Watching 1939: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (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 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 10, 1939

Cast:  Mickey Rooney, Rex Ingram, Walter Connolly, William Frawley, Lynne Carver, Clara Blandick, Elisabeth Risdon, Minor Watson, Jo Ann Sayers, Victor Kilian, Irving Bacon (uncredited), Delmar Watson, Billy Watson, Harry Watson

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Richard Thorpe

Plot:
Huckleberry Finn (Rooney) is a troublemaking orphan living with a widow (Risdon) and her sister (Blandick). Huckleberry skips school, lies and smokes pipes. Huckleberry feels bad when he realizes that he is going to disappoint the Widow because he isn’t going to advance at school. When his father who is believed to be dead (Kilian) shows up, he kidnaps his son. Huckleberry runs away, travels down the river and finds Jim (Ingram), the Widow’s slave that Huckleberry befriended.

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Watching 1939: …One Third of a Nation… (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:  …One Third of a Nation… (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 10, 1939

Cast:  Sylvia Sidney, Leif Erickson, Sidney Lumet, Myron McCormick, Hiram Sherman, Muriel Hutchison, Percy Waram, Charles Dingle, Otto Hulett, Iris Adrian, Baruch Lumet

Studio:  Paramount Pictures

Director:  Dudley Murphy

Plot:
The tenement building where Mary Rogers (Sidney) and her family lives catches on fire. Her brother Joey (Lumet) falls from a fire escape and is injured and has to walk with crutches and a brace on his leg. The owner of the tenement building, Peter (Erickson) passes the fire as its happening and helps the Rogers. Peter is inspired to improve the buildings his family has owned for years, but he meets opposition from his sister and lawyer.

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Watching 1939: Made for Each Other (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:  Made for Each Other (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 10, 1939

Cast:  Carole Lombard, James Stewart, Charles Coburn, Lucile Watson, Bonnie Belle Barber, Eddie Quillan, Alma Kruger, Irving Bacon, Louise Beavers, Ward Bond, Esther Dale, Harry Davenport, Olin Howland, Ruth Weston, Donald Briggs (uncredited)

Studio:  Selznick International Pictures

Director:  John Cromwell

Plot:
While in Boston for business, attorney John Mason (Stewart) marries Jane (Lombard) after only knowing her for a few days. Not everyone is excited about the new couple’s marriage. John’s demanding boss, Judge Doolittle (Coburn), isn’t a fan of the marriage and doesn’t approve of honeymoons. Gossip also paired John with Doolittle’s daughter, Eunice (Weston). John’s mother (Watson) also passed out dead in a faint and is critical of everything Jane does. The couple faces tensions as they get to know each other, particularly with John’s job. The couple has a baby and on New Year’s Eve of 1938-39, the child comes critically ill.

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Watching 1939: Bachelor Mother (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:  Bachelor Mother (1939)

Release date:  June 30, 1939

Cast:  Ginger Rogers, David Niven, Charles Coburn, Frank Albertson, E.E. Clive, Ferike Boros, Elbert Coplen Jr., Dennie Moore, June Wilkins

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  Garson Kanin

Plot: Department store work Polly Parish (Rogers) is returning home one day when she finds a baby left on a doorstep. She catches him before he roles off and takes him to a nearby orphanage. No one will believe Polly that it’s not her baby and is forced to take responsibility for the baby. The department store owner’s playboy son, David Merlin (Niven) takes an interest in Polly, and David’s father (Coburn) believes the baby is his grandson.

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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: 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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