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.

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Watching 1939: The Son of Frankenstein (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 Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Release date: 

Cast:  Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Josephine Hutchinson, Donnie Dunagan, Emma Dunn, Edgar Norton

Studio:  Universal

Director:  Rowland V. Lee

Plot:
Twenty-five years after Dr. Frankenstein and the monster’s death, his son Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Rathbone) and his family (Hutchinson, Dunagan) travel to the Frankenstein estate from the United States when it is left to them after his father’s death. The whole town resents Baron Frankenstein returning because of the terror his family brought on the village. When realizing the Monster (Karloff) is still alive, he follows in his father’s footsteps to bring him back to life with the help of Ygor (Lugosi).

1939 Notes:
• Boris Karloff’s last role playing Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.
• Josephine Hutchinson’s only film released in 1939.
• Lionel Atwill was in nine films released in 1939.
• Bela Lugosi was in five films released in 1939.
• Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone were both in six films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• Peter Lorre was originally approached to play the role of Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, which he turned down, according to 1938 articles in The Hollywood Reporter.
• Director Rowland V. Lee tested shooting the film in color, which was abandoned.
• The third Frankenstein film released by Universal. The first two were Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
• Donnie Dunagan’s second film.
• The monster makeup was created by Jack P. Pierce, and it took approximately four hours to prepare Boris Karloff for the scenes.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
The year 1939 was important for a few actors in this film. For Boris Karloff, it was the last time he would have to dress in the heavy monster costume after performing the role three times.

For Basil Rathbone, the year would end up profitable as he would end up playing his most well-known role: Sherlock Holmes.

But before becoming the famed detective, Rathbone had to play Dr. Frankenstein’s misguided son in “Frankenstein’s Son.”

Moving his family across the world and excited to shed the college professor life, Rathbone’s character views Dr. Frankenstein as a genius, rather than a madman. While the monster is supposed to be scary, Rathbone’s character is one of the main villans of this film, with Bela Lugosi’s Ygor leading the madness.

“Son of Frankenstein isn’t the most important film of the year, but it’s a fun example of the Universal horror films. I would also say it’s the last high-quality Frankenstein film before Frankenstein is teamed up in the cross-reference films, with the Wolfman and his other horror friends.

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Watching 1939: Blondie Meets the Boss

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:  Blondie Meets the Boss

Release date:  March 8, 1939

Cast:  Penny Singleton, Arthur Lake, Larry Simms, Danny Mummert, Jonathan Hale, Daisy the Dog, Dorothy Moore, Inez Courtney, Joel Dean, Dorothy Comingore, Stanley Brown, Don Beddoe

Studio:  Columbia Pictures

Director:  Frank R. Strayer

Plot:
Blondie (Singleton) and Dagwood (Lake) are ready to go on vacation with their Baby Dumpling (Simms). The day they leave, Dagwood’s boss Mr. Dithers (Hale) said he has to go out of town on urgent business and needs Dagwood to stay and work and cancel his vacation. Outrage, Dagwood resigns. Blondie begs Mr. Dithers for Dagwood’s job. Dithers strikes a deal with Blondie: she works in Dagwood’s place while he is on the business trip.

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Watching 1939: Stand Up and Fight (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:  Stand Up and Fight

Release date:  Jan. 6, 1939

Cast:  Wallace Beery, Robert Taylor, Florence Rice, Helen Broderick, Charles Bickford, Barton MacLane, Charley Grapewin, John Qualen

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  W.S. Van Dyke

Plot:
Starting in 1844 in Maryland, Blake Cantrell (Taylor) is a plantation owner who is broke and has to sell his property. He’s in love with Bostonian Susan Griffith (Rice), who loses interest when he has no means of taking care of himself. Blake has never worked for a living and ends up working for a stagecoach line run by Capt. Boss Starkey (Beery), which is also owned by Amanda Griffith (Broderick), who is Susan’s aunt.

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Watching 1939: Sued for Libel

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:  Sued for Libel

Release date:  Oct. 27, 1939

Cast:  Kent Taylor, Linda Hayes, Lilian Bond, Morgan Conway, Richard Lane, Roger Pryor, Thurston Hall, Emory Parnell, Roy Gordon, Keye Luke

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  Leslie Goodwins

Plot: Albert Pomeroy (Conway) is being tried for the murder of Edward Webster and the news is suspicious that Webster’s widow Mrs. Muriel Webster (Bond) because she insists that Pomeroy is guilty. However, Pomeroy is found not guilty, but reporter Maggie Shane (Hayes) plays a joke on nuisance reporter Smiley Dugan (Lane) and says Pomeroy was found guilty. Smiley calls the story into Steve Lonegan (Taylor), saying Pomeroy is guilty and broadcasts it on national radio news. Steve’s broadcast company is sued for libel.

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Watching 1939: Remember?

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: Remember? (1939)

Release date: Dec. 14, 1939

Cast:
Robert Taylor, Greer Garson, Lew Ayres, Billie Burke, Reginald Owen, George Barbier, Henry Travers, Richard Carle, Laura Hope Crews, Sig Ruman, Sara Haden

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Norman Z. McLeod

Plot:
Sky (Ayres) is engaged to Linda (Garson), but Linda falls in love with his best friend of 21 years, Jeff (Taylor). Jeff and Linda get married, and when things aren’t working out, Sky tests an amnesia drug on the couple.

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Watching 1939: Wings of the Navy

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: Wings of the Navy

Release date:  Feb. 3, 1939

Cast:  George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, John Payne, Frank McHugh, John Litel, Victor Jory, Henry O’Neill, John Ridgely, Regis Toomey, Donald Briggs, John Gallaudet, Edgar Edwards, Alberto Morin

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

Plot:
Brothers Cass (Brent) and Jerry Harrington (Payne) come from a military background. Cass is a star aviator, like their father was, and Jerry leaves the submarine service to become a flight cadet to be like his father and brother. The brothers start to share more than the same profession when Jerry falls in love with Cass’s girl, Irene (de Havilland).

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Watching 1939: The Secret of Dr. Kildare (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 Secret of Dr. Kildare”

Release date: Nov. 24, 1939

Cast: Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day, Lionel Atwill, Helen Gilbert, Sara Haden, Nat Pendleton, Samuel S. Hinds, Emma Dunn, Walter Kingsford, Marie Blake, Alma Kruger, Robert Kent, Grant Mitchell, Martha O’Driscoll, Nell Craig, Frank Orth, George Reed, Walter Baldwin (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Harold S. Bucquet

Plot:
Dr. James “Jimmy” Kildare (Ayres) is helping Dr. Gillespie (Barrymore) with research pneumonia causes and cures. At the same moment, Blair General Hospital’s medical head Dr. Carew (Kingsford) wants the doctors to help cure an heiress, Nancy Messenger (Gilbet), when her wealthy father Paul Messenger (Atwill) comes to Dr. Carew for help. Nancy has odd mood swings that are injuring her social and love life. Dr. Gillespie is ill with cancer and is very tired, but wants to continue driving on with the research. To let Dr. Gillespie rest, Dr. Kildare takes Nancy’s case, not letting her know he’s a doctor. Dr. Gillespie is angry about his decision and so is Dr. Kildare’s girlfriend, Nurse Mary Lamont (Day).

1939 Notes:
• This is the fourth Dr. Kildare film out of the 9-film series. This is one of two Dr. Kildare films released in 1939.
• Lionel Barrymore was in four films released in 1939.
• Marie Blake was in eight films released in 1939.
• 1939 helped get Laraine Day her start because she was signed to MGM this year where she found more success. This was her second “Dr. Kildare” film released that year.

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Watching 1939: Bad Lands (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:  Bad Lands (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 8, 1939

Cast:  Robert Barrat, Noah Beery Jr., Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Andy Clyde, Paul Hurst, Robert Coote, Francis Ford, Addison Richards, Douglas Walton, Francis McDonald

Studio: RKO Radio Picture

Director:  Lew Landers

Plot:
Set in Arizona in 1875, a sheriff and his posse are traveling through the desert trying to find a killer. The group is short on water and Apaches are a threat to the group.

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Watching 1939: Code of the Secret Service (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:  Code of the Secret Service (1939)

Release date:  May 27, 1939

Cast:  Ronald Reagan, Rosella Towne, Eddie Foy Jr., Moroni Olsen

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Noel M. Smith

Plot:
Lt. ‘Brass’ Bancroft (Reagan) is an agent in the United States Treasury Department trying to hunt down a counterfeit money ring who stole plates from the U.S. Treasury to launder the money.

1939 Notes:
• Ronald Reagan starred in seven films released in 1939.
• Shot on location in Mexico and some of the Mexican extras were borrowed from Juarez (1939), also filmed that year at Warner Brothers.
• This film is the second in a four-part series, which includes: Secret Service of the Air (1939), Smashing the Money Ring (1939) and Murder in the Air (1940).

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