter of a beer garden owner (Cawthorn). He disapproves of show business and his daughter’s romance with composer Sid Barnett (Woods). The show Sid wrote is produced, and Adeline gets the lead. In her success, Adeline starts seeing the rich Major Day (Calhern), leaving Sid feeling jilted.

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Watching 1939: The Saint Strikes Back (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 Saint Strikes Back (1939)

Release date:  March 8, 1939

Cast:  George Sanders, Wendy Barrie, Jonathan Hale, Jerome Cowan, Barry Fitzgerald, Neil Hamilton, Robert Elliott, Russell Hopton, Edward Gargan, Nella Walker, James Burke, Willie Best

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  John Farrow

Plot:
On New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, an underground leader is killed at a nightclub celebration. Simon Templar, the Saint, (Sanders) and Val Travers (Barrie) are both connected to the killing and were seen by witnesses. New York police inspector Henry Fernack (Hale) is enlisted to help solve the gangland crime. Templar works with Inspector Fernack to solve the crime and clear Travers’ name.

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Musical Monday: Heidi (1937)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Heidi (1937) – Musical #621

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Allan Dwan

Starring:
Shirley Temple, Jean Hersholt, Arthur Treacher, Helen Westley, Thomas Beck, Mary Nash, Sidney Blackmer, Pauline Moore, Mady Christians, Marcia Mae Jones, Delmar Watson, Sig Ruman

Plot:
Heidi (Temple) is an orphan who has been living with her aunt Dete (Moore) for six years since her parents died. Dete abruptly takes Heidi to her grandfather’s (Hersholt) when she has a job offer in Frankfurt. Her grandfather, Adolph Kramer, has the reputation of being as a grump in the village, because he has lived alone since turning out Heidi’s father when he married her mother. While the two are bonding, Dete returns to get Heidi so she can be a companion to a rich, wheelchair-bound girl (Jones).

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Christmas review: The Gathering (1977)

The holidays are usually thought to be about family. But what if some families no longer get along.

The made-for-TV special “The Gathering,” which aired on Dec. 4, 1977, on ABC, takes a look at a man who wants to spend the holiday with his family, fully knowing they may not want to see him.

Ed Asner plays Adam Thornton, a man successful at business but not successful in his personal life. He and his wife are separated, and he hasn’t seen most of his children in several years — and they don’t want to see him either.

He also just found out that he’s dying and running out of time.

Maureen Stapleton plays Kate, his estranged wife, who sets aside her hurt feelings to arrange a homecoming so Adam can have one last Christmas with his family.

Since their parents separated, many of the children don’t want anything to do with their stalwart, business-focused father. They all live across the country and haven’t seen Adam in some time:

  • Tom (Lawrence Pressman) and his wife (Veronica Hamel) live a lavish metropolitan life in New York. Tom, who is hardheaded like his father, tries to be the opposite of him. For example, he insists on a white Christmas tree, because Adam always insisted on green.
  • Peggy (Gail Strickland) is a successful reporter in Washington, DC, whose work drives her life.
  • Julie (Rebecca Balding) is married to George (Bruce Davison), who has been unemployed for several months. Julie loves her parents, but George is bitter towards Adam. He feels that Adam will mock him for his failures and chide him for not joining the family business. Julie has the only two grandchildren, Tiffany and Joey (Maureen and Ronald Readinger).
  • Bud (Gregory Harrison) and Adam had a fight years ago, because Bud disapproved of the Vietnam War. Since then, Bud lives in Canada under various assumed names while he dodges the draft.

Many of the children aren’t interested in coming home for the holidays but also hope that their parents have reconciled. They change their plans and head to the Thornton family home to support their mother.

Maureen Stapleton and Ed Asner in “The Gathering”

Before renting “The Gathering” from DVD Netflix, I heard my parents talk about the film. They recalled watching it on TV when they were first married, and it was a Christmas tradition to watch it for the first few years of their marriage. Once they had children, they drifted away from the film, so it was special to get to watch this film with them. It was the first time either of my parents had revisited the movie in nearly 40 years.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of “The Gathering.” Since I knew the premise was about a dying man wanting to spend one last Christmas with his family, I was worried it would be overly maudlin, or feature lots of shouting and fights (like “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or “All in the Family.”)

However,  was pleasantly surprised. The movie is certainly sad, but also rather heartwarming.

There are a few shouting matches, but nothing is overly dramatic. The story focuses more on realizing what’s important. Ed Asner’s character realizes he was a foolish stubborn bull. All of his children, who had also been so bitter and angry about their family for so many years, remembered how much they enjoy being together.

While you know Adam’s time is brief, you also know that everyone found piece and comfort. Only one child understands that he is losing a father, and it’s never spoken to the family.

Thankfully, the end of the story isn’t this abrupt, pie-in-the-sky ending. The cracks in the relationships are still there, but the holiday brought everyone closer and helped them relive old times. It shows that the holidays can be hard, but there is a way to make peace and enjoy your time together, especially when time is running out.

While the film has a somber tone, it also feels cozy and homey. As Adam and Kate set aside their differences and prepare the home for a holiday reunion, it reminded me of Christmases gone-by —maybe had by myself as a child or what my parents experienced growing up.

Adam rewires the electricity of an old dollhouse for a grandchild and repaints an old toy train. He hammers together a Christmas tree stand and puzzles over tree lights that won’t work. Kate goes through old ornaments, and the separated couple decorates the evergreen tree together.

Their cheerful and nostalgic Christmas preparation scenes also serve as a stark contrast to how their children live now. The scenes almost serve as a “now vs. then” way of storytelling: Adam and Kate preparing to relive their homespun holidays of the past, and their four children muddling through their chaotic and complicated adult lives.

To add to the homey setting, “The Gathering” was filmed in Chagrin Falls and Hudson, Ohio in February 1977. The film opens showing the town decorated for the holidays with colored lights, bright store windows and the streets and houses coated with snow.

Composer John Barry, known for his James Bond themes, scored “The Gathering” with both a lilting but somber sound. The score is filled with harpsicords, flutes, strings and piano.

Randal Kleiser, who also directed the made-for-TV film “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” (1976) and “Grease” (1978), directed the film. “The Gathering” was also one of the few live-action films produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, known for their cartoons like “Yogi Bear.”

Where some made-for-TV shows and films of this era sometimes try to sucker punch you with hard emotion, “The Gathering” is subtle. This is probably largely due to Asner and Stapleton in the lead roles, who are fantastic actors and make the setting and relationships feel believable.

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Watching 1939: Full Confession (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:
Full Confession (1939)

Release date:
Sept. 8, 1939

Cast:
Victor McLaglen, Sally Eilers, Joseph Calleia, Barry Fitzgerald, Elisabeth Risdon, Pamela Blake (as Adele Pearce), Malcolm ‘Bud’ McTaggart, George Humbert (uncredited)

Studio:
RKO Studios

Director:
John Farrow

Plot:
Near Christmas, Pat McGinnis (McLaglen) kills a police officer during an attempted robbery, but then is is arrested for stealing a fur coat (to throw police off the trail of his other crime) and sent to prison for the theft. Months later, night watchman Michael O’Keefe (Fitzgerald) is arrested for being drunk and disruptive while celebrating his son’s wedding. While arrested, police hold O’Keefe for the murder of a police officer who was shot with his gun, which also had his fingerprints on it. While McGinnis is working toward parol, O’Keefe is going to be sent to the electric chair. Priest Father Loma (Calleia) tries to help both men, receives a confession that could help O’Keefe, but struggles with his religious ethics of sharing that confession or not.

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Musical Monday: Tall, Dark and Handsome (1941)

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 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Tall, Dark and Handsome – Musical #619

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
H. Bruce Humberstone

Starring:
Cesar Romero, Virginia Gilmore, Milton Berle, Charlotte Greenwood, Sheldon Leonard, Stanley Clements, Frank Jenks, Barnett Parker, Marc Lawrence, Paul Hurst, Mary Treen, Vickie Lester, Marion Martin, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones (uncredited)

Plot:
Set at Christmas 1928 in Chicago, gangster Shep Morrison (Romero) spots Judy Miller (Gilmore) working as a babysitter for children while mothers shop. Thinking Judy loves children, Shep pretends he has a son. In reality, Judy has ambitions to be a singer.

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