Watching 1939: Lady of the Tropics (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:  Lady of the Tropics (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 11, 1939

Cast:  Robert Taylor, Hedy Lamarr, Joseph Schildkraut, Mary Taylor, Ernest Cossart, Gloria Franklin, Charles Trowbridge, Frederick Worlock, Cecil Cunningham, Natalie Moorhead, Willie Fung (uncredited), Charles Judels (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Jack Conway, Leslie Fenton (uncredited)

A wealthy, jet setting vacation group is seeing the world on a yacht and stop in French Saigon, or Indochina. The party includes American playboy Bill Carey (Taylor), who is traveling with the family of his fiancee Dolly (Mary Taylor). When they arrive, the tourists learn about people of mixed race who are half French, half Asian. A priest, Father Antoine (Cossart) who describes these individuals as flying fish “trying to stay, flying above the water only to fall into the ocean and die.” One woman who is both French and Indochinese is Manon DeVargnes (Lamarr), who desperately wants to go to Paris. Bill and Manon fall in love and marry, but society keeps them from being happy or leaving Saigon.

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Watching 1939: Stand Up and Fight (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:  Stand Up and Fight

Release date:  Jan. 6, 1939

Cast:  Wallace Beery, Robert Taylor, Florence Rice, Helen Broderick, Charles Bickford, Barton MacLane, Charley Grapewin, John Qualen

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  W.S. Van Dyke

Starting in 1844 in Maryland, Blake Cantrell (Taylor) is a plantation owner who is broke and has to sell his property. He’s in love with Bostonian Susan Griffith (Rice), who loses interest when he has no means of taking care of himself. Blake has never worked for a living and ends up working for a stagecoach line run by Capt. Boss Starkey (Beery), which is also owned by Amanda Griffith (Broderick), who is Susan’s aunt.

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Watching 1939: Remember?

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: Remember? (1939)

Release date: Dec. 14, 1939

Robert Taylor, Greer Garson, Lew Ayres, Billie Burke, Reginald Owen, George Barbier, Henry Travers, Richard Carle, Laura Hope Crews, Sig Ruman, Sara Haden

Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: Norman Z. McLeod

Sky (Ayres) is engaged to Linda (Garson), but Linda falls in love with his best friend of 21 years, Jeff (Taylor). Jeff and Linda get married, and when things aren’t working out, Sky tests an amnesia drug on the couple.

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Musical Monday: “Broadway Melody of 1936” (1935)

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.

BROADWAY MELODY 1936This week’s musical:
Broadway Melody Of 1936” (1935) –Musical #206


Roy Del Ruth

Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Jack Benny, Una Merkel, Buddy Ebsen, June Knight, Frances Langford (as herself)

This is the second “The Broadway Melody” film, following the “Broadway Melody of 1929” and is considered one of the best Broadway Melody films, according to “All about Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards” By Emanuel Levy. Bob Gordon (Taylor) wants to put on a show and his high school sweetheart Irene (Powell) is hoping he will recognize her talent. However, Lillian Brent (Knight) is putting money in the show and wants to star in the show in return. Irene poses as a sexy French star in order to get the leading role. Bert Keeler (Benny) is a Broadway columnist adding comic relief, always getting punched in the nose.


Parker posing as Mademoiselle Arlette-the fake French star invented by gossip columnist Bert Keeler

Powell posing as Mademoiselle Arlette-the fake French star invented by gossip columnist Bert Keeler

-MGM was apparently in danger of going bankrupt in 1935. “Broadway Melody of 1936” and other Eleanor Powell films is what saved the studio, according to the musical documentary “That’s Entertainment III” (1994).
-Powell was originally given the smaller role of a secretary played by Una Merkel and along with another dance. Powell did a dance a screen test before the film started to see her versatility and she did a dance combination of tap, ballet and acrobatics, according the book “American Classic Screen Profiles” edited by John C. Tibbetts, James M. Welsh. Because of the dance, Powell was moved to a role with higher billing.
-Buddy Ebsen performs with his real life sister Vilma Ebsen in the film. Broadway Melody of 1936 is Vilma’s only film. The two started out as a vaudeville act and were once known as the “Baby Astaires”
-Part of a series of “Broadway Melody” films starting with “Broadway Melody” (1929) and followed by “Broadway Melody of 1938” (1937) and “Broadway Melody of 1940” (1940). Taylor, Powell and Ebsen starred again together in “Broadway Melody of 1938.” However, other than show business, the movies have no plot connection.
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. “Mutiny on the Bounty” was the Best Picture winner that year.
-Also nominated for Best Writing, Original Story and won for Best Dance Direction.
-Tap dancer Eleanor Powell’s first leading role.
-Buddy Ebsen’s first film.
-Powell’s singing is dubbed by Marjorie Lane.

Robert Taylor as Bob Gordon.

Robert Taylor as Bob Gordon.

-Robert Taylor singing “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’.” Taylor is not known for his singing, but he does a good job performing. The song is performed on a rooftop dance floor and tables and chairs pop up out of the floor.  The number is a great example of the excessively wealthy often represented in early to mid-1930s films.
-The odd man at the talent agency who is looking to get into show business with his different snoring sounds.
-Buddy Ebsen tap dancing with his real life sister Vilma Ebsen in the fun song “Sing Before Breakfast.”
-Eleanor Powell does a Katharine Hepburn impression from “Morning Glory.”
-In a dream sequence, Powell ballet dances to “You Are My Lucky Star” showing her versatility of dance
-Bert Keeler’s stooge dresses up like a woman to fool people about a fake French actress.

Notable songs:
The whole score is excellent because it is made up by song by composer Nacio Herb Brown including:
-“Broadway Rhythm” sung by Frances Langford
-“You Are My Lucky Star” sung by Frances Langford. Langford sings it straight and sweet and then swings the song, characterizing it with her singing style.
-“Broadway Melody”
-“I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” sung by Robert Taylor and June Knight
-“Sing Before Breakfast” performed by Buddy and Vilma Ebsen

Powell in the film's finale

Powell in the film’s finale

My review:
“Broadway Melody of 1936” is a fun musical with excellent songs. It’s a good example of the frothy, escapism films that were relevant during the Great Depression. Eleanor Powell is a delight to watch tap dancing in any film, but especially her first starring role. While tap dancers were a dime a dozen in the 1930s, she was innovative and stood out against the rest. Robert Taylor was still in his “pretty boy” phase of his career, but aside from his looks, you can see that he has talent as an actor.
The Ebsens are wonderful to watch and it’s a treat to see the brother and sister dance together in their only film.
My only complaint is joke about the man who snores wears very thin.
“Broadway Melody of 1936” is considered the best of the “Broadway Melody” films. “Broadway Melody of 1938” is very similar with a similar cast-with the addition of Judy Garland and the great Sophie Tucker. “Broadway Melody of 1940” teams Eleanor Powell for the only time with Fred Astaire.

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

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Who is the fairest one of all?

Hollywood in the 1940s employeed a pleathora of attractive men: Van Johnson, Clark Gable, John Hodiak, James Stewart, John Wayne…

The list could continue for hours, but who are the two men that stand on top of the whole stack of them?

Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power


Famous for their good looks, who is more attractive: Tyrone Power or Robert Taylor

In April 2010 when Robert Taylor was the TCM Star of the Month, Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movies’ prime time host, said the MGM star was dubbed the most attractive star in Hollywood. His only competition was Tyrone Power of Twentieth Century Fox studio.

Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor emerged as a young and handsome actor in the mid-1930s in movies like “Broadway Melody Of 1936” (1935) and “Camille” (1936). With his slicked back black hair, attractive smile and pleasing disposition, he left many women swooning and his male counterparts seething, Robert Osborne said. Taylor’s career was successful from the start and was in top notch films until the mid-1950s.

On the other side of the spectrum, Tyrone Power was signed to 20th Century Fox in 1936 as their answer to MGM’s Robert Taylor.  Power’s career didn’t launch as quickly as Taylor’s, acting in small roles in a bit part in “Flirtation Walk” (1934). “Marie Antoinette” (1938) as Norma Shearer’s lover. His career launched when he was paired with Alice Faye and Don Ameche in both “In Old Chicago” (1937) and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1938).

Interestingly enough, after both being hired as the pretty boys of the studios, their careers and lives were very similar.

Tyrone Power

Both men struggled with only being seen as a pretty face.  Robert Taylor took on “manlier” roles like “Valley of the Kings” (1954) and “The Law and Jake Wade” (1958) that offered rougher, meaner characters.  Sadly, I have to plead ignorance when it comes to Tyrone Power’s career. However, from looking at his film list and reading about his career, it looks like his peak was in the 1940s.

In the 1950s, Tyrone was unhappy with the roles he was getting and turned to stage work. Probably his best role in the 1950s was his last role, “Witness For The Prosecution“(1957) with Charles Laughton.

Both men were married to actresses (Power-Annabelle, Tayor- Barbara Stanwyck) and also had several love affairs. One affair in particular was with one glamorous actress: Lana Turner.  Turner called Power the love of her life, according to her book LANA: The Memories, the Myths, the Movies. However, though Lana Turner successfully seduced Taylor during the filming of “Johnny Eager” (1941), she told her best friend Ava Gardner that Robert Taylor was a lover you “shouldn’t waste your mouth on.”

Lana Turner and Tyrone Power

Later in life, careers and looks took turns for the worse for the two men.  Neither Robert Taylor or Tyrone Power aged very well, and both were not recieving quality roles. Robert Taylor was one of the actors who stayed until MGM studio’s fall in the early 1960s even though his roles grew increasingly worse, according to Esther Williams in her autobiography “The Million Dollar Mermaid.”

Tyrone Power died at the young age of 44 in 1958 due to aheart attack.  Eleven years later, Robert Taylor died in 1969 at a similarly young age of 57 of lung cancer. Ronald Reagan and Robert Taylor were close friends, after the death of Taylor, Reagan was anti-smoking.

It’s funny how two attractive actors lived such seemingly parallel lives. But it all boils down to one question:

Which one was more attractive?

Which one was the most handsome man in Hollywood during the 1940s?

I know my answer. What’s yours?

My dream boat

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