Watching 1939: Nancy Drew…Reporter

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:  Nancy Drew…Reporter

Release date:  Feb. 18, 1939

Cast:  Bonita Granville, John Litel, Frankie Thomas, Dickie Jones, Mary Lee, Larry Williams, Betty Amann, Sheila Bromley, Olin Howland, Betty Amann, Joan Leslie (uncredited), Charles Smith (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  William Clemens

Plot: Nancy Drew (Granville) enters a contest at the local newspaper with a group of teenagers for the best written high school story. The editor (Jackson) assigns them each trivial stories, but after overhearing a conversation about a murder trial, Nancy decides to cover a more interesting story. Eula Denning (Amann) has been charged with murder of her wealthy guardian. Nancy is determined to clear Eula and recruits her friend Ted Nickerson (Thomas) to help; sleuthing against the wishes of her district attorney father, Carson Drew (Litel).

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Boola boola and rah rah rah: College in the movies

A typical day at Winthrop…not. (From “Good News

After a fast Christmas break, I have moved back into my Winthrop University dorm for the last time.  In honor of my last semester as a college “co-ed”  here is a blog with different representations of college in classic film and judge at how realistic the films portray college.

*I’d like to point out that all of these are classic films, so don’t be disappointed that I didn’t review “National Lampoon’s Animal House” or “Accepted.”

 

Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in “The Freshman”

•The Freshman (1925)-

Harold Lloyd is very excited about going to college after seeing a movie about a popular campus. Lloyd’s only purpose at college is to be the big man on campus. He achieves this by doing a silly dance before he shakes people’s hands and fumbling around the football field. However, he just makes a fool of himself. To review: I’m not a huge fan of Harold Lloyd actually (I am loyal to Buster Keaton), but this is actually one of my favorite silent movies. It’s heartbreaking to see how people make fun of him but also hilarious at the same time. I really don’t know what college life was like in the 1920s, but in my college experiences there is not one BIG popular person. I will say, I am on a fairly small campus of 6,500 people so there are notable figures but no one person who I would say is the most popular.

Pigskin Parade (1936)- Winston and Bessie Winters (Jack Haley and Patsy Kelly) are college coaches trying to have a winning season. Things are going rough until hillbilly Amos (Stuart Erwin) and his sister Sairy (Judy Garland)-also a redneck- come to campus.  Amos can throw a winning football pass after throwing melons on the farm. To review: Its been a long time since I’ve seen this movie but I remember it being pretty excruciating. Between Judy’s country accent and the Yacht Boys singing, it was pretty obnoxious.

 

Rosemary and Priscilla Lane publicity shot for “Variety Show”

•Varsity Show (1937)-

Priscilla and Rosemary Lane (as Betty and Barbara) and friends are trying to put on a show on Winfield Campus, but the faculty doesn’t like swing music. They pull in former student and Broadway star Chuck Day (Dick Powell), to help with the show, but his last performances have laid eggs. To review: I love Priscilla Lane and Dick Powell, and its fun to see them in a movie together. However, this is another stereotypical song and dance college musical. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in college put on as big of a show as they do in this movie.

Vivacious Lady (1938)-Francey (Ginger Rogers) marries college chemistry professor Peter (James Stewart). The marriage is a secret from his family because he is already engaged and his father (Charles Coburn)  is the college president. Stewart and Rogers go to extreme measures to stay together, including Rogers becoming a student at the college. To review: This is one of my favorite movies. Rogers and Stewart have wonderful chemistry and there are several funny moments. I did think most of the college students in Stewart’s class looked a lot older than college students though.

Bathing Beauty (1944)- Caroline (Esther Williams) goes back to her old job as a teacher at a girls’ college after a misunderstanding with her boyfriend Steve (Red Skelton). Steve tries to win Caroline back by finding a loophole in the rules and enrolling in the school. Comedic moments ensue with Red in a tutu and Harry James jazzing up music class. To review: I love this movie. Esther is beautiful in Technicolor. Xavier Cugat and Lina Romay spice it up with Latin rhythm along with other musical talents like Ethel Smith and Harry James. I know that James and Cugat don’t come and jazz up “I’ll Take the High Road” in music class in college, but it certainly does make college look fun. I also love the ever pert and fun Jean Porter in this movie. She really seems like the quintessential college/high school young lady of the 1940s to me.

Susan Peters is a co-ed with “Young Ideas”

Young Ideas(1943)- Romance author Josephine Evans(Mary Astor) marries college professor Mike (Herbert Marshall) and cancels her book tour.  Astor’s children, Susan (Susan Peters) and Jeff (Elliot Reed), oppose of the marriage, especially since it may mean their mother’s book career is over. Susan and Jeff enroll in college and do whatever they can to break up the marriage. To review: This is a classic, fun MGM movie from the 1940s. I love Herbert Marshall and he was really funny in this movie. Susan Peters and Elliot Reed were pretty bratty but Richard Carleson gave a nice balance to it. This movie seemed the most of what college might have been like-though I do wonder if freshman really wore little beanies.

•Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble (1944)- Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) goes to college and is surrounded by beautiful girls-his dream. Two twin blondes trick him and he falls for the icy Kay Wilson (Bonita Granville). Hardy competes with professor Dr. Standish (Herbert Marshall) for Kay’s attention. To review: I don’t like the Andy Hardy movies as much when he goes to college. However, the way college was represented seemed to be pretty realistic.

Peter Lawford and June Allyson in “Good News”

Good News (1947)- In the 1920s, co-ed librarian June Allyson isn’t exactly what you would call a vamp. Allyson falls for popular, football star Peter Lawford but he is interested in modern woman, Patricia Marshall.  Several songs are fit in during the pursuit of love, including a great number involving “The Varsity Drag.” To review: Once again, I wonder if in the 1920s, schools were so small to have one person who is the most popular? The movie is fun and colorful, but it seems more a vehicle for Joan McCracken and Patricia Marshall-neither who did much else in movies. I wish June Allyson was in the movie more, because she was the whole reason I watched it.

Apartment For Peggy (1948)- Peggy (Jeanne Crain) and Jason (William Holden) are married, and Jason is going to college as a chemistry major using the G.I. Bill.  Professor Henry Barnes (Edmund Gwenn), a professor at the college, has decided he has lived long enough and wants to commit suicide. The couple lives in a trailer, but needs more room because Peggy is expecting. The professor agrees to let the couple rent out his attic as an apartment and his views on life begin to change. To review: This is a really fun and cute movie. It is very light hearted but let me warn you for some sad parts. I think the college aspect is pretty realistic when put in perspective of post-war men using G.I. Bill to go to college and their wives and their struggles.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College(1949)- Clifton Webb as Mr. Belvedere decides to enroll in college since his highest level of education is from the fifth grade.  Though he is older than all the students, Belvedere is considered a freshman and has to deal with ritual hazing. During all of this he makes friends with Tom Drake and beautiful Shirley Temple who has a secret. To review: The movie is very funny, and Clifton Webb gives a droll perfomance as always. Other than the hazing, I thought this seemed pretty similar to a real college. It was pretty large and it didn’t seem like there was that one person in charge.

The Varisty Drag from Good News:

Other college films:
College (1927)- Starring Buster Keaton
College Swing (1938)- Starring Bob Hope, Gracie Allen and Martha Raye
Dancing Co-Ed (1939)-Starring Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford,  and Artie Shaw
These Glamour Girls (1939)- Starring Lana Turner, Lew Ayres and Anita Louise
Second Chorus (1940)- Starring Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Artie Shaw
The Feminine Touch (1941)- Starring Rosalind Russell and Ray Milland
The Male Animal (1942)- Starring Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Leslie
The Falcon and The Co-Ed (1943)- Starring Tom Conway
Mother Is A Freshman (1949)- Starring Van Johnson and Loretta Young
HIGH TIME (1960)- Starring Bing Crosby, Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer
Joy in the Morning (1965)- Starring Richard Chamberlin and Yvette Mimeux

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Take my pulse, Lew Ayres: Medicine in Old Movies

One summer Turner Classic Movies showed almost all of the 15 “Dr. Kildare” movies from the 1930s and 1940s…and of course I had my mother tape every single one. So for a a couple of weeks my family sat down and fell in love with Dr. Kildare (Lew Ayres), Mary Lamount (Laraine Day), Nurse Molly Byrd (Alma Kruger), Hospital Admin Dr. Carew (Walter Kingsford) and of course Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore).

Each movie was cute, somewhat suspenseful and always had a bit of comic relief from Dr. Gillespie-who was wheel chair bound due to Barrymore’s arthritis.

The most interesting thing about the Dr. Kildare series is seeing how much medicine has changed. Part of me is thankful to live in contemporary time with up to date medical technology, but I still want to live in the 1940s.

1940

It is also interesting to see the way they cure some of the medical cases. For example, in “Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case” (1940), a man is found on the street who was seemingly out of his mind. As it turns out the man had schizophrenia and they cured it. (Also notice how they pronounce the word in old movies: Ski-zo-FREE-nia)

Yes that’s right. Dr. Kildare cured schizophrenia. Amazing since even today it is incurable. The man was unconscious and given a shot that makes him go back to a “primate state and go through the stages of man until he is himself again.” And it works. The man is better, finds his wife (he also had a case of amnesia) and lives happily ever after.

However, the Dr. Kildare series isn’t the only movie that suggests schizophrenia can be cured. In the film “Bewitched” (1945), sweet Phyllis Thaxter has a voice inside of her head telling her murderous things such as to kill her fiancé. At the end of the movie, her psychiatrist helps her see which personality wins out.  She is cured and back to normal.

Moving away from schizophrenia, in “The People vs. Dr. Kildare,” Dr. Kildare performs an emergency surgery on ice skater Bonita Granville at the scene of a bad car accident. Granville then finds that she can’t walk (though her leg healed properly) and sues Dr. Kildare.  I may not be a med student, but I find it questionable that Kildare performed the surgery outside in an area that was not sanitary.

I will say I appreciate the bluntness of Dr. Gillespie. Doctors would be sued if they talked to their patients the way Gillespie barks at his, but they are usually cured and he gets the point across.

Here is an example of Dr. Gillespie’s doctor tactics:
Dr. Gillespie: Well, Mr. Ingersoll, good morning, and how are you feeling today?
Patient, Rufus Ingersoll: Never felt better in my life!
Dr. Gillespie: Oh ho, that’s fine. That’s fine…because your system’s in a state of collapse. Sit down before you fall down!

“Emergency”-My favorite TV show

Though the medical practices of Dr. Kildare might seem archaic by today’s standards, they certainly seemed up to date for the standards of the 1940s. The doctors were in New York City -not the country doctor seen in many other movies of the 1930s and 1940s.

Actually, the medical practices you see 30 years later in the television show “Emergency!” (1972 to 1979) aren’t much different. Nurse Dixie McCall, Doctor Bracket and Doctor Early seem like they are the only employees at Rampart General Hospital. My family and I always joke that those three doctors were the only doctors in the hospital because they did it all: Deliver babies, perform surgery and general practice.

Regardless of the questionable terminology and medical methods of the “Dr. Kildare” series, don’t let it turn you off. After watching all 15 movies, you will feel like Laraine Day, Nat Pendleton, Lew Ayres and Marie Blake are part of your family.

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The Mystery of the Murdered Movie

I love Nancy Drew.

I have played and solved 21 of the HerInteractive PC games and read most of the original yellow bound novels. I even own a Nancy Drew cookbook, a “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” book and a large Nancy Drew cut out.

Nancy Drew has played a pivotal role for the past 80 years in literature for young girls, as well as in pop culture.

Everyone knows who she is and is fairly respected as a literary character. However, why is there not a flattering movie adaptation depicting everyone’s this important literary character and symbol for American women?

Eight years after the first Nancy Drew novel, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” was published in 1930, the first Nancy Drew film adaptation was released.

Nancy Drew, Reporter,” the first film adaptation of the series, was released in 1938, three more movies were released all in 1939. These movies included “Nancy Drew  Troubleshooter,” “Nancy Drew Detective ” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase).”

Film series were not rare in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In fact many studios made a great deal of money off of series such as “Andy Hardy,” “Dr. Kildaire,” “Maisie” and “Boston Blackie just to name a few of many.

I imagine that is what Warner Brothers was trying to do with Nancy Drew. But none of the films followed or resembled any of the Nancy Drew books, except for snippets of “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” which I think is modeling itself after the book “The Hidden Staircase.”

In novels Miss Drew is level-headed, fearless and intelligent. She doesn’t goof off and there isn’t much time for romance in her life. Yes there is her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, but I can count on one hand the amount of times they kissed or flirted in the novels. She was also very talented and fashionable. She could tap dance the Morris code while wearing a freshly pressed tailored suit.

Also in the novels, Ned was concerned about Nancy but never hindered her sleuthing. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, was a distinguished lawyer. He teased his daughter for her appetite for mysteries and trusted her good sense.

However, the characters in the 1930s Nancy Drew series didn’t resemble Carolyn Keene’s intelligent teens.

Nancy Drew, played by Bonita Granville, was bumbling, scatter-brained and frightened for most of the films. She set out to solve a mystery but would run home before finding any actual clues.

Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson

Ned Nickerson, played by Frankie Thomas, was named TED in the movies for some reason. He was maybe the most tolerable character in the movies, but I wouldn’t run to him to protect me.

John Litel was a very irritating Carson Drew. He forbid Nancy from sleuthing and worried about her constantly. Even Hannah Gruen, the housekeeper, ran away in terror when someone broke into their home. Hannah in the books would have knocked them on their ear.

John Litel as Carson Drew in “Nancy Drew…Reporter” (1938)

The films involve very little mystery solving and an over abundance of silly slap-stick. I’m not asking for a whole detailed novel to be played out in the 68 minute films, but Warner Brothers could have at least been accurate with their character depictions.

Bonita Granville, who was 16 when she played Nancy Drew, was in top-notch films such as “These Three”(1936), which she received her only Oscar nomination, and “Now, Voyager” (1941), giving excellent performances in both but clearly Nancy Drew was not the role for her.

I made a list of who, with some tweaks to the script, could have been the perfect Nancy Drew casting in the 1930s or 1940s.

Nancy Drew: Deanna Durbin (19 at this time) would be my first pick. She sometimes plays silly characters, but also plays serious roles beautifully. Nancy Drew was also supposed to be very attractive. Miss Granville wasn’t ugly, but Deanna Durbin is decidedly prettier. I’m sure they would have to fit in a song or two for Deanna. She would have been old enough by this time, because “First Love,” the film that she received her first on-screen kiss came out the same year as the series.

Carson Drew: John Litel is generally a character actor with small roles. I’m not sure why they chose him to play the distinguished lawyer, Carson Drew. I can’t think of anyone else who could play this role more perfectly than Walter Pidgeon. Mr. Pidgeon is the definition of distinguished and sophistication. With his fatherly and friendly acting style, along with his pipe, I can picture him now giving Nancy advice.

Ned Nickerson: I would either say a teen-aged Jackie Cooper (17 at the time) or Robert Stack (20 at this time). Both boys were attractive and would have seemed more protective of Nancy Drew than Frankie Thomas. Stack was also in the 1939 film “First Love” with Miss Durbin and would have been of a suitable age.

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