Watching 1939: Arizona Legion

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: Arizona Legion

Release date: Jan. 20, 1939

Cast: George O’Brien, Laraine Day (billed as Laraine Johnson), Carlyle Moore Jr., Chill Wills, Tom Chatterton, Edward LeSaint, Glenn Strange, Harry Cording

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director: David Howard

When a stagecoach is robbed by Whisky Joe (Cording), everyone is too afraid to speak up and identify or accuse the criminal. Boone Yeager (O’Brien) is a hard-drinking cowboy who the judge (LeSaint) asks to infiltrate the clan of Whiskey Joe. The daughter of the Judge, Letty (Day/Johnson) is engaged to Boone and she doesn’t understand his recent behavior.

1939 Notes:
• Laraine Day was billed Laraine Johnson. Laraine changed her last name to “Day” after signing a contract with M-G-M. She only made three films released in 1939 and the last is what helped boost her career, Calling Dr. Kildare (1939). It was her first role in the Dr. Kildare film series, where she played the doctor’s girlfriend, Mary Lamont.

George O’Brien and Laraine Johnson (Day)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
There are several great westerns of the classic film era. And there are even more low-budget westerns that graced the silver screen. “Arizona Legion” (1939) would fall in the latter category.

The film plot isn’t anything new or different, though it is an entertaining film. During this point in his career, George O’Brien starring almost exclusively in westerns from 1937 to 1940. Many of these films barely (or don’t) surpass a 60-minute length.

While the film type or plot isn’t anything new to films at this time, O’Brien’s leading lady was. The lead actress is billed as Laraine Johnson, who later changed her name to Laraine Day and became one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s contract players. “Arizona Legion,” Day’s fifth film, wasn’t necessarily important to her career, but 1939 was the year she broke out in films.

This same year, Laraine Johnson was signed to MGM, changed her name and was cast in the Dr. Kildare film series (starring Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore) as Dr. Kildare’s love interest. In 1940, she even went on to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940).

While some films released in 1939 are not of great importance in the grand scheme of things, some were the catalyst to a successful career. That could be the case for Laraine Day and this film.

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Do you remember the forgotten man: Veterans Day edition


Joan Blondell in "Gold Diggers of 1933" singing "Remember My Forgotten Man"


Since Veteran’s Day celebrates men and women who served in the armed forces and helped fight for our country, I wanted to mention celebrity veterans who fought.  Veteran’s Day was originally known as Armistice Day when the armistice was signed between the allies and the central powers at the end of the Great War in 1918. What better way to celebrate recognizing WW1 soldiers, specifically those that were actors.
Movie fans always hear about stars who fought in World War II, like Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.  I started wondering what stars fought in The Great War (or World War I.)  I looked around on Google and  found very little. Thanks to my prior knowledge and some huge silent film fans on the IMDB message boards,  I came up with a list of actors who fought in World War I.
So today let’s remember all veteran’s, but especially those that brought us this day in the eleventh month, the eleventh day and the eleventh hour. And don’t forget the forgotten man.

Fighting with the Allied Powers

Richard Arlen, Humphrey Bogart, Walter Brennan

Richard Arlen– Served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Flying Corps, but never saw combat.
Humphry Bogart– Served in the U.S. Navy on the Leviathan.  He had an injury on his face and mouth which left him with his lisp, according to the website “Star War.”
Walter Brennan– Injured by gas attack during WWI which permanently affected his vocal chords.


Clive Brooks, Maurice Chevalier, Merian C. Cooper


Clive Brook-Served in the British Army
Maurice Chevalier– Enlisted in the French army and was wounded, captured and taken prisoner by the Germans in 1914. He spent two years in Alten prison camp.
Merian C. Cooper– Fighter pilot for the United States


Ronald Colman, Walt Disney, Cedric Hardwicke


Ronald Colman– Fought in the British Army. Was wounded/gassed in Messines.
Walt Disney-Was only 16 during World War I, but lied so he could serve in the Red Cross.
Cedric Hardwick-Stage actor till career interrupted by the war. Served the British Army.


Buster Keaton, Charles Laughton, Herbert Marshall


Buster Keaton– Was a Corporal in the U.S. 40 Division in France
Charles Laughton– Joined the Army as a private in 1917. Served with the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Regiment, and later with 7th Bn. Northamptonshire Regiment in the Western Front. Casualty of mustard gas.
Herbert Marshall-Lost part of his right leg in the war and wore a wooden leg for the rest of his life. May notice a limp in some of his movies.

Ken Maynard, Victor McLaglen, Adolphe Menjou

Ken Maynard– Fought in the U.S. Army
Victor McLaglen– When the war broke out, McLaglen joined the Irish Fusiliers and fought in the Middle East and serving as Provost Marshal (head of Military Police) for the city of Baghdad.
Adolphe Menjou– Captain of the Ambulance Corp in France


George O'Brien, Pat O'Brien, Jack Pickford


George O’Brien– Served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Fleet where he was also the Heavy Weight Boxing Champ.
Pat O’Brien– Enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1918
Jack Pickford– (brother of Mary Pickford)  U.S. Navy Reserve in 1918. Almost court-martialed for a scandal when he accepted bribes from draftees who wanted light shore duty.  His mother had a secret meeting Wilson’s personal secretary, Joseph Tumulty. Tumulty requested Jack to be discharged  to make movies in support of the Army Air Corps.


Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, John Monk Saunders


Claude Rains-Served in the Scottish Regiment in England.
Basil Rathbone– Second Lieutenant for the Liverpool Scottish. Received the Military Cross in 1918 for bravery.
John Monk Saunders– (Hollywood Writer) Served in the Air Service.


William Desmond Taylor, Ernst Thesiger, Warren William


William Desmond Taylor– Fought in the Canadian Air Force
Ernst Thesiger– Fought in the British Army
Warren William– Fought in France with the U.S. Army

Fight with the Central Powers

Fritz Lang, Bela Lugosi, Sig Rumand

Fritz Lang-Soldier in the Austrian Army and fought in Romania and Russia.
Bela Lugosi– Was an infantry lieutenant in the Hungarian Army
Sig Ruman-Served in the Imperial German Forces

*Tune into tonight’s “Radio Waves Over Hollywood” live stream on WINR at 6 p.m. ET.  Tonight’s show is about war movies!

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