Watching 1939: They All Come Out (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:  They All Come Out (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 4, 1939

Cast: 
Rita Johnson, Tom Neal, Bernard Nedell, George Tobias, Edward Gargan, John Gallaudet, Addison Richards, Frank M. Thomas, Ann Shoemaker, Charles Lane, Paul Fix (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited)
Themselves: U.S. Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons James V. Bennett

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Jacques Tourneur

Plot:
Kitty (Johnson) meets jobless and down-on-his-luck Joe (Neal). After paying for his meal, Kitty hires him to be the driver for the gang she’s in, lead by Reno (Nedell). When the whole gang goes to jail, Kitty and Joe try to lead a crime-free life, but their past follows them.

1939 Notes:
• The film introduction says that it is the first film to record “scenes actually photographed in our federal prisons.”
• Director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature-length film. He directed films until 1934 in France, and then directed shorts in America from 1936 to 1939.
• Character actor Charles Lane was in 18 films released in 1939.
• Tom Neal made 10 full-length films released this year.
• Rita Johnson was in seven films in 1939

Other trivia: 
• The beginning of the film says, “Dedicated to the United States Department of Justice, whose cooperation made this picture possible.”
• The film was originally supposed to be part of a two-reel “Crimes Doesn’t Pay” series. Studio head Louis B. Mayer extended this to four-reel documentary. It was then lengthened to a seven-reel full-length film, which was director Jacques Tourneur’s first American feature film, according to Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall by Chris Fujiwara.
• The film has a prologue and epilogue with the real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett
• Rita Johnson’s prison dress came from the Federal Prison Camp of Alderson, West Virginia, according to a Sept. 17, 1939 article.

Tom Neal and Bernard Nedell in They All Come Out (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
At first glance, “They All Come Out” is a run-of-the-mill B-budget movie released by MGM. However, this is an interesting 70 minute film.

The film had an interesting history and evolution. It started out as a documentary for the “Crime Doesn’t Pay” series. This explains appearances made by real-life U.S. Attorney General, Homer Stille Cummings, and Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, James V. Bennett at the beginning and end of the film.

Before filming, federal facilities in Atlanta, Chillicothe and Springfield had already been filmed, as well as the infamous Alcatraz.

But the film ended up being lengthened, giving Jacques Tourneur his first feature-length American film. This film gives an interesting look at the prison system and shows it working to help improve lives.

Since 1936, Tourneur had been filming shorts and documentary shorts in the United States. With this film launching his career, Jacques Tourneur, he went on to direct feature films such as “Cat People” (1942), “Out of the Past” (1947) and “Stars in My Crown” (1950).

The year 1939 wasn’t only important to director Tourneur, but the film’s star, Tom Neal. Neal was an amateur boxer in college in 1933. In 1938, Neal made his film debut in “Out West with the Hardys” and then proceeded to make 10 feature films in 1939. In the film, Neal’s character is a kid who gets caught up with crime and tries to lead a crime-free life once he’s out of jail. This differed drastically from his real life. Neal’s off-screen persona could be described as “violent.” For example, Neal beat actor Franchot Tone while they were both dating actress Barbara Peyton, leaving Tone with severe injuries. Later in 1965, Neal was convicted with involuntary manslaughter after his wife was found dead due to a gunshot wound to the back of her head. Seeing this kid in the film trying hard to straighten out his life and comparing it to his real life is honestly rather disheartening and sad.

While “They All Come Out” wasn’t shot in the originally planned documentary format, some of the film still has some documentary-like format. Government leaders introduce and end the film and some of the on-location filmings of the federal institutions was used in the film. 1939 critics called it “experimental, something new” in a July 1939 newspaper review.

While low budget, “They All Come Out” is an interesting film that does offer a different point of view and look at the prison system, as well as an intersting blend of documentary and narrative filmmaking.

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Musical Monday: Hullabaloo (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.

hullaballoo3This week’s musical:
“Hullabaloo” –Musical #497

Studio:
MGM

Director:
Edwin L. Marin

Starring:
Frank Morgan, Dan Dailey, Virginia Grey, Billie Burke, Donald Meek, Reginald Owen, Virginia O’Brien, Nydia Westman, Leni Lynn, Charles Holland, Sara Haden, Ann Morriss, Larry Nunn, Curt Bois, Jack Albertson, Leo Gorcey, Arthur O’Connell

Plot:
Out of work vaudeville star Frankie Merriweather (Morgan) is trying to break into radio. When Frankie gets his own radio show, he is immediately fired when he causes a panic with his “Battle of the Planets” when listeners think it is a newscast, because he bypassed the advertisements.
Trying to figure out how to get back into his career and pay alimony to three ex-wives, Frankie gets his children (Grey, Lynn, Nunn) into the act.

Trivia:
-Virginia O’Brien’s first screen appearance
-Frank Morgan does a radio show called “Battle of the Planets,” which is a spoof of Orson Welles’s 1938 broadcast “The War of the Worlds.”
-Frank Morgan does “impressions” of Robert Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Hedy Lamarr on the phone, and Claudette Colbert, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracey in a a scene from “Boomtown.” The “Boomtown” impression is straight from the film. Mickey Rooney and Hedy Lamarr sound like they are not the real actors doing the voice over.
-Dan Dailey and Virginia Grey whistle “A Handful of Stars.” Their whistling is dubbed by Elvida Rizzo and Morton Scott

Highlights:
-Leo Gorcey in a small role as a bellhop
-Frank Morgan’s celebrity “impressions” (That are dubbed by the stars or other impersonators)

Frank Morgan has to earn money to pay alimony to three wives.

Frank Morgan has to earn money to pay alimony to three wives.

Notable Songs:
-“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”
-“We’ve Come a Long Way Together”
-“When My Baby Smiles at Me”
-“A Handful of Stars”

My Review:

Dan Dailey and Virginia Grey in "Hullabaloo" (1940).

Dan Dailey and Virginia Grey in “Hullabaloo” (1940).

While Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is often best remembered for it’s lavish, big-budget musicals such as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Babes in Arms” or “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
However, the studio also cranked out several B-level musicals, that are equally entertaining. “Hullabaloo” is an example of one of those lower budget musicals.
Frank Morgan and Virginia Grey are the leads in this film, and while they were famous and appeared in several films, they generally were supporting roles in larger budget MGM movies.
While the movie’s plot is about actors trying to break into radio, it gives an interesting glimpse into entertainment history.
The radio is seen as an “economic salvation” for struggling vaudeville stars as they transition their careers, according to “Radio in the Movies: A History and Filmography, 1926-2010” By Laurence Etling.
Radio was another outlet for vaudeville stars to keep performing as that medium of entertainment faded.
There are also a few notable things about this 78 minute film. First, just a couple of years after Orson Welles’s 1938 broadcast “The War of the Worlds,” “Hullabaloo” spoofs the panic that Welle’s radio broadcast caused. I thought it was interesting just because it showed how “War of the Worlds” impacted pop culture- even then- enough to joke about. I could be wrong, but I feel like could be comparative to jokes in the media about current celebrities.
Another highlight in the film are Frank Morgan’s “celebrity impressions.” Obviously…Morgan is not actually doing the impressions- most of them sound like the real actor speaking – but it’s so ridiculous to see that it’s humorous.
But for me, the true highlight was Virginia O’Brien’s first credited on-screen role. The frozen-faced singer pops on screen for two musical performances.
Though it’s a very silly film, if you have a little over an hour to spare, “Hullabaloo,” isn’t a bad way to spend it.

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