Watching 1939: Code of the Secret Service (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:  Code of the Secret Service (1939)

Release date:  May 27, 1939

Cast:  Ronald Reagan, Rosella Towne, Eddie Foy Jr., Moroni Olsen

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Noel M. Smith

Lt. ‘Brass’ Bancroft (Reagan) is an agent in the United States Treasury Department trying to hunt down a counterfeit money ring who stole plates from the U.S. Treasury to launder the money.

1939 Notes:
• Ronald Reagan starred in seven films released in 1939.
• Shot on location in Mexico and some of the Mexican extras were borrowed from Juarez (1939), also filmed that year at Warner Brothers.
• This film is the second in a four-part series, which includes: Secret Service of the Air (1939), Smashing the Money Ring (1939) and Murder in the Air (1940).

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Back to School Musical Monday: She’s Working Her Way Through College (1952)

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:

She’s Working Her Way Through College” –Musical #395


Warner Brothers Studios

H. Bruce Humberstone

Virginia Mayo, Ronald Reagan, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Thaxter, Don DeFore, Patrice Wymore, Roland Winters, Phyllis Kirk (uncredited), Julie Newmar (uncredited)

Burlesque star Angela Gardner (Mayo), who has a stage name of Hot Garters Gertie, saved up her money from working on the stage to get a college education. She was inspired to further her education by her high school teacher John Palmer (Reagan).
On her last night at the burlesque, Angela runs into John, who is now a college professor at Midwest. She decides to further her education at his college, as long as he keeps her secret that she was a dancer on the stage.

-Remake of the 1942 Warner Brothers film “The Male Animal” starring Henry Fonda, Olivia De Havilland, Joan Leslie and Jack Carson.
-Don DeFore stars in both the original “The Male Animal” and the remake.
-Virginia Mayo was dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams.
-Though the two films have no plot connection, She’s Back on Broadway is supposedly a sequel to “She’s Working Her Way Through College” (1952). The only connection is the Mayo and Nelson re-teaming. Comet reviewed “She’s Back on Broadway” in November.
-I think this film is somehow supposed to be connected to “She’s Back on Broadway”
-Gene Nelson is dubbed by Hal Derwin in the “That’s The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” number, but he does his own singing in all the other numbers.

-Gene Nelson’s mix of dancing and athletics in the “Am I In Love” number in the gym.

Notable Songs:
-“We’re Working Our Way Through College” sung by Chorus, Virginia Mayo-dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams and Gene Nelson
-“Plenty of Money and You” sung by (dubbed) Virginia Mayo
-“I’ll Be Loving You” sung by (dubbed) Virginia Mayo and Gene Nelson

Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Thaxter play husband and wife in "She's Working Her Way Through College."

Ronald Reagan and Phyllis Thaxter play husband and wife in “She’s Working Her Way Through College.”

My Review:
Both the play and 1942 film “The Male Animal” were comedies mixed with the issue of free speech.
In the original film, Henry Fonda plays an college English professor whose job is on the line when he wants to read Bartolomeo Vanzetti’s sentencing statement as an example of free speech.
But this musical remake is a white washed version of that story.
Rather than an English professor, Reagan plays a theater professor, and the controversy here is that he wants to put on a musical rather than a Shakespeare play.
While writing and playing the lead in the college musical, Virginia Mayo is trying to keep it a secret that she was once a burlesque queen.
When this secret is let out by jealous Patrice Wymore (why does she always play mean dames?), Reagan’s job is on the line because a burlesque star is starring in his play. It’s Reagan’s job to deliver the news that she is going to be expelled (for dancing on the stage?), which he refuses.
The real issue is that the dean offered Mayo a fur coat after a burlesque performance and she refused him, so now he’s seeking revenge.
But all of the drama and conflict doesn’t happen until the last 20 minutes of the film.
The rest of the hour and forty-five minute film is Gene Nelson trying to romance Virginia Mayo, Don DeFore romancing Reagan’s wife Phyllis Thaxter, Patrice Wymore being jealous and Mayo performing songs from the upcoming play.
The songs that sprinkle throughout the film include lyrics such as: “She’s working her way through college, to get a lot of knowledge, that she’ll probably never ever use again.”
The movie unsurprisingly pales in comparison to the original film. But the worst part is that it’s rather boring.

Cast photo of Ronald Reagan, Virginia Mayo, Don DeFore, Phyllis Thaxter, Gene Nelson, Patrice Wymore

Cast photo of Ronald Reagan, Virginia Mayo, Don DeFore, Phyllis Thaxter, Gene Nelson, Patrice Wymore

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Memorial Day Musical Monday: This is the Army (1943)

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.

TitaposThis week’s musical:
“This is the Army” –Musical #488

Warner Brothers

Michael Curtiz

Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Charles Butterworth, George Tobias, Alan Hale, Dolores Costello, Una Merkel, Rosemary DeCamp, Dan Dailey (uncredited), Gary Merrill (uncredited), Gene Nelson (uncredited), Herb Anderson (uncredited), Victor Mature
As themselves: Frances Langford, Kate Smith, Joe Louis, Irving Berlin


The movie starts in 1917, when dancer Jerry Jones (Murphy) is drafted to fight in World War I. Before leaving, he marries his sweetheart Ethel (DeCamp).
But before the soldiers are shipped overseas, Jones stages an all-soldier Broadway show called “Yip Yip Yaphank.” While fighting in France, Jones hurts his leg and will no longer be able to dance.
When he returns to the states, he becomes a producer, and his buddy Eddie Dibble (Butterworth) -who was the bugler in the Army-opens a music store.
Over 20 years pass, and we see Jones’s son Johnny (Reagan) preparing to fight in World War II. Dibble’s daughter Eileen (Leslie) wants to get married before Johnny goes overseas, but he doesn’t want to potentially leave her as a young widow.
Now that Johnny is in the military, he is given the order to create a military show just like his dad. This time, it’s called “This is the Army.”
Once the plot is set up, the remainder of the movie is the the actual show “This is the Army” including musical performances, a magic act, a comedian and acrobats.

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in "This is the Army"

Character actor Charles Butterworth is the bugler in World War I in “This is the Army”

-The movie came from two Irving Berlin shows “Yip Yip Yaphank” and “This is the Army,” according to a disclaimer from Warner Brothers at the beginning of the film. The cast of both the stage and play version of “This is the Army” included soldiers who were performers in civilian life.
-The original Broadway play of “This is the Army” came by request of the United States War Department. Irving Berlin received a letter in 1942 asking him to do a revival of the World War I show, “Yip Yip Yaphank,” to help raise funds for the Army Emergency Relief. Berlin had already considered doing this, but knew he had to change the title, according to The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin  edited by Robert Kimball, Linda Emmet
-Warner Brother’s first three strip Technicolor film.
-Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, earning $9,555,586.44. The money made was donated to the Army Emergency Relief.
-This is actress Dolores Costello’s last film.

Notable Songs:
-God Bless America sung by Kate Smith
-What Does He Look Like sung by Frances Langford
-This is the Army Mr. Jones sung by the chorus
-I’m Getting Tired So I Can Sleep sung by James Burrell
-Ladies of the Chorus sung by Alan Hale (dressed as a woman)
-I Left My Heart at the Stagedoor Canteen sung by Earl Oxford
-That’s What the Well Dressed Men in Harlem Wear sung by James Cross, featuring boxer Joe Louis
-Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning sung by Irving Berlin

-A disclaimer before the film noted that the Army does not condone black face, which is used in a number during the film, but says it is a part of history.
-Irving Berlin singing “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” in a rare film appearance.
-Real color footage of the attack of Pearl Harbor during the montage of the bombing.
-Alan Hale dressed as a woman in the musical number “Ladies in the Chorus.”
-Warner Brother stars such as Joan Leslie, Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Alan Hale, Charles Butterworth and Una Merkel in color!
-One of the character actors does fairly convincing speech impersonations of Herbert Marshall, Charles Boyer, Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt.

My Review:

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

The romance between Joan Leslie and Ronald Reagan took up probably 20 minutes of this film.

Like the rest of Hollywood during World War II, Warner Brothers was releasing star spangled patriotic films. Around this same time, “Hollywood Canteen” (1944) and “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (1943) were released. All three films focus mainly on musical performances and celebrity appearances (Kate Smith, Frances Langford, Joe Louis) and a very thin plot.

Other studio equivalents would be MGM’s “Two Girls and a Sailor” (1944) and Paramount’s “Star Spangled Rhythm” (1942).

But while the other four listed musicals still hold attention and are fun, somehow “This is the Army” falls flat. The initial plot set up seems promising, but after the first 45 minutes, the movie turns into musical number after number after number with little plot interlude. That is where “This is the Army” differs from similar films. For example, in “Hollywood Canteen,” you have the romance of Joan Leslie and Robert Hutton between the different performances.

The lack of plot interlude is honestly disappointing, because actress Joan Leslie and some of the other leads are maybe on screen for 20 to 30 minutes in the two hour and five minute film.

On a more technical side, the DVD print that came in the 2008 “Homefront Collection” isn’t very good. In close shots, the color is gorgeous. But in a few scenes, it looks over exposed and washed out.

When I first saw this movie in 2009, I really enjoyed it. Now I found I was rather bored. I appreciate any patriotic World War II film, because it gives you a feel of what audiences wanted during the war. After all, this was Warner Brother’s top film of 1943, so apparently audiences enjoyed it at the time. Or maybe they were watching the movie so their money would be donated to the Army Emergency Relief.

I feel that the movie could have been better structured. Actors like Una Merkel, Dolores Costello, George Murphy and Charles Butterworth are wasted in this film because they barely have any screen tirme. Less songs and more plot in this slightly over two hour film would have been more enjoyable.

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Take me out to the ball game: Athlete Biopics

Biographical films have been a popular film genre since the 1920s. There are films about actors that you may have never heard of, scientists who did great things and musicians who died young.

It is no secret Hollywood took creative liberties with the lives of famous people in their films. To quote George M. Cohen after seeing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942), “It was a good movie. Who was it about?”

Life stories were changed to make a most interesting film, but also to protect individuals who were still living when the film was made.

Along with the fabricated biographical information, I have also wondered how similar actor and the person they are portraying look alike.

I am starting a series of posts that will compare the appearances of the actor and the role they are playing. I thought it would be fun and interesting.

I’ll be dividing these up by categories (i.e. presidents, actors, writers), making athletes my first one.


Babe Ruth and William Benedix

The Babe Ruth Story (1948): I haven’t seen this movie, but I have heard it’s not very good. William Benedix plays Babe Ruth. Benedix is great as a comedian or a bad guy, but I have a hard time picturing him in a biography. Appearance: They both have that “big oaf” look, but don’t look very much alike.

Lou Gehrig and Gary Cooper

“Pride of the Yankees” (1942):  This is one of my all time favorite movies. I love Teresa Wright, who plays Gehrig’s wife, and Gary Cooper does a wonderful job in the film. Very touching and sweet. Appearance: Cooper looks fairly similar to Gehrig. This is probably one of the best “look-a-likes” as far as biopics go.

Monty Stratton and James Stewart

“The Stratton Story” (1949): This film stars June Allyson and James Stewart as a husband and wife. Stewart is baseball player Monty Stratton who loses his leg during a hunting accident.  The film follows his struggle to attempt to play baseball again with his prosthetic leg. Appearance: Other than the fact that both men are skinny, I don’t think they look very much alike.

Jim Piersall and Anthony Perkins

“Fear Strikes Out” (1957): Perkins plays Jim Piersall (still living) who has a nervous breakdown while trying to please his father (Karl Malden). I don’t think these two look alike at all. Appearance: Piersall is the attractive, fresh all-American guy while Perkins is much more dark and brooding.

Grover Cleveland Alexander and Ronald Reagan

“The Winning Team” (1952): The film starts off happy as Aimee (Doris Day) and Grover Cleveland Alexander (Ronald Reagan) get married.   Just as Grover is rising to the top as a pitcher, he suffers an eye injury which impairs his vision. Grover is bitter and turns to alcohol which makes him unreliable.  Appearance: I don’t think  Alexander and Reagan look anything alike. Alexander has harsh, rough features and you can tell he went through a tough time. Reagan has clean looks. I think Grover Cleveland looks more like Harry Carey, Sr.

**I know I left out “The Jackie Robinson Story” (1950), but he played himself so no look-a-like comparison.


Knute Rockne and Pat O’Brien

“Knute Rockne: All American” (1940): My family isn’t fans of Notre Dame football. But Knute Rockne is the only reason I might be, because I really like this movie. The film covers the life of the football player and coach. Rockne is known as “America’s most renowned football coach” and also popularized the forward pass.  However, it drives me crazy when they pronounce his name as ‘K-nute’ in the movie instead of ‘Newt.’ Appearance: Along with Gehrig and Cooper, Rockne and O’Brien look very similar as well. Rockne has a rougher look, but they have similar facial features. It appears O’Brien was given a false nose for the role.

George Gipp and Ronald Reagan

“Knute Rockne: All American” (1940): Also from “Knute Rockne,” Ronald Reagan plays George “Gipper” Gipp. Gipp is known today as one of the most versatile athletes playing halfback, quarterback and punter.  Gipp died at age 25 in 1920 of either pneumonia or strep throat (the cause is debated).  His death spawned the famous quote by Knute Rockne, “Win just one for the Gipper.” Appearance: Ronald Reagan does a great job in the film, but looks nothing like the Gipper. Gipp was much bigger and had very broad features. I can’t think of a 1940s actor that he looked like.

Jim Thorpe and Burt Lancaster

“Jim Thorpe-All American” (1951): Burt Lancaster plays Jim Thorpe, early 1900s football player of American Indian ancestry. Thorpe was All-American in 1911 and 1912 at Carlisle University. He was in the 1912 Olympics for decathlon and pentathlon and was awarded two gold medals that were taken away. Appearance: Thorpe and Lancaster don’t really look alike, but they have similar facial shapes. Thorpe is bigger while Lancaster is thinner and most likely shorter.


“Gentleman” James J. Corbett and Errol Flynn

“Gentleman Jim” (1942): This is an overlooked film of Errol Flynn’s which I think is quite good. Flynn plays James Corbett who is a crude, bare knuckled boxer in San Francisco.  In the late 1800s, boxing isn’t considered a “gentlemanly” sport so the gentlemen of the area sponsor Corbett at an exclusive sports club to change the sport’s image. Corbett is best known for defeating John L. Sullivan (played by Ward Bond).  In between the fancy footwork, Corbett finds time to romance Alexis Smith (who plays Victoria Ware) and make wise cracks with Jack Carson (playing Walter Lowrie). Appearance: Corbett and Flynn look nothing alike. Flynn is thinner and has a more debonair look. Corbett is handsome, but in a rugged sort of way.

John L. Sullivan and Greg McClure” 

“The Great John L.” (1945): I’ve never seen this movie, but I couldn’t talk about boxing films and not mention John L. Sullivan.  Sullivan is one of the most famous boxers and was the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing in 1881 and 1882. The film about his life stars Greg McClure in the title role, Linda Darnell and Otto Kruger. Appearance: These two men couldn’t look any different. Sullivan looks gruff, mean and like someone I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.  I think McClure looks more like boxer Jack Dempsey, heavy weight champion of the world in 1919 and 1926.

Rocky Graziano and Paul Newman

“Somebody Up There Likes Me” (1956): I’m not much for dark, angsty, brooding 1950s films, but I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Instead of being a downer, it ended up being rather uplifting. Newman plays Graziano who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Constantly arrested and goes AWOL from the Army. He meets his wife Norma, played by Pier Angeli, and starts his career boxing which helps straighten out his life. Appearance: Graziano and Newman don’t look much alike. Graziano has a much thinner face while Newman’s is more chiseled.

That’s all for sports! Stay tuned for more biopic comparisons!

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Bedtime for Bonzo is not the only movie Ronald Reagan made

This is another post I wrote early in my blogging career on blogger. It is a little better than the Susan Slade one, but yet again just a plot summary. Hopefully you can see the improvements of the blog from then to now.

It has once again been another long absence from my blog. I didn’t mean for it to be this way; I actually have several movies in mind to blog about, but I end up watching more movies instead of blogging. Movie watching is what I do, as lazy it may be-but sometimes I do exercise while watching movies!

Today’s blog is the Ronald Reagan/Joan Leslie movie “This Is the Army” (1943).

Now I can already hear some of you groaning, “Ronaaald Reeeeaaaggan. Uggggggh.” Well I don’t know much about how he was politically, but I do know that he was a top notch actor for Warner Brothers back in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Those politicians and late night talk show hosts just look like uneducated film boobs when they talk about Ronald Reagan’s sub-par career, because they obviously know nothing about classic film or Warner Brothers in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Ronald Reagan was actually the star of the month for March on Turner Classic Movies-which is nothing to sneeze at. Usually it is someone like Spencer Tracey, Sean Connery or Bette Davis.

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