Watching 1939: Unheralded and underseen films of the year

I started Comet Over Hollywood 13 years ago in April 2009. Over the years, I’ve written about several topics, from actress beauty tips to movie musicals. And I’ve continued to be drawn to one particularly theme: the films of 1939.

Often heralded as the greatest year on film, I wanted to figure out what made it so special. What was the mystical, magical element that elevated it against other years? In 2011, I decided to try and see every film made in 1939, and in 2018, I started the “Watching 1939” series, where I watched and reviewed any and all films released in 1939 — from the A-list to the B, C and D budget films.

We all know about the greats of the years, from “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” to “Ninotchka.” But was there something special in these lesser known films?

For Comet Over Hollywood’s anniversary, I wanted to share some of the 1939 that I’ve discovered and enjoyed that may not receive the most accolades:

These Glamour Girls

glamour2

The cast of “These Glamour Girls” (1939): Tom Brown and Ann Rutherford, Richard Carlson and Jane Bryan, Lew Ayres and Lana Turner, Sumner Getchell and Anita Louise, Peter Lind Hayes and Marsha Hunt, Owen Davis Jr. and Mary Beth Hughes

On the surface, this is a B-budget MGM collegiate dramatic vehicle for starlet Lana Turner. But really, THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS is an interesting study of snobbery and cruelty of debutantes and college boys. It’s all about appearance. While Lana Turner and Lew Ayres are the stars of the films, this film has an outstanding ensemble cast. And it’s Marsha Hunt’s performance that you will be thinking about at the end of the film. Full review here.

The Rains Came

rains came5

Too much rain in “The Rains Came”

Whenever anyone tries to mock special effects in older films, I point them to this film. While this is a star-studded film, the main character is the rain. The rain, the earthquake and the rush of the water that follows. The intense special effects will have you biting your fingernails. Of all the big budget films of 1939, I feel this one is overlooked and undermentioned. The cast is led by Myrna Loy, Tryone Power and George Brent, with an equally impressive supporting cast (Maria Ouspenskaya, Joseph Schildkraut, Mary Nash, Jane Darwell, Marjorie Rambeau, Henry Travers, H.B. Warner). Full review here.

Beauty for Asking

beauty for the asking 1939

Lucille Ball and Inez Courtney working as beauticians at the start of “Beauty for the Asking” (1939).

Man, I love this film. Lucille Ball plays a jilted woman. Rather than sit at home and cry, she becomes a cosmetic magnet. Originally set to be an exposé of the beauty industry, the film picks fun at the extent customers will go to stay beautiful and look young — even if it’s all bologna (something that continues to ring true today). For example, Ball’s character tells a customer that she is going to use petroleum on her skin, which is luxurious. When she’s later asked what it is, she says it’s “another word for Vaseline.” This is really just a delicious film — and you get a makeover montage. What more could you ask for? Full review here.

Beau Geste

beau geste2

Ray Milland, Robert Preston and Gary Cooper in “Beau Geste.”

Beau gest … a beautiful gesture. And a beautiful film. This is one of my favorite films of 1939. It opens with a stunning, eerie moment and then the film is told as a flashback as we learn what happens. Directed/produced by William Wellman and with cinematography by Theodor Sparkuhl and Archie Stout, visually this is a gorgeous film. I also love Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston as a trio, however, Brian Donlevy steals the show. A must see. Full review here.

First Love

first love

Helen Parrish and Deanna Durbin

This updated Cinderella story leaves me feeling so happy that I could bust. Actress, singer Deanna Durbin started acting at age 14, and at age 18 in this film, is allowed to finally mature into a grownup role. She even gets her first on-screen kiss (from dreamy Robert Stack). This is just a sweet, fun movie that will leave you smiling. Full review here.

In Name Only

in name only 5

Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Kay Francis in “In Name Only”

Never will you want to smack Kay Francis like you do in this movie. But oh is she good — and so are her costars Cary Grant and Carole Lombard. IN NAME ONLY is a frustrating, delicious film involving a loveless marriage that leads to an affair. The film was also transformative for two of its leads: Carole Lombard had the opportunity to play a dramatic role after years of being cast as a screwball comedian. And it gave Kay Francis one of her best roles in years, after being one of Warner Bros. top stars in the 1930s. Full review here.

Here I Am a Stranger

here i am stranger3
I went in to this film having never heard of it and knowing nothing about it, and it is now one of my favorite films of 1939. It’s the story of estranged father (Richard Dix) and son David (Richard Greene). When they reconnect, David’s now-society matron mother isn’t pleased. David’s father changes some of his snobbish views and opens his eyes to a new world. It’s sweet, funny but also sad. I also love Brenda Joyce’s off-beat, unladylike character, who we first meet throwing an apple core out the front door (and almost into the face of guests). Full review here.

Midnight

midnight2
What a charmer. Few films of 1939 glitter quite like MIDNIGHT does, starring Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore. This is a witty, attractive and even sexy screwball comedy. Colbert and Ameche are well-paired, Francis Lederer is unexpectedly hot, but it’s John Barrymore who steals the whole show. Full review here.

Nurse Edith Cavell

edna may

Anna Neagal and Edna May Oliver in “Nurse Edith Cavell”

Not only did I like this movie, but I also learned about the real figure, Nurse Edith Cavell, who I wasn’t familiar with. Anna Neagel plays the title character, who was a nurse during World War I. She was a controversial figure at the time because she cared for both English and German patients. Neagle is flanked by Zasu Pitts, May Robson and Edna May Oliver. With this trio, you would expect comedy, but the three play dramatic roles and are in some quite tense scenes. Full review here.

Invitation to Happiness

invitation
INVITATION TO HAPPINESS asks the difficult question: Can you strive to reach your goals and have a successful career … while maintaining a healthy relationship? Irene Dunne plays a society woman who marries boxing hopeful King Cole, played by Fred MacMurray. His ultimate goal is to be the champ, and “any day now” stretches out to 10 years. The couple are apart more than they are together, and King never gets to know his son. While the story is sad and thought provoking, this is still a lovely film. Full review here.

Just for Fun

That’s Right — You’re Wrong: Plain and simple, I love Kay Kyser and his band. This was Kyser’s first film as an actor, and it’s such a good time. It’s mixed with great music and movie audiences of today get a look at his radio program, The Musical Kollege of Knowledge.

The Under-Pup: Hard to find, but worth your time when you do. In Gloria Jean’s first film, she goes off to camp, has to deal with bratty little girls and sings. What more could you ask for?

Everybody’s Hobby: This is brisk, 60 minute movie about a family who all have distinct hobbies … except for dad (played by Henry O’Neill). The hobbies end up helping the family in the end. It’s a good time.

The Cat and the Canary: This creepy comedy starring Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope keeps you guessing about “whodunit” but also brings the laughs.

Honorable Mention

Back Door to Heaven
Four Girls in White
Dancing Co-Ed
Calling Dr. Kildare/The Secret of Dr. Kildare
Miracle on Main Street

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Watching 1939: Irish Luck (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.

irish luck1939 film:
Irish Luck (1939)

Release date:
Aug. 22, 1939

Cast:
Frankie Darro, Dick Purcell, Mantan Moreland, Sheila Darcy, Lillian Elliott, James Flavin, Dennis Moore, Howard Mitchell, Donald Kerr

Studio:
Monogram Pictures

Director:
Howard Bretherton

Plot:
Hotel bellhop Buzzy O’Brien (Darro) is an amateur detective and frequently gets in the way of the police, especially Steve Lanahan (Purcell). When a hotel guest is murdered, Buzzy takes it into his own hands to solve the case with the help of his pal, Jefferson (Moreland).

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Watching 1939: That’s Right — You’re Wrong (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:
That’s Right — You’re Wrong (1939)

Release date:
Nov. 24, 1939

Cast:
Kay Kyser’s Band as themselves: Kay Kyser, Harry Babbitt, Ginny Sims, Ish Kibble
Adolph Menjou, May Robson, Lucille Ball, Dennis O’Keefe, Edward Everett Horton, Roscoe Karns, Moroni Olsen, Hobart Cavanaugh
Themselves: Sheilah Graham, Hedda Hopper, Erskine Johnson, Feg Murray, Fred Orthman

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
David Butler

Plot:
A film studio is on the rocks financially. When they hear Kay Kyser’s (himself) successful radio program, they want to make a film with Kyser. Once the band arrives in Hollywood, several of the bandmates let success go to his head, writers can’t fit a story to Kyser, and there’s a threat that Kyser’s female singer, Ginny Simms (herself), will be replaced by another actress (Ball).

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Watching 1939: Everything’s On Ice (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.

everythings on ice1939 film:
Everything’s On Ice (1939)

Release date:
Oct. 6, 1939

Cast:
Irene Dare, Roscoe Karnes, Edgar Kennedy, Lynne Roberts, Eric Linden, George Meeker, Wade Boteler

Studio:
RKO Radio Pictures

Director:
Erle C. Kenton

Plot:
Child ice skater Irene (Dare) is exploited by her chiseling uncle Felix (Karns) when he signs her up to perform at a resort in Florida. Felix is also trying to arrange romances with Irene’s older sister, Jane (Roberts), that seem to be financially profitable. Pretty soon, it becomes apparent that everyone is trying to use everyone else for money.

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Watching 1939: Twelve Crowded Hours (1939)

1939 film:
Twelve Crowded Hours (1939)

twelve crowdedRelease date:
Feb. 23, 1939

Cast:
Richard Dix, Lucille Ball, Allan Lane, Donald MacBride, Cy Kendall, John Arledge, Granville Bates, John Gallaudet, Murry Alper, Allan Lane, Bradley Page, Dorothy Lee, Addison Richards, Frank Faylen (uncredited), Kay Sutton (uncredited), Blue Washington (uncredited), Dorothy Lovett (uncredited)

Studio:
RKO Pictures

Director:
Lew Landers

Plot:
When his editor is murdered, reporter Nick Green works to solve the murder. To make matters worse, the murder may involve the brother of his girlfriend, Paula (Ball).

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Watching 1939: Waterfront (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:
Waterfront (1939)

waterfront

Release date:
July 15, 1939

Cast:
Gloria Dickson, Dennis Morgan, Marie Wilson, Larry Williams, Ward Bond, Sheila Bromley, Arthur Gardner, Aldrich Bowker, Frank Faylen, George Lloyd, Charles Trowbridge (uncredited)

Studio:
Warner Bros.

Director:
Terry O. Morse

Plot:
Quick tempered Jim Dolan (Morgan) is the president of the dockworker’s and is constantly fighting. His temper periodically lands him in jail and keeps him at odds with his girlfriend Ann (Dickson). Jim turns over a new leaf but runs into trouble when his brother is killed.

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Favorite new-to-me films of 2021

At the end of each year, I think back on my favorite new-to-me film discoveries.

For the past few years, I’ve shared these in just a Twitter thread, but this year, I decided to write a formal blog post. As of Dec. 29, 2021, I have watched 517 feature films. The following or the films I’ve continued to think about long after they were over. The first three may be a tie:

crimson

The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Written and directed by Samuel Fuller
Over the past few years, I have really gotten into director Sam Fuller’s films, and I was blown away by THE CRIMSON KIMONO. The story is powerful but it’s also visually stunning.

that man from rio

That Man From Rio/ L’homme de Rio (1964)
Directed by Philippe de Broca
I watched this in memory of Jean-Paul Belmondo and was left in a glittering haze of a love of cinema — in love with this film, Belmondo and the whole idea of traveling to Rio de Janerio. I daydreamed about this movie the whole next day of watching it. Its thoroughly charming.

dog fight max resolution

Dogfight (1991)
Directed by Nancy Savoca
If you follow me on any social media platform or have spoken with me in person, you’ve heard me mention DOGFIGHT.
As of Dec. 29, 2021, I watched DOGFIGHT six times from May 2021 to the end of the year. Why? I don’t really know – do you have to have a reason for why a film moves you? All I know is that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Don’t just go off the plot description that is given for this film. Watch it for yourself.

smallest show

The Smallest Show on Earth (1957)
Directed by Basil Dearden
This is the sweetest, most charming movies. I love to see real-life married couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers act together for starters. And then some of the actors are their co-stars, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers and Bernard Miles. It’s just plain lovely.

come next spring

Come Next Spring (1956)
Directed by R.G. Springsteen
Steve Cochran usually plays a bad dude. And here, he plays a reformed bad dude and I loved it. Come Next Spring is really lovely and visually stunning in Technicolor. Ann Sheridan is also a major highlight in this film, but Steve Cochran’s sensitive performance blew me away.

home of the brave3

Home of the Brave (1949)
Directed by Mark Robson
I didn’t expect to cry as much as I did during this movie. Not only does HOME OF THE BRAVE look at racial tensions with Black and White soldiers serving in World War II, but it also looks at the complicated emotions of soldiers when their friends are killed in action. James Edwards is not recognized enough as an actor and he shines here.

no regrets

No Regrets for Our Youth/Waga seishun ni kuinashi (1946)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
An incredible film that left me speechless. I was blown away. Actress Setsuko Hara is always wonderful, but I enjoyed seeing her play a different type of character than I’m used to seeing. Hara’s character is complex and transforms from a selfish, conflicted youth to a woman who sacrifices her life and reputation for a loved one.

here i am stranger3

Here I am a Stranger (1939)
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
This was my favorite new-to-me film from 1939 of this year. Richard Dix gave an emotional and sensitive performance of a father who reconnects with his son after many years. I also loved seeing Brenda Joyce play against type.
My full review here.

tickle me 7

Tickle Me (1965)
Directed by Norman Taurog
Have you ever remembered a movie scene that you watched as a child but you never knew what it was? Watching Tickle Me solved that mystery for me this year—I remembered Elvis and a woman in a haunted house and never knew what it was. Tickle Me is wacky and ridiculous, but it also made me laugh more than any other new-to-me movie I watched this year. Sometimes a feel good silly film is needed at the right moment. A movie doesn’t have to be the best, most serious Academy Award winner to find its way on a list like this. Shout out to my friend Nikki who loves this film. My full review here.

St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Blues (1958)
Directed by Allen Reisner
After wanting to see this film for years, I was happy to finally discover this musical. It’s interesting to see Nat King Cole in a lead performance, when he generally only appeared as a specialty act in feature films. This film is chock full of musical performances, and Eartha Kitt naturally steals the show. My full review here.

mad

Madeleine (1950)
Directed by David Lean
Why did I put off watching this film for so long? This had me on the edge of my seat, and also feeling heartbroken for Madeleine’s suiter, Mr. Minnoch. Even more interesting that this is based on a true story.

green for

Green for Danger (1946)
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
This “whodunit” had me guessing until the very end of the film. Thoroughly enjoyable, and Alastair Sim was wonderful (per usual).

magnificent

The Magnificent Dope (1942)
Directed by Walter Lang
I didn’t know what to expect from THE MAGNIFICENT DOPE, and judging by the title, I feared it would be an irritating, zany comedy. Far from it. Don Ameche as a bullish, unsuccessful business man and lazy Henry Fonda gets caught up in his success scheme when he wins the “biggest failure” contest. Both are in love with Lynn Bari. It sounds silly but it works in a charming way.

Heres-to-the-young-lady-still-1

Here’s to the Young Lady/Ojôsan kanpai (1949)
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
What a joy! This lovely romantic comedy made me laugh and left me feeling wistful.

strange

Strange Bargain (1949)
Directed by Will Price
Martha Scott and Jeffrey Lynn? Sign me up! I thought this was an exciting film noir with interesting twists. Now I need to watch the follow-up “Murder, She Wrote” episode.

song of the open road3

Jackie Moran, Bonita Granville, Jane Powell in SONG OF THE OPEN ROAD

Song of the Open Road (1944)
Directed by S. Sylvan Simon
This was the only Jane Powell film I hadn’t seen, and after she died I sought it out. It may be low budget, but I had such fun watching it. The film begins with teens riding bikes and singing and I was charmed at that moment. My full review here.

under pup3

The Under-Pup (1939)
Directed by Richard Wallace
This was another favorite 1939 new-to-me film discovery. I haven’t seen many Gloria Jean films, because they can be difficult to access. My full review here.

Honorable Mention
Films I loved but didn’t quite make the favorites list
Rembrandt (1936)
Convicts 4 (1962)
The Lovers (1958)
Invitation to Happiness (1939)
Murder at the Vanities (1934)
Seven Keys to Baldpate (1929)
Tennessee Champ (1954)
Crooks and Coronets (1969)
As Long as They’re Happy (1955)

I joined Letterboxd this year, so if you’d like to see my thoughts on other films I watch, you can find me here: https://letterboxd.com/HollywoodComet/

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Watching 1939: Midnight (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.

midnight 19391939 film:
Midnight (1939)

Release date:
March 17, 1939

Cast:
Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Francis Lederer, Mary Astor, Elaine Barrie, Hedda Hopper, Rex O’Malley, Monty Woolley, William Hopper (uncredited), Eddie Conrad (uncredited)

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Mitchell Leisen

Plot:
Eve Peabody (Colbert) is a penniless chorus girl, stranded in Paris with only the evening gown she’s wearing. Eve is helped by taxi driver Tibor Czerny (Ameche), but she leaves him and sneaks into a ritzy party. She meets Georges Flammarion (Barrymore) who suspects she’s an imposter, and hires Eve to break up the romance between his wife (Astor) and her lover (Lederer).

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Watching 1939: The Little Princess (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. 

little princess1939 film: 
The Little Princess (1939)

Release date: 
March 10, 1939

Cast: 
Shirley Temple, Richard Greene, Anita Louise, Ian Hunter, Cesar Romero, Arthur Treacher, Mary Nash, Sybil Jason, Marcia Mae Jones, Beryl Mercer, E.E. Clive, Deidre Gale, Ira Stevens, Eily Malyon

Studio: 
20th Century Fox

Director: 
Walter Lang

Plot:
When her father (Hunter) has to fight in the Boer War, Sarah (Temple) has to stay at an exclusive girl’s school in England run by Mrs. Minchin (Nash). When her father is presumed dead, Sarah is forced to work as a servant at the school.

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Watching 1939: The Great Commandment (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 Great Commandment (1939)

Release date:
Oct. 2, 1939

Cast:
John Beal, Maurice Moscovitch, Albert Dekker, Marjorie Cooley, Lloyd Corrigan

Studio:
Cathedral Films, Inc.

Director:
Irving Pichel

Plot:
Joel (Beal) is studying the holy text to follow in his father’s (Moscovitch) footsteps and become a rabbi and scribe. Joel is also in love with Tamar (Cooley), who ends up betrothed to his brother (McCollum). When Joel’s village is also terrorized by Roman soldiers, Joel believes they need assistance from the man rumored to be the Messiah.

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