Watching 1939: Four Girls in White (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 Girls in White

Release date: January 27, 1939

Cast: Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford, Una Merkel, Mary Howard, Alan Marshal, Kent Taylor, Buddy Ebsen, Jessie Ralph, Sara Haden, Phillip Terry, Tom Neal, Joy Anderson (uncredited)


S. Sylvan Simon

Four nurses (Rice, Rutherford, Merkel, Howard) are student nurses trying to make it through their three years at a hospital until graduation. Norma (Rice) is looking for a rich husband, Mary (Howard) pines way for her young daughter, Patricia (Rutherford) is sweet and diligent, and Gertie (Merkel) looks forward to her next meal. The girls face the stresses of becoming a nurse and making mistakes. Norma falls in love with a doctor (Marshal) but is frustrated that he always gets called into work.

1939 notes:
• Ann Rutherford was in seven films released in 1939. This one was released first.

• Phillip Terry was in 12 feature films in 1939. This is one of four films that was credited. The rest were uncredited.

Mary Howard, Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford and Una Merkel in “Four Girls in White” (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I love nurse films and this one is no exception. The 1930s were filled with nurse films, but many of the Pre-Code era featured sassy, fast-talking nurses who have at least one scene in their skivvies and rolling up or down their stockings. An example of this would be Night Nurse (1931), where Barbara Stanwyck ends up as a private nurse to children of an alcoholic mom.

Others were very dramatic accounts, like Prison Nurse (1938) or The Nurse from Brooklyn (1938).

While there have been many films focusing on the nursing field throughout the 1930s, I feel that “Four Girls in White” (1939) provides something a little different.

I felt that “Four Girls in White” showed girls working to become nurses in a hospital with the same tone and feeling that the Dr. Kildare film series (which began in 1937) showed about young doctors coming into the medical field.

Each nurse is independent and eager for a career in the medical field. Now, some of these nurses had different agendas other than just helping sick people. One, in particular, was looking to marry a rich husband, but we see each of them studying and working hard to learn (and also messing up). Much of their learning is shown through montages that give a feel for the four nurses’ personalities.

These low-budget Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films of the late 1930s and early 1940s all have a brisk brightness that is especially pleasing. There are some overly dramatic moments (a few disasters strike and all nurses are needed) but it really is a fun film.

Is it a great film? Probably not, but it has a fresh and hopeful feeling that is found in MGM films of this time.

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Musical Monday: Sweethearts (1938)

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.

This week’s musical:
“Sweethearts” (1938)– Musical #292


W.S. Van Dyke

Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Reginald Gardiner, Florence Rice, Mischa Auer, Herman Bing, George Barbier, Fay Holden, Allyn Joslyn, Lucille Watson, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Olin Howland, Douglas McPhail, Betty Jaynes, Irving Bacon (uncredited)

Husband and wife Broadway stars Gwen Marlowe and Ernest Lane (MacDonald and Eddy) have been happily married for six years and are in their sixth year of performing Victor Herbert’s operetta “Sweethearts.” They are exhausted due to constant singing obligations and decide to go to Hollywood. Their Broadway producer (Morgan) and his staff hatch a plan to drive the couple apart and keep them from going to Hollywood.

-This is MGM’s first full-length feature in three-strip Technicolor and the first color film for either Nelson Eddy or Jeanette MacDonald
-Filming began on June 17, 1938, in black-and-white. After two days, however, the production was interrupted, all the black-and-white footage was scrapped and filming began again in Technicolor, according to the American Film Institute (AFI)
-Pianist José Iturbi was to make his acting debut in Sweethearts (1938), but he didn’t end up in the completed film. Iturbi was not in any films until 1944, according to AFI
-The “Sweethearts” number uses the set from the “Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” number from The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
-Fifth pairing of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald
-Costumes by Adrian

-Gorgeous Technicolor
-Broadway lights montage at the beginning
-Jeannette MacDonald’s dachshund
-Jeannette MacDonald’s vibrant hair and costumes
-Shopping montage

Notable Songs:
-“Sweethearts” performed by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald
-“Wooden Shoes” performed by Jeanette MacDonald and Ray Bolger
-“On Parade” performed by Nelson Eddy
-“Pretty as a Picture” performed by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy

Nominated for:
-Douglas Shearer for Best Sound, Recording
-Herbert Stothart for Best Music, Scoring
-Honorary award for the color cinematography of the M-G-M production Sweethearts to Oliver T. Marsh and Allen M. Davey

My review:
“Sweethearts” is unlike any other Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy musical. This musical feels fuller and elaborate. It features larger musicals numbers to simulate a Broadway show, rather than just operatic duets. The costumes are bright and elaborate, and Jeanette does a bit of dancing in some of the Broadway numbers.

Adrian costumes in beautiful Technicolor

On top of all of this, it is in beautiful Technicolor. The cinematographers and costume designer Adrian fully took advantage of this. Jeanette MacDonald’s red hair is fiery bright and Adrian’s costumes are in every color of the rainbow: from a baby pink tulle costume, a chiffon mustard yellow gown, and a sequined blue evening gown.

The cast is also filled with magnificent characters actors: Frank Morgan, Florence Rice,
Ray Bolger, Reginald Gardiner, Mischa Auer, Herman Bing, Fay Holden, Lucille Watson, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, and Terry Kilburn. George Barbier plays Benjamin Silver, the head of the studio trying to sign Eddy and MacDonald’s characters. Judging by the logo of the fictional studio and how Barbier was dressed, I wonder if MGM had in mind that they were trying to make him look like their own Louis B. Mayer.

We also see young singers Betty Jaynes and Douglas McPhail who were married the same year “Sweethearts” was released. Jaynes and McPhail co-starred in “Babes in Arms” (1939) the next year with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. The two play understudies to Eddy and MacDonald, which is interesting because McPhail was signed to be “the next Nelson Eddy.”

Jeanette MacDonald, Frank Morgan and Nelson Eddy in “Sweethearts”

The only issue with having so many wonderful supporting actors is that some of them felt wasted with little screen time. For example, we only really see Ray Bolger dance at the beginning and then he is never seen again. Reginald Gardiner isn’t in the film very much either.

Along with being insanely beautiful and chockfull of stars, this is a funny musical. Hollywood and the entertainment industry makes fun of itself. In one scene in Benjamin Silver’s office late in the evening, studio workers rush in exclaiming about all the issues they have had during filming that day. “She fainted after the 24th take!” said Irving Bacon’s character. Later, while Reginald Gardiner is convincing Eddy and MacDonald to Hollywood, he talks about how they have all their evening to themselves and you only have to take one take and then you are done with the scene forever. This scene is humorous because you know it’s all so untrue.

While Rose Marie and Maytime are my top two favorite Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald films, “Sweethearts” probably falls at number three. It’s so beautiful to look at and also fun. Even if you don’t love opera music, I feel like this movie is more than just Eddy and MacDonald singing to each other. It’s beautiful and filled with gorgeous costumes and humor.

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Musical Monday: New Moon (1940)

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.

This week’s musical:
New Moon” (1940)– Musical #374

Poster - New Moon (1940)_02


Robert Z. Leonard, W.S. Van Dyke (uncredited)

Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Mary Boland, George Zucco, Dick Purcell, Grant Mithcell, Joe Yule, Nat Pendleton (uncredited), Buster Keaton (scenes deleted)

Marianne de Beaumanoir (MacDonald) is heading from France to New Orleans. On the same boat as a prisoner is nobleman Duc de Villiers (Eddy), using the name of Charles Henri. Marianne meets him on board, believing that he’s the ship’s captain. He is sold as a servant in New Orleans and becomes the servant of Marianne, and she is angry that he lied to her. Little to their knowledge, Charles’ enemies are sailing to New Orleans from France.

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Musical Monday: Words and Music (1948)

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.

This week’s musical:
Words And Music(1948)– Musical #69

words and music


Norman Taurog

Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers and Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart
Also Starring: June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Perry Como, Vera-Ellen, Judy Garland, Betty Garrett, Lena Horne, Gene Kelly, Janet Leigh, Jeannette Nolan, Richard Quine, Ann Sothern, Clinton Sundberg, Marshall Thompson, Mel Torme

Fictional biographical film of the songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, chronicling their success on Broadway, abroad and in Hollywood.

Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the 1930s. Their career is portrayed in "Words and Music."

Songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in the 1930s. Their career is portrayed in “Words and Music.”

-The project started in 1946 and was originally titled, “With a Song in My Heart” and then “Easy to Remember,” according to A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart by Gary Marmorstein.

-Richard Rodgers hated the movie, according to Marmostein’s book.

-Lyricist Lorenz Hart, who Mickey Rooney plays in the film, died in 1943 at age 48. Richard Rodgers was 46 when this film was released and passed away in 1979. After Hart passed away, Rodgers became songwriting parterns with Oscar Hammerstein.

-“Words and Music” was Perry Como’s first film with MGM after signing a seven year contract. His MGM career ended promptly with this film after he sang happy birthday to Louis B. Mayer and ended it with an insult, according to the book Perry Como: A Biography and Complete Career Record by Malcolm Macfarlane, Ken Crossland.

-Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland’s last on-screen performance.

-Perry Como had two songs deleted from the film: “You’re Nearer” and “Lover,” according to the Malcolm Macfarlane and Ken Crossland book.

-Tom Drake is dubbed by Bill Lee

-Cyd Charisse is dubbed by Eileen Wilson

-The all-star cast
-Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney’s performance of “I Wish I Was in Love Again”

Notable Songs:
-“Manhattan” performed by Mickey Rooney
-“Mountain Greenery” performed by Perry Como
-“Where’s That Rainbow?” performed by Ann Sothern
-“On Your Toes” performed by Cyd Charissed (dubbed by Eileen Wilson) and Dee Turnell
-“Thou Swell” performed by June Allyson
-“Lady is a Tramp” performed by Lena Horne
-“I Wish I Were in Love Again” performed by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney
-“Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” danced by Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen

My review:
“Nice music, poor plot.”

This was the general consensus among the film critics after “Words and Music” had its New York City premiere on Dec. 8, 1948. And 68 years later, these critics still aren’t wrong.

This movie is in gorgeous Technicolor, has a fantastic cast of nearly all of MGM’s major musical stars, and beautiful songs with breathtaking dances. But somehow it falls short due to the story.

“Words and Music” is a musical film where the plot weaves in and out of a patchwork of musical numbers. While this format is bizarre and a little difficult to follow, it wasn’t uncommon during this time for a musical picture to mainly be a revue of song and dance with a tiny bit of plot sprinkled in. MGM did the same thing (but a little better) in 1946 with the musical “Till the Clouds Roll By”—A film about Jerome Kern. Warner Brothers had a comparable format with their 1943 film “This is the Army,” where the story halts for 45 minutes of a musical show.

But the musical numbers aren’t the problem, in fact they are the high spots of the film. We have the opportunity to see Ann Sothern in the gorgeous Technicolor number “Where’s My Rainbow?,” June Allyson adorably in the “Connecticut Yankee” number “Thou Swell,” and Lena Horne give the best rendition that ever existed of “The Lady is a Tramp.”

Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers

Mickey Rooney as Lorenz Hart and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers

The issue is the terrible and inaccurate biographical plot line. I like Tom Drake, but he’s not a very strong leading man while playing songwriter Richard Rodger. And Mickey Rooney is over the top and fairly ridiculous as the ill-fated Lorenz Hart.

Hart had a troubled life that involved alcoholism. He also was tormented by the fact that he was only five feet tall and was a homosexual in a time where this was not embraced by society, according to the book A Ship Without A Sail: The Life of Lorenz Hart by Gary Marmorstein.

Ann Sothern gorgeous in Technicolor in the number "Where's My Rainbow" (1

Ann Sothern gorgeous in Technicolor in the number “Where’s My Rainbow” (Comet Over Hollywood screenshot)

Unsurprisingly though, none of this is detailed in the film. “Words and Music” depicts Hart as what New York Times writer Wilfrid Sheed quipped: “a lovelorn dwarf.” In the film, Hart’s character is turned down by a fictional love interest played by Betty Garrett in the 1920s and hasn’t gotten over it 20 years later.

There is even an odd but comical scenes where Mickey Rooney buys elevated shoes to be taller to impress the girl.

Aside from Hart’s personal life, the timeline of this film is confusing. For starters, Hart holds a huge party when he first moves to Hollywood and performs a song with guest Judy Garland.  It’s an energetic and standout scene in the film—until you stop and realize that in real life this didn’t happen. Hart moved to Hollywood in the early 1930s when Garland was still a little girl.

On a bittersweet note—Rooney and Garland’s performance of “I Wish I Were in Love Again” is also memorable because it was their last on-screen performance after starring together in 10 films through the late-1930s and early-1940s.

June Allyson in the number "Thou Swell" with twins Ramon Blackburn and Royce Blackburn

June Allyson in the number “Thou Swell” with twins Ramon Blackburn and Royce Blackburn (Comet Over Hollywood screenshot)

The musical numbers in the film also aren’t in chronological order of the years they opened on Broadway, making the story a little more confusing and “patchwork” like. For example, the film starts with the 1926 play “Peggy Ann,” then goes to the 1936 play “On Your Toes” and then back to a 1926 musical, “The Girl Friend.” While an average 1948 moviegoer may not notice this, it’s a little confusing if you are doing research or know when these musicals were on the stage.

Lastly, audiences have the opportunity to see Perry Como, aka Mr. Cool, in his first and only Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film. Como plays a fictional pal to Rodgers and Hart at the beginning of the film. However, at the end of the movie during a tribute to Lorenz Hart, Gene Kelly introduces Perry Como as…Perry Como. Someone didn’t think that out well.

While inaccuracies in musical biopics are nothing new, it’s simply that those in “Words and Music” are awfully clumsy. Despite that, “Words and Music” is an excellent showcase of MGM’s talented singers and dancers: from Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, June Allyson, Gene Kelly, Mel Torme, Vera-Ellen and of course, Judy Garland.

Even grumpy New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said in his Dec. 10, 1948 review: To be sure, there is much that is appealing—especially to us reminiscent folks—about certain of the musical numbers that sit like islands in the swamp of the plot. It is pleasant to hear Betty Garrett, for a starter, sing “There’s a Small Hotel” or to watch little crinkle-faced June Allyson head a big production rendering of “Thou Swell.” There is melody and magnificence in a richly-staged dance spectacle which packages two or three numbers, notably “The Girl Friend” and “This Can’t Be Love.” And it is nice to watch Perry Como and Cyd Charisse do “Blue Room” in pastels.

If you give this one a chance, I suggest drinking in the Technicolor costumes, catchy songs and mesmerizing dance steps and ignore the plot.

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