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).

1939 Notes:
• Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer wrote the song “Wings Over the Navy” for this film. This was Warren’s last film song written for Warner Brothers after starting there in 1932.
• Lloyd Bacon directed six films in 1939.
• Character actor John Rigdely was in 31 films released in 1939.
• Still early in his career, John Payne was in three full-length films in 1939.
• Victor Jory was in 10 films released in 1939
• Olivia de Havilland was in five films in 1939
• George Brent was in four films released in 1939

Character actor John Ridgely, who was in 31 films in 1939 including “Wings of the Navy.” (Screen cap by Jessica P)

Other trivia: 
• Filmed at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, and the Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado, California.

Olivia de Havilland and John Payne in “Wings of the Navy”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Wings of the Navy” isn’t anything special. But it’s enjoyable. It has the zest and excitement of a military-themed film, complete with the danger of learning how to fly a plane and test pilots risking their lives. We also have romantic rivalries within a family.

For leads like Olivia de Havilland and George Brent, this movie was just a filler contractual obligaion compared to the other films they starred in that were released in 1939. But for some supporting characters, this film was helping build their career. This year gave John Payne larger roles, like this one, and his first primary lead (Kid Nightingale).

This movie also is a good example of Warner Brothers with their usual character actor round-up: Henry O’Neill, John Litel and John Ridgely. Now, to date, John Ridgely, has been in the most 1939 films since I started this feature with 31 film credits.

Songwriter Harry Warren wrote a the song “Wings Over the Navy” with Johnny Mercer, which is played over the credits and throughout the film. Warren started with Warner Brothers in 1932 and scored 32 more musicals, including “42nd Street” and “Footlight Parade.” “Wings of the Navy” marked his last film for Warner Brothers and he left the studio in 1939.

While I enjoyed “Wings of the Navy,” if you are looking for a good romantic plot, this isn’t the film for you. While the most plot summaries make it seem like this romantic rivalry is the main point of the film, it really takes a backseat to the trials and tribulations of becoming a Navy flyer.

George Brent, Olivia de Havilland and John Payne in a publicity photo for “Wings of the Navy”

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Watching 1939: Dark Victory

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:  Dark Victory (1939)

Release date:  April 20, 1939

Cast:  Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ronald Reagan, Henry Travers, Cora Witherspoon

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Edmund Goulding

Plot:
Socialite Judith Traherne (Davis) has been behaving erratically. Many people believe she’s drinking and partying, but her friend Ann King (Fitzgerald) tries to get her to see a doctor. Judith finally sees Dr. Frederick Steele (Brent), who diagnoses Judith with a brain tumor. Dr. Steele does surgery, but will Judith live?

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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: Fast and Loose (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:  Fast and Loose (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 17, 1939

Cast:  Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Reginald Owen, Ralph Morgan, Etienne Girardot, Alan Dinehart, Jo Ann Sayers, Joan Marsh, John Hubbard, Tom Collins, Sidney Blackmer, Ian Wolfe, Frank Orth (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Plot:
Eccentric Christopher Oates (Girardot) wants to buy a rare William Shakespeare manuscript from rare book collector Nick Torrent (Morgan). Oates seeks the help a pair of married booksellers, Joel (Montgomery) and Garda Sloane (Russell). However, as the Sloanes try to make a sell, murders start to occur and their job switches to sleuthing.

1939 Notes:
• Character actor Etienne Girardot who acted in this film died in Nov. 1939. He was in eight films released this year.
• Robert Montgomery’s only film released in 1939.
• Rosalind Russell was only in two films released in 1939. The other film was “The Women.”
• Jo Ann Sayers was in 11 feature films and shorts in 1939. She acted in a total of 15 credits from 1938 to 1953.
• Tom Collins was in nine shorts and feature films in 1939. He only acted in a total of 14 films from 1939 to 1940.
• Frank Orth was in 18 films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• “Fast and Loose” is part of a trio of films that follows a married couple, Joel and Garda Sloan, solving mysteries. Each film has different leads playing the Sloans: “Fast Company” (1938) stars Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice, and “Fast and Furious” (1939) stars Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern.
• The “Fast” trio was created in response to the popularity of the sophisticated detective films, “The Thin Man” series, and from complaints that “Thin Man” films weren’t being released fast enough, according to Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell by Bernard F. Dick.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Fast and Loose” was part of a three-part series to mimic the style, humor and sophistication of the “The Thin Man” mystery films.

And while “Fast and Loose” (and the other “Fast” films) were noted to be a carbon copy, they still stand on their own and enjoyable, humorous, and intriguing mystery films.

Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell are wonderful in their films (individually and together) and while “Fast and Loose” may not be a film either is remembered for, they both still bring their A-game. While they play a married detective team, Montgomery is the main focus here. We see less of Russell in the middle of the film until she reappears at the end.

I can attest for the other two “Fast” series films that they are just as enjoyable as this one. If audiences were upset that the “Thin Man” movies weren’t coming out fast enough, these were a decent substitute. They were funny, had sophistication, and kept the viewer stumped of “who done it.” I honestly didn’t know who the criminal was in this film until the end, similar to how “The Thin Man” movies keep you guessing.

As far as films released in 1939, Montgomery and Russell were in few compared to other actors. “Fast and Loose” was Montgomery’s only film released in 1939 and was one of two for Russell. While Russell’s role was small here, her next film gave her a much juicier role: “The Women.”

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Watching 1939: Yes, My Darling Daughter (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:  Yes, My Darling Daughter

Release date: 
Feb. 25, 1939

Cast: 
Priscilla Lane, Jeffrey Lynn, Roland Young, Fay Bainter, May Robson, Genevieve Tobin, Ian Hunter, Robert Homans

Studio: 
Warner Brothers Studios

Director: 
William Keighley

Plot:
Trying to follow in her mother’s feminist footsteps, Ellen (Lane) decides that she and her boyfriend Doug (Lynn) will spend a weekend alone in a cabin before he goes to Belgium for two years for a job. Though her mother Ann (Bainter) lived a single life in Greenwich Village, she isn’t thrilled at the prospect of her unmarried daughter staying the weekend with a man.

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Watching 1939: Dodge City (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:  Dodge City (1939)

Release date:  April 1, 1939

Cast:  Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ann Sheridan, Bobs Watson, Alan Hale, Bruce Cabot, Frank McHugh, John Litel, Henry Travers, Henry O’Neill, Victor Jory, William Lundigan, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Gloria Holden, Douglas Fowley, Ward Bond, Cora Witherspoon, Thurston Hall (uncredited), Rand Brooks (uncredited)

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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

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Watching 1939: The Roaring Twenties

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 Roaring Twenties (1939)

Release date:  Oct. 28, 1939

Cast:  James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, Paul Kelly, Robert Armstrong (uncredited)

Studio: 
Warner Brothers

Director:  Raoul Walsh

Plot:
During World War I, three men meet in a foxhole and become friends: Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) who wants to go back to his pre-war job as a mechanic, George Hally (Bogart) who is a bit brash and wants to run a saloon, and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) who is college educated and wants to be a lawyer. When the war ends, Eddie returns home and can’t find work. Prohibition begins and Eddie gets mixed up with bootleggers. He also meets and falls in love with Jean (Lane), who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, and gets Jean a job singing in a club owned by Panama Smith (George). The years go by and Eddie and George work together as bootleggers and Jean grows closer to Llyod.

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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: 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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