Watching 1939: Henry Goes Arizona

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: Henry Goes Arizona (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 8, 1939

Cast: 
Frank Morgan, Virginia Weidler, Guy Kibbee, Slim Summerville, Douglas Fowley, Owen Davis Jr., Porter Hall (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Plot:
Henry (Morgan) is a down-on-his-luck New York vaudeville actor. He thinks he has a stroke of luck when he inherits his half-brother’s ranch in Arizona. But he may not be so lucky when he finds out his brother has been murdered.

1939 Notes:
• Douglas Fowley was in nine films released in 1939
• Frank Morgan was in four films released in 1939
• Virginia Weidler was in 10 films released in 1939.
• Slim Summerville was in four films released in 1939

Other trivia: 
• Dennis O’Keefe was originally set to play the role of Danny but O’Keefe was injured in a wreck. George Murphy replaced O’Keefe, but the role went to Owen Davis Jr., according to the Hollywood Reporter.
• Working title was “Spats to Spurs”
• Native American athlete Jim Thorpe appears in the film in an uncredited, non-speaking role.

Douglas Fowley, Guy Kibbee, Virginia Weidler and Frank Morgan in “Henry Goes Arizona”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
In 1939, Frank Morgan performed in the role that he is best remembered for today: the Great Wizard of Oz in “The Wizard of Oz.” Of the four films Morgan made in 1939 in addition to “Oz,” two were musicals with top stars: Balalaika with Nelson Eddy and Broadway Serenade with Jeanette MacDonald.

And then there was “Henry Goes Arizona,” a low budget comedy with a title that feels like it’s missing a word.

But this hour-long comedy is actually quite delightful and I will argue to say more fun than the Eddy or MacDonald high dollar films.

There aren’t any real surprises in “Henry Goes to Arizona.” Each lead actor plays the character type that you expect to see:
– Frank Morgan is a nervous flibbertigibbet who is a fish out of water New Yorker in Arizona.
– Virginia Weidler is a fearless child who isn’t afraid of anyone, even in the face of danger. But below the fiesty exterior, she is also a sweet child.
– Guy Kibbee is a doddering judge (who also drinks too much)

Each character is one you have seen these actors play in another film, and they always perform the role well. “Henry Goes Arizona” is no exception. It is a funny film with some drama and danger thrown in from an evil farmhand played by Douglas Fowley.

As far as the year 1939 goes, “Henry Goes Arizona” is representative of other light, low budget films that came out of MGM during the late 1930s and early 1940s. It is also interesting to see that after performing in three other more important films, that Frank Morgan was also cast in this comedy. Nevertheless, it’s a fun to watch and won’t take up too much of your time.

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Watching 1939: They All Come Out (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:  They All Come Out (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 4, 1939

Cast: 
Rita Johnson, Tom Neal, Bernard Nedell, George Tobias, Edward Gargan, John Gallaudet, Addison Richards, Frank M. Thomas, Ann Shoemaker, Charles Lane, Paul Fix (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited)
Themselves: U.S. Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons James V. Bennett

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Jacques Tourneur

Plot:
Kitty (Johnson) meets jobless and down-on-his-luck Joe (Neal). After paying for his meal, Kitty hires him to be the driver for the gang she’s in, lead by Reno (Nedell). When the whole gang goes to jail, Kitty and Joe try to lead a crime-free life, but their past follows them.

1939 Notes:
• The film introduction says that it is the first film to record “scenes actually photographed in our federal prisons.”
• Director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature-length film. He directed films until 1934 in France, and then directed shorts in America from 1936 to 1939.
• Character actor Charles Lane was in 18 films released in 1939.
• Tom Neal made 10 full-length films released this year.
• Rita Johnson was in seven films in 1939

Other trivia: 
• The beginning of the film says, “Dedicated to the United States Department of Justice, whose cooperation made this picture possible.”
• The film was originally supposed to be part of a two-reel “Crimes Doesn’t Pay” series. Studio head Louis B. Mayer extended this to four-reel documentary. It was then lengthened to a seven-reel full-length film, which was director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature film, according to Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall by Chris Fujiwara.
• The film has a prologue and epilogue with the real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett
• Rita Johnson’s prison dress came from the Federal Prison Camp of Alderson, West Virginia, according to a Sept. 17, 1939 article.

Tom Neal and Bernard Nedell in They All Come Out (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
At first glance, “They All Come Out” is a run-of-the-mill B-budget movie released by MGM. However, this is an interesting 70 minute film.

The film had an interesting history and evolution. It started out as a documentary for the “Crime Doesn’t Pay” series. This explains appearances made by real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett at the beginning and end of the film.

Before filming, federal facilities in Atlanta, Chillicothe and Springfield had already been filmed, as well as the infamous Alcatraz.

But the film ended up being lengthened, giving Jacques Tourneur his first feature-length American film. This film gives an interesting look at the prison system and shows it working to help improve lives.

Since 1936, Tourneur had been filming shorts and documentary shorts in the United States. With this film launching his career, Jacques Tourneur, he went on to direct feature films such as “Cat People” (1942), “Out of the Past” (1947) and “Stars in My Crown” (1950).

The year 1939 wasn’t only important to director Tourneur, but the film’s star, Tom Neal. Neal was an amateur boxer in college in 1933. In 1938, Neal made his film debut in “Out West with the Hardys” and then proceeded to make 10 feature films in 1939. In the film, Neal’s character is a kid who gets caught up with crime and tries to lead a crime-free life once he’s out of jail. This differed drastically from his real life. Neal’s off-screen persona could be described as “violent.” For example, Neal beat actor Franchot Tone while they were both dating actress Barbara Peyton, leaving Tone with severe injuries. Later in 1965, Neal was convicted with involuntary manslaughter after his wife was found dead due to a gunshot wound to the back of her head. Seeing this kid in the film trying hard to straighten out his life and comparing it to his real life is honestly rather disheartening and sad.

While “They All Come Out” wasn’t shot in the originally planned documentary format, some of the film still has some documentary-like format. Government leaders introduce and end the film and some of the on-location filmings of the federal institutions was used in the film. 1939 critics called it “experimental, something new” in a July 1939 newspaper review.

While low budget, “They All Come Out” is an interesting film that does offer a different point of view and look at the prison system, as well as an intersting blend of documentary and narrative filmmaking.

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Watching 1939: Ninotchka

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:  Ninotchka (1939)

Release date: Nov. 29, 1939

Cast: 
Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, Bela Lugosi, Alexander Granach, Gregory Gaye, Dorothy Adams (uncredited), George Tobias (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: 
Ernst Lubitsch

Plot:
Three Russians, Comrade Iranoff (Ruman), Comrade Iranoff (Bressart) and Comrade Kopalski (Granach) travel to Paris, France, from Russia on official business – to sell the jewels of Grand Duchess Swana (Claire) that the Soviets confiscated. When Swana gets wind of this, she sends her boyfriend Count Leon d’Algout (Douglas) to intervene so she can reclaim her jewelry. To trick the comrades out of the jewelry, Leon changes the point of view of the three comrades, showing them what life is like in Paris. When the Soviet government hears that the sale is not moving forward, they send Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka, (Garbo) to Paris to clean up the mess. Rigid and serious when she arrives, Ninotchka soon is also warmed and changed by Paris and falls in love.

1939 Notes:
• Ernst Lubitsch’s only film in 1939
• Greta Garbo’s only film of 1939 and her first comedy. This was her second to last film.
• Melvyn Douglas made four films in 1939.
• Ernst Lubitsch’s first assignment as a producer for M-G-M

Garbo (and Melvyn Douglas) laugh in Ninotchka (1939)

Other trivia: 
• Remade as the musical “Silk Stockings” (1957) starring Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire and Janis Paige. The 1957 film version was an adaptation of a 1954 stage musical with music by Cole Porter.
• Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder
• Greta Garbo wanted Cary Grant to play the lead, according to a Sheilah Graham column published on Jan. 3, 1939.
• For Greta Garbo’s first talking film, “Anna Christie” the slogan “Garbo talks!” was used in advertisements. Mimicking that advertising, this movie used the slogan “Garbo Laughs!”
• Adapted in 1950 as a stage play.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Ninotchka” is a glittering example of the perfect 1939 film:
1. It was Greta Garbo’s first comedy and her only film of 1939.
2. Was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, so it has that “Lubitsch touch.” (Also his only 1939 film)
3. Includes a script written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder

All of these factors add up to create a charming film.

The satirical comedy was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and is chockful of hilarious one-liners and back-and-forths.

This was Greta Garbo’s first film since 1937’s Conquest. Newspapers in 1938 announced her return to film with two films to be released in 1939: Ninotchka and Madame Curie. The latter wasn’t released until 1943 and starred Greer Garson. After Ninotchka, Garbo didn’t make another film until 1941, “Two-Faced Woman,” which was her last film.

Greta Garbo is a performer revered as one of the best actors of all time. Garbo’s film career began in 1920 and spanned 21 years with 32 films. This is my favorite Greta Garbo film. For much of her career, we saw Garbo brood, suffer or fall in love. But in Ninotchka, we get to see how funny she could be, even when she’s playing the very dry and mechanical Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, before she loosens up to be Ninotchka.

In her first talking film, Anna Christie (1930), the advertising slogan was “Garbo talks!” Playing off of that, MGM advertised the comedy with “Garbo laughs!” Her performance here is just as joyous as that advertising line captures. It’s amazing that Ninotchka was her second to last film. With the right comedic material, you can’t help but wonder what other films Garbo could have made had she stayed in Hollywood.

As production was beginning, Sheilah Graham reported that Garbo had picked Cary Grant “to make love to her” in her new film, Ninotchka. And as wonderful as Cary Grant is, I’m glad Melvyn Douglas was the final selection as the male lead in this film. Douglas brings his understated charm and also his sense of humor to the movie.

Outside of our leads, the supporting cast practically steals the show. Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach as the three comrades who blunder the business deal are hilarious and adorable as they explore the joys of life outside of Soviet Russia.

Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach

Set in France, “Ninotchka” was released on Nov. 29, 1939, as the landscape of Europe was rapidly changing. On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. The film begins with a bittersweet intro:

“This picture takes place in Paris in those wonderful days when a siren was a brunette and not an alarm…and if a Frenchman turned out the light it was not on account of an air raid!”

Though our allies at this time, this film was banned in Soviet Russia because of the way Soviets were portrayed.

It’s difficult not to gush over this film (as I already have). Watching it is such a cheerful experience. It is a great example of the sparkling 1939, and it may be a perfect film (if not pretty darn close).

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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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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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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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Watching 1939: It’s a Wonderful World (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: It’s a Wonderful World

Release date: May 19, 1939

Cast: Claudette Colbert, James Stewart, Guy Kibbee, Nat Pendleton, Frances Drake, Edgar Kennedy, Sidney Blackmer, Ernest Truex, Hans Conried, Grady Sutton, Cecilia Callejo, Cecil Cunningham, Frank Faylen (uncredited), Phillip Terry (uncredited)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke

Plot:
Wealthy Willie Heyward (Treux) is accused of murder and his private detective Guy Johnson (Stewart) is arrested for obstruction of justice for hiding Heyward after the murder. Johnson escapes the police by jumping off a train, and poetess Edwina Corday (Colbert) witnesses his escape. Guy kidnaps Edwina so she won’t report him to the police as he tries to continue to clear Heyward of murder.

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Musical Monday: Balalaika (1939)

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:
Balalaika (1939) – Musical #227

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Reinhold Schünzel

Starring:
Nelson Eddy, Ilona Massey, Charles Ruggles, Frank Morgan, Lionel Atwill, C. Aubrey Smith, Joyce Compton, Phillip Terry, George Tobias

Plot:
Beginning in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914, Lydia Pavlovna Marakova (Massey) is a singer in a cafe and the daughter of a political activist. She meets and falls in love with Prince Peter Karagin (Eddy), who poses as a commoner. World War I begins the same day it’s revealed that Lydia’s family had a plot to kill the prince and his father (Smith). The war seperated Lydia and Peter.

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