Watching 1939: Four Wives (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:  Four Wives (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 22, 1939

Cast:  Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, Lola Lane, Gale Page, Claude Rains, Jeffrey Lynn, May Robson, Dick Foran, Eddie Albert, Henry O’Neill, Vera Lewis, John Qualen, Hobart Cavanaugh (uncredited), Ruth Tobey (uncredited), Olin Howland (uncredited), George Reeves (uncredited)
Archived information: John Garfield

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Michael Curtiz

After the death of her husband, Ann (Priscilla Lane) struggles when she learns she is pregnant with his child. She is haunted by his memory, which makes her engagement to Felix (Lynn) difficult and strained. Her sisters Emma (Page) and Thea (Lola Lane) are both trying to become mothers and Kay (Rosemary Lane) falls in love with a young doctor (Albert).

1939 Notes:
• The Lane sisters (Priscilla, Rosemary and Lola) were in two movies together released in 1939. Rosemary Lane was in five films released in 1939, and Lola Lane was in two films released in 1939.
• Priscilla Lane was in five movies released in 1939 and she co-starred with Jeffrey Lynn in four of them: Four Wives, Yes, My Darling Daughter, Daughters Courageous and Roaring Twenties. Jeffrey Lynn was in six films in 1939.
• Gale Page was in six films released in 1939.
• The second in the trilogy of films starring the Lane Sisters and Gail Page. The movies include “Four Daughters” (1938), “Four Wives” (1939) and “Four Mothers” (1941)
• One of four films directed by Michael Curtiz released in 1939.
• Eddie Albert’s third film. Albert made two films in 1939.
• Dick Foran was in four films released in 1939.
• Claude Rains was in five films released in 1939.

Jeffrey Lynn and Priscilla Lane in “Four Wives”

Other trivia: 
• While John Garfield’s character died in “Four Daughters,” he makes an appearance in memories in “Four Wives.”
• Based on a magazine story called “Sister Act” by Fannie Hurst, published in Cosmopolitan magazine.
• In response to the success of “Four Daughters” (1938), “Four Wives” and “Four Mothers” (1941) followed in the trilogy. “Daughters Courageous” was made in 1939 in response to the success of “Four Daughters.” “Daughters Courageous” was not part of the trilogy but had a similar formula and the same cast. Michael Curtiz directed “Four Wives” and “Daughters Courageous” in 1939.
• Michael Curtiz only directed the first two films, “Four Daughters” (1938) and “Four Wives” (1939). “Four Mothers” (1941) was directed by William Keighley.
• Working titles were Family Reunion, Family Affair, American Family and Sister Act.

John Garfield appears briefly in “Four Wives” from clips from “Four Daughters”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
With the success of “Four Daughters” (1938), starring the Lane Sisters and Gale Page, a few films followed: two more films in the series “Four Wives” and “Four Mothers,” and another separate film “Daughters Courageous.”

Priscilla Lane, Lola Lane, Gail Page, Rosemary Lane in a publicity photo for “Four Wives”

While some film sequels (like some of the Gidget films) aren’t great, “Four Wives” is a good sequel to “Four Daughters.” When I first saw the movie in high school, I remember feeling frustrated that the romance between Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn wasn’t picture-perfect. However, now I think it makes it more interesting that we see Priscilla Lane’s character struggle with the death of her husband and having his child, though their marriage wasn’t ideal.

However, for me the highlight was Eddie Albert in his third film role and looking as handsome and adorable can be.

While Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn were in several films together throughout the 1930s and 1940s, 1939 paired them together four times: Four Wives, Yes, My Darling Daughter, Daughters Courageous and Roaring Twenties.

The film has plenty of dramatic moments, but there are also several humorous ones, particularly with May Robson, Eddie Albert. Frank McHugh and Lola Lane.

The film leaves off with the sisters and their new babies, leaving room for a third film: “Four Mothers,” which was the last film pairing of the Lane sisters and Gail Page.

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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

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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Confessions of a VHS User

222 classic movies on VHS tapes

Recently my mother told me that we had an estimated 222 movies taped off of Turner Classic Movies. Why you ask?

Every month I flip through the “Turner Classic Movie Now Playing Guide” and make a list of 20 to 50 movies to tape.

Our family owns a DVR but we use VHS tapes, because they hold more, are reusable and usually give us higher quality.

I tape so many movies so I can fulfill the many lists I have made to organize my old movie obsessions.

Here is a very brief summary of the lists I have so far:
-Movie Musical list: I have currently seen 374 musicals. I started this list back in 2004 when I was in 9th grade.  This includes any movie musical I have seen, new or old; anything from a Kay Kyser musical to “Chicago.”
-Silent Movie list: This currently only has 40 movies. I only started really getting interested in silent films in late 2008 and just started the list in March 2010.
-Screen teams: This is a list of famous screen teams such as Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland, Myrna Loy and William Powell, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.  I try to see all of the movies the screen teams were in together.
-Movies Series: Similarly to the Screen Teams list, I am trying to see all the movies in certain film series such as Andy Hardy, Dr. Kildaire and Maisie.
-Actresses Lists: I have 47 actresses that I am trying to see all of their movies. A few of these are Jean Arthur, Bette Davis and Kay Francis. So far I’ve only seen all of Judy Garland’s movies.
-Actors Lists: Similar to the actress list, except with 19 actors. Lists include Van Johnson, Dana Andrews and George Brent.

Recently, I have started a rather ambitious list. It is all of the movies from 1939- a total of 514 movies and I have only seen 84.

“The Rains Came”: 20th Century Fox’s contribution to the 1939 royalty

The year of 1939 is important not just for “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind,” but it also birthed other well known movies such as “Ninotchka,” “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” “Stagecoach” and “The Grapes of Wrath.”

It’s amazing to look at all of the films that came out during what is known as “Hollywood’s Greatest Year,” and I was inspired to try to see all of them.

Turner Classic Movies showed a documentary in the summer of 2009 called “1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year.” The documentary said the reason this year was profitable was the United States was slowly getting out of the depression and the film companies were able to fund bigger projects.

However, this glory only lasted one year.  Two years later World War II hit, actors were drafted and America and Hollywood put their efforts toward the war on the home front and overseas. Once the war was over, the tone of America and movies changed from light and happy 1930s films to darker and angsty melodramas, according to the documentary.

In a way, this is why I want to make the list. I feel like when people hear 1939, they think of “Gone with the Wind” or “Wizard of Oz,” but there were so many other special movies that year. I want to see if the other films that you don’t hear about have that same magic. Who knows, once I finish watching all 514 movies maybe I’ll try my hand at writing a book.

Making the list took maybe three days, however I know that the watching process will take much longer. I’m worried about being able to track some of the movies and making it through low budget crime movies.

Wish me luck!

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