Watching 1939: Fast and Loose (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:  Fast and Loose (1939)

Release date:  Feb. 17, 1939

Cast:  Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Reginald Owen, Ralph Morgan, Etienne Girardot, Alan Dinehart, Jo Ann Sayers, Joan Marsh, John Hubbard, Tom Collins, Sidney Blackmer, Ian Wolfe, Frank Orth (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Plot:
Eccentric Christopher Oates (Girardot) wants to buy a rare William Shakespeare manuscript from rare book collector Nick Torrent (Morgan). Oates seeks the help a pair of married booksellers, Joel (Montgomery) and Garda Sloane (Russell). However, as the Sloanes try to make a sell, murders start to occur and their job switches to sleuthing.

1939 Notes:
• Character actor Etienne Girardot who acted in this film died in Nov. 1939. He was in eight films released this year.
• Robert Montgomery’s only film released in 1939.
• Rosalind Russell was only in two films released in 1939. The other film was “The Women.”
• Jo Ann Sayers was in 11 feature films and shorts in 1939. She acted in a total of 15 credits from 1938 to 1953.
• Tom Collins was in nine shorts and feature films in 1939. He only acted in a total of 14 films from 1939 to 1940.
• Frank Orth was in 18 films released in 1939.

Other trivia: 
• “Fast and Loose” is part of a trio of films that follows a married couple, Joel and Garda Sloan, solving mysteries. Each film has different leads playing the Sloans: “Fast Company” (1938) stars Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice, and “Fast and Furious” (1939) stars Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern.
• The “Fast” trio was created in response to the popularity of the sophisticated detective films, “The Thin Man” series, and from complaints that “Thin Man” films weren’t being released fast enough, according to Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell by Bernard F. Dick.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Fast and Loose” was part of a three-part series to mimic the style, humor and sophistication of the “The Thin Man” mystery films.

And while “Fast and Loose” (and the other “Fast” films) were noted to be a carbon copy, they still stand on their own and enjoyable, humorous, and intriguing mystery films.

Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell are wonderful in their films (individually and together) and while “Fast and Loose” may not be a film either is remembered for, they both still bring their A-game. While they play a married detective team, Montgomery is the main focus here. We see less of Russell in the middle of the film until she reappears at the end.

I can attest for the other two “Fast” series films that they are just as enjoyable as this one. If audiences were upset that the “Thin Man” movies weren’t coming out fast enough, these were a decent substitute. They were funny, had sophistication, and kept the viewer stumped of “who done it.” I honestly didn’t know who the criminal was in this film until the end, similar to how “The Thin Man” movies keep you guessing.

As far as films released in 1939, Montgomery and Russell were in few compared to other actors. “Fast and Loose” was Montgomery’s only film released in 1939 and was one of two for Russell. While Russell’s role was small here, her next film gave her a much juicier role: “The Women.”

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

 

Advertisements

Hot off the presses: Unethical reporters in classic films

A man is killed and sent C.O.D. to a Hollywood actress.

Rather than call the police, the actress calls her reporter friend to help her out.

The reporter investigates the case like he’s a detective.

He sneaks in houses searching for clues and finds jewels that can be used as evidence. The reporter then puts the diamonds in an ice cube tray to hide them from police.

Reporter George Brent investigates a murder in "A Corpse Came C.O.D."

Reporter George Brent investigates a murder in “The Corpse Came C.O.D.”

As these events occurred in “The Corpse Came C.O.D.” (1947) starring George Brent and Joan Blondell, my dad turns to me and asks, “I hope you don’t do these things at work.”

Later when Brent gets in a fist fight with a bad guy my dad asks, “Is there anyone at the Star that would be able to do that?”

As a reporter who loves classic movies, I go out of my way to watch films where the hero plays a reporter.

However, if I researched my stories using the same methods that reporters used in films, I would most likely get fired.

Glenda Farrell stars as Torchy Blane, a troublesome and wise-cracking reporter in 1930s films. Blane comically gets her information by hiding in trashcans and bugging rooms, techniques not used by contemporary reporters.

Glenda Farrell stars as Torchy Blane, a troublesome and wise-cracking reporter in 1930s films. Blane comically gets her information by hiding in trashcans and bugging rooms, techniques not used by contemporary reporters.

In classic films, reporters are often solving crimes like a police officer and often receive information by unethical means. At the Shelby Star, we do a lot of research on our stories, but I doubt we will ever solve a crime.

In the 1930s Torchy Blane film series, Torchy is constantly at odds with her detective boyfriend Steve McBride for being where she shouldn’t be.

The nine films follow the wise-cracking female reporter, played by Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman.

Torchy can be seen eavesdropping, bugging rooms, hiding in trash cans and following bad guys to get the scoop on a story.

If I hid in a trashcan to find out the latest secrets of Cleveland County, North Carolina, not only would that be breaking media laws, I would also smell pretty bad.

John Qualen hides in a desk in "His Girl Friday."

John Qualen hides in a desk in “His Girl Friday.”

In “His Girl Friday” (1940), reporter Hildy Johnson, played by Rosalind Russell, hides an accused murdered in her rolltop desk to get the scoop on a story. Unfortunately, I don’t have a rolltop desk at work, but even if I did, I’m not sure how the sheriff would feel if I stored suspects in my desk.

In another George Brent film “You Can’t Escape Forever” (1942), managing editor, Brent will get hunches by tugging on his ear like he’s communicating with somebody via Morse code.

Then Brent will come up with a fantastic hunch that he will print in the paper, which usually ends up being true.

If reporters worked solely on hunches without fact checking, the paper would be full of corrections that had to be run, rather than news stories.

In “The Philadelphia Story” (1940) reporters James Stewart and Ruth Hussey pose as family friends at the wedding of Katharine Hepburn. The two are tabloid writers there to get information on the story.

Getting information under false pretenses is unethical by today’s standards and would most likely leave you with a lawsuit.

Though there are several comedic representations of newspapers, there are films that represent journalism in a truer light, such as “The Story of G.I. Joe” (1945) about war journalist Ernie Pyle or “Citizen Kane” (1940) about the power of journalism.

Robert Mitchum and Burgess Meredith (as Ernie Pyle) in World War II film "The Story of G.I. Joe" about reporting on the front lines.

Robert Mitchum and Burgess Meredith (as Ernie Pyle) in World War II film “The Story of G.I. Joe” about reporting on the front lines.

As someone who works in newspapers, I don’t take offense to the unethical journalism in the 1930s and 1940s films, because I know most of it is there for comedic relief.

It doesn’t make me stop watching the films; you just have to take it all with a grain of salt, as you would with any movie.

Clearly newspapers have changed a great deal from the 1930s to today.  However, it does make me wonder how media laws and ethics have changed in the past 75 years.

So for my father: No dad, we don’t do any of that at the Star.

This is part of the Breaking News: Journalism in Classic Films blogathon co-hosted by myself and Lindsay at Lindsay’s Movie Musings. Read all of the wonderful contributions here! 

MBDCIKA EC019

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

Jessica Pickens: Girl Reporter

Comet Over Hollywood is moving!

Well…not the blog, but the blogger!

The backstory

Ever since I’ve been in the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer. I had a big imagination and pictured myself on the cover of Good Housekeeping magazine with my best seller.

In high school I got more interested in newspapers and majored in mass communications-journalism at Winthrop University getting involved in the school newspaper The Johnsonian, TV show, Winthrop Close-Up and radio station, WINR.

Starting in March, I started looking for a reporter position in the southeast. By the time I graduated in May, I figured out that getting a job at a newspaper was going to be harder than I thought (as some of you in media related fields might also have found).

For the past two months I’ve been working at a local Greenville newspaper as an advertising representative while still looking for a reporter position.

Two weeks ago, I got a job at The Elkin Tribune in Elkin, N.C. So I will be packing up and moving up to North Carolina-spreading my classic movie love to a whole new state!

Celebration

In honor of this exciting, nerve-wracking event, I’m dedicating this post to journalists in movies. Everyone is invited to the party!

Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blaine most likely up to no good.

Torchy Blaine Series: Torchy Blaine was a series of films made during the 1930s much like Boston Blackie, The Falcon or Andy Hardy. Torchy Blaine snooped and got into trouble in eight films from 1937 to 1939 (yep, they knew how to churn them out in those days). Torchy Blaine is a wise-cracking and troublesome female reporter. She eavesdrops, bugs rooms and follows people in order to get information-all highly illegal in these days, according to my Media Law and Ethics classes at Winthrop. Not only does Torchy usually get caught by the bad guys she is spying on, but she is constantly at odds with her policeman boyfriend, Steve McBride. At the end of each film, Steve and Torchy usually agree to get married but Torchy has to agree to give up her reporter career-as we all know, this doesn’t happen. Review: These films are very silly but equally entertaining. Through the eight part series, Glenda Farrell, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman all play Torchy.  But Glenda is my favorite Torchy. However, Lola wears some adorable lounging pajamas in “Torchy Blaine in Panama.”

Citizen Kane (1940): I don’t feel that I can discuss journalism movies without mentioning Citizen Kane. The film follows Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane and his rise as the top newspaper publisher. We all know this film is based off the life of William Randolph Hearst-who was still living at the time. In Joseph Cotton’s autobiography “Vanity Gets You Somewhere,” Cotton says “Kane” was set to premiere in Radio City Music Hall. Hearst made sure it did not play there-or in several other movie houses across the United States. That goes to show just how powerful he was. Review: I do really like this film. It was a bit of an ‘Indie’ film in its day so its funny that is revered so much now. I really enjoy it for the historical background of it as well.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell getting the scoop in “His Girl Friday”

His Girl Friday (1940): When you say “female reporters in film” Rosalind Russell with her crazy hats in “His Girl Friday” automatically comes to mind.  Roz plays the ex-wife of Cary Grant, her reporter co-worker, and is engaged to Ralph Bellamy. On the day that Roz and Ralph are supposed to get married, a huge murder story breaks and news hound that she is, Roz can’t stay away. Not surprisingly, Ralph Bellamy doesn’t get the girl in the end (like always), and Roz and Cary fall back in love in the midst of copy and photography. Review: I really enjoy this movie, but you REALLY HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION.  For comedic value, Cary and Rosalind talk very, very fast. Several actresses turned down this role including Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Irene Dunne and Jean Arthur. I think Carole, Jean and Irene would have been perfect for the role, but I like seeing Rosalind in a role that is both sexy, funny and strong. Around this time she was flexing her comedic muscles with “The Women” and “No Time For Comedy,” and this is most definitely one of her best during this period.

Foreign Correspondent (1940): Though the United States had not yet joined the war, this Alfred Hitchcock directed film follows American reporter, John Jones-played by my heartthrob Joel McCrea-is sent on assignment to report on the war. Jones starts to uncover a spy ring in England that is aiding the Axis. Jones also meets and falls in love with Carol Fisher-played by one of my favorites, Laraine Day. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to ruin this Hitchcock thriller, but watch for a disaster ending. Hitchcock does it ingeniously. Review: I actually think this is the film the secured in my mind that I wanted to be a journalist. The excitement and discovery that Joel McCrea experienced was irresistible. To this day my AIM name is even the title of this film.

Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland in “Arise My Love.” This photo has nothing to do with journalism. Just makes me happy!

Arise, My Love (1940): This film also follows a reporter in Europe during the start of World War II. This time our hero reporter is Claudette Colbert as Augusta Nash, based off real life reporter Martha Gellhorn. Nash saves pilot Ray Milland (as Tom Martin) before he is about to be executed by Fascists for his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Nash saves him, exclusively for the purpose of a story. Martin is thankful for his life, but also a little peeved. The two begin to fall in love though they resist because of their conflicting life styles: Nash doesn’t want to give up her career and Martin wants to fight in the upcoming war. Review: Colbert said this was one of her favorite films that she made. It might be one of my favorites too. There is a good mix of romance, adventure and journalism. Ray Milland is probably at his handsomest here.

Meet John Doe (1941): This is another film about unethical journalism. Barbara Stanwyck as Ann Mitchell is fired from her reporter job. To get her job back Ann prints a fake suicide letter in the newspaper signed by “John Doe” who says he will kill himself on Christmas Eve because he can’t take the world’s ‘social ills’ any longer. To prove the letter isn’t a fake (which it obviously is) Ann searches for a man who agrees to pose as John Doe. Gary Cooper (Long John Willowby) and his friend The Colonel (played by Walter Brennan) are in need of money and John agrees to play the part. John Doe becomes a national figure, inspiring people all over to change their ways and come together. However, the role of John Doe requires John to commit suicide. If he doesn’t, it will let down his believers, and newspaper publisher D.B. Norton (played by loveable or hateable Edward Arnold) doesn’t want to disappoint his readers. Review: I love love love this movie. It’s a perfect example at just what journalism can do. Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are so perfect together. We also get a treat of seeing Walter and Gary break out in mouth organ music. One of THE perfect examples of Frank Capra’s ‘social change’ films.

For other ‘Gary Cooper duped by the press’ films see Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

The real Ernie Pyle who is portrayed by Burgess Meredith in “The Story of G.I. Joe”

Story of G.I. Joe (1945): This is a semi-autobiographical film about World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle, played by Burgess Meredith.  Pyle joins Company C, 18th Infantry, lead by Lit. Walker played by Robert Mitchum, and fights with them in North Africa and Italy, documenting their experiences along the way. Pyle learns more about the men personally and we watch as battle wears on their nerves. The film follows real life and ends with Pyle being killed by a Japanese sniper. Review: This is one of my favorite war films, mostly because Ernie Pyle is one of my role models. When I interviewed at Fort Jackson-an Army base in Columbia, S.C.- there was a display about Ernie Pyle. I was so proud that they were honoring him and really wanted to be part of that newspaper. “G.I. Joe” was the only film Robert Mitchum was ever nominated for an Academy Award and unfortunately lost. I really feel that he deserved it.

There is an unintentional running theme throughout all of those films. All of them were made during war years and several from 1940. Here is a brief list of other films featuring journalists. I’ve listed the actors who portray reporters.

Other films:

My Dear Miss Aldrich (1937) -Maureen O’Sullivan and Walter Pidgeon

Nothing Sacred (1937)- Frederic March

Everything Happens at Night (1939)- Ray Milland and Robert Cummings

Philadelphia Story (1940)- James Stewart and Ruth Hussey

Lifeboat (1944)-Tallulah Bankhead

Objective Burma (1945)- Henry Hull

Close to My Heart (1951)- Ray Milland

The Sell Out (1952)- Walter Pidgeon

Roman Holiday (1953)-Gregory Peck

Never Let Me Go (1953)- Clark Gable

Teacher’s Pet (1958)- Doris Day and Clark Gable

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page  or follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet

Let’s talk about a little pet peeve of mine…

Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) surrounded by Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford), Betsy Booth (Judy Garland) and Cynthia Potter (Lana Turner).

How I define a classic movie fan and my pet peeve of the old movie ‘posers’ . I know I am a little fanatical and old movies are my life, but if you are going to claim to like old movies you have to know your stuff.

Another thing that drives me crazy is what consumers and manufacturers consider when it comes to classic movie merchandise (not including books, there is an abundance of wonderful film books). Everywhere you go, you see mugs, purses, T-shirts, magnets, etc with four people on them 1.) Marilyn Monroe 2.) Audrey Hepburn 3.) James Dean 4.) John Wayne. Then I go to Los Angeles with high hopes of Doris Day and Esther Williams merchandise, but I was quickly dismayed. In Hollywood, the movie mecca of the world, they still carried the same crap that they sell in Greenville, South Carolina. (Don’t get me wrong, I like Dean, Wayne and Hepburn but I want some variety.)

Continue reading