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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Musical Monday: Week-End in Havana (1941)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

Week-end_in_havanaThis week’s musical:
Week-End in Havana” (1941)–Musical #479

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Walter Lang

Starring:
Alice Faye, John Payne, Cesar Romero, Carmen Miranda, Cobina Wright, Leonid Kinskey, George Barbier

Plot:
Macy’s shop girl Nan Spencer (Faye) saves up her money to go on her first cruise to Havana. The only problem is, the ship hits a sandbar in Florida and the ship company has to reimburse everyone and offer them another trip. When ship employee Jay Williams (Payne)-who is also engaged to the boss’s daughter- is sent to reimburse the passengers and have them sign waivers, Nan isn’t satisfied with a check. She saved for years for this trip and also knows what the captain was doing when the ship crashed, which could threaten a lawsuit for the company.
Jay’s company sends Nan on an all expenses paid trip to Havana so she will sign the company’s waiver. Jay has to go along-postponing his wedding- to make sure Nan has a good time. Along the way she falls for Monte Blanca (Romero), who is the boyfriend/manager of Rosita Rivas (Miranda). Monte thinks Nan is wealthy and thinks he is using her to pay off his gambling debts.

Trivia:
-This is one of many films made in the 1940s with a “good neighbor” feel to it. Several films visited Latin American countries such as Cuba, Argentina or Brazil to showcase these countries and strengthen United States relations with Latin American government.
-Carmen Miranda’s second film.
-This was the second of three films Miranda and Faye made together. The other two films were “That Night in Rio” (1941) and “The Gang is All Here” (1943).

John Payne, Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero in "Week-End in Havana."

John Payne, Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero in “Week-End in Havana.”

Highlights:
-Every colorful Carmen Miranda performance
-Alice Faye and Cesar Romero dancing to “Romance and Rhumba.” It gives the audience an opportunity to see Romero’s smooth dance moves.

Notable Songs:
-Tropical Magic sung by Alice Faye and John Payne
-Rebola a Bola sung by Carmen Miranda
-The Ñango sung by Carmen Miranda complete with a lavish dance number
-Romance and Rhumba sung by Alice Faye and Cesar Romero

Review:
Alice Faye once said her singing voice was deeper than the plots of the films she made.
This may be the case with “Week-End in Havana,” but this film is a lot of fun. The colorful costumes and scenery are gorgeous in Technicolor, Carmen Miranda and Alice Faye are equipped with catchy songs and the two leading men are nice to look at.
The four leads seem to have fairly equal screen time- each delivering witty lines and offering scenes filled with charm.
Week-End in Havana” is a lighthearted 1940s “good neighbor” film, that is full of color and fun.

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