Watching 1939: Stronger Than Desire (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: 
Stronger Than Desire (1939)

Release date: 
June 30, 1939

Virginia Bruce, Walter Pidgeon, Lee Bowman, Ann Dvorak, Ilka Chase, Ann E. Todd (billed as Ann Todd), Rita Johnson, Richard Lane, Paul Stanton, Ferike Boros, Barbara Bedford (uncredited), Tom Neal (uncredited),


Leslie Fenton

Elizabeth Flagg (Bruce) is the wife of successful lawyer Tyler Flagg (Pidgeon). Tyler stays busy with his cases and Elizabeth gets bored. To pass the time, she is courted by Michael McLain (Bowman). On the eve of traveling to Europe with her family, Michael blackmails Elizabeth for letters she wrote him. She shoots him, but Michael’s wife Eva (Dvorak) is accused of killing her husband.

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Musical Monday: Hit the Deck (1955)

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:
Hit the Deck (1955) – Musical #63


Roy Rowland

Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller, Russ Tamblyn, Walter Pidgeon, Vic Damone, Gene Raymond, J. Carrol Naish, Richard Anderson, Jane Darwell, Kay Armen, Alan King, Henry Slate, Alvin Greenman (uncredited), Dabbs Greer (uncredited)

Three sailors go on leave — Bill Clark (Martin), Rico Ferrari (Damone), and Danny Smith (Tamblyn). Bill goes to find his girlfriend Ginger (Miller), Rico goes to find his mother (Armen), and Danny goes home to visit his admiral father (Pidgeon) and sister Susan (Powell). The sailors find that everyone is too busy to see them or uninterested in their visit. Danny finds out that his sister Susan is on a date in the hotel room of actor Wendell Craig (Raymond). Danny worries about Susan’s safety and he and his friends break into Wendell’s hotel room to beat him up and protect his sister. Because of this, they have to outrun shore patrol for the remainder of their leave.

Debbie Reynolds in “Hit the Deck”

– The last film Jane Powell made for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
– Russ Tamblyn was dubbed by two different people in the film: Rex Dennis and Clark Burroughs
– A version of Follow the Fleet (1936), which starred Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
– Kay Armen was billed as “introducing.”

Ann Miller performing in “Hit the Deck”

Notable Songs:
– “Why, Oh Why?” performed by Tony Martin, Russ Tamblyn and Vic Damone, and also by Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell and Ann Miller
-“Lucky Bird” performed by Jane Powell
– “The Lady from the Bayou” performed by Ann Miller

Jane Powell and Vic Damone in “Hit the Deck”

My review:
Coming off the high of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” singing actress Jane Powell thought she was going to start getting better and more adult roles. However, “Seven Brides” was the beginning of the end of her musical career.

And “Hit the Deck” was her last musical and film at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, just a year after “Seven Brides” was released.

“Hit the Deck” is fun and star-studded but it’s not the quality that she hoped for. The cast includes some of MGM’s many musical stars, Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller, Russ Tamblyn, Walter Pidgeon, Vic Damone and Gene Raymond.

Jane Powell is the star of the film, but I do feel like her role takes a backseat to Debbie Reynolds and Ann Miller. They certainly get the better numbers than Powell. However, all three girls are charming.

With the exception of Russ Tamblyn, I’m not a fan of the romantic leads of Tony Martin and Vic Damone, simply because they aren’t my favorite crooners. I do love seeing Walter Pidgeon and Gene Raymond, which is a special treat. Kay Armen is built up with a big “introducing” in the credits. Armen sings a few songs but she didn’t have a large film career.

Along with the large cast, the film is very colorful. But the songs aren’t very catchy (except for “Why, Oh Why.”)

One odd thing is Russ Tamblyn is able to sing but is dubbed in the song “Hallelujah.” And the voice he’s given is ridiculous, especially when he has a high-pitched while performing that song.

While “Hit the Deck” isn’t my favorite musical or one of MGM’s best, but it is an enjoyable way to spend two hours.

Jane Powell and Vic Damone, Ann Miller and Tony Martin, and Debbie Reynolds and Russ Tamblyn

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Musical Monday: Holiday in Mexico (1946)

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.

holiday4This week’s musical:
Holiday In Mexico” (1946)– Musical #119


George Sidney

Jane Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowall, Ilona Massey, Hugo Haas, William ‘Bill’ Phillips, Helene Stanley, Linda Christian (uncredited), Grady Sutton (uncredited)
As themselves: Jose Iturbi, Xavier Cugat, Amparo Iturbi, Jose Iturbi’s grandchildren: Tonia Hero and Teresa Hero

Christine (Powell) lives in Mexico with her father Jeffrey Evans (Pidgeon), who is the United States Ambassador to Mexico. Jeffrey is a single parent to Christine, who dotes on her father and tries to be the lady of the house and manage her father’s affairs. She is constantly quarreling with her boyfriend Stanley (McDowall), who is the son of the English ambassador. When Jeffrey meets an old flame, singer Toni Karpathy (Massey), Christine feels replaced. To console herself, she decides that she’s in love with piano player Jose Iturbi (who plays himself).

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Musical Monday: It’s a Date (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.

date2This week’s musical:
It’s a Date (1940)– Musical #116

Universal Pictures

William A. Seiter

Deanna Durbin, Kay Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Eugene Pallette, Henry Stephenson, S.Z. Sakall, Charles Lane, John Arledge (uncredited)

Georgia Drake (Francis) is a famous stage star and her teenage daughter Pamela (Durbin) wants to follow in her footsteps. Along with wanting the same part in an exciting new play, mother and daughter both fall in love with the same man- John Arlendge (Pidgeon).

-Remade as “Nancy Goes to Rio” (1950) starring Jane Powell, Ann Sothern and Barry Sullivan.
-S.Z. Sakall’s first American film

-Deanna Durbin’s songs
-Kay Francis appearing in the film
-Walter Pidgeon in white dinner coats

Kay Francis and Deanna Durbin play mother and daughter in "It's a Date"

Kay Francis and Deanna Durbin play mother and daughter in “It’s a Date”

Kay Francis, Walter Pidgeon and Deanna Durbin in "It's a Date"

Kay Francis, Walter Pidgeon and Deanna Durbin in “It’s a Date”

Notable Songs:
Loch Lomond performed by Deanna Durbin
Ave Maria (Op.52 No.1) performed by Deanna Durbin
Love Is All performed by Deanna Durbin

My review:
“It’s a Date” is a movie date you want to keep.

Deanna Durbin, Kay Francis and Walter Pidgeon as the leads with a Eugene Pallette, Henry Stephenson and S.Z. Sakall as the supporting cast. Could you ask for a better group of actors?

Francis, Durbin and Pidgeon in "It's a Date"

Francis, Durbin and Pidgeon in “It’s a Date”

I saw this movie for the first time in high school and don’t remember being in love with the film. However, I wasn’t as immersed in my Kay Francis film love and not yet in love with Walter Pidgeon, which makes a difference. Now, when I rewatched it, it was such a thrill to see Francis later in her career flanked by Walter Pidgeon as her leading man.

Kay Francis was one of Warner Brothers’ top stars in the early 1930s before Bette Davis came on the scene. According to TCM historian Robert Osborne, to make Francis break her contract, they put her put her in terrible films and filled scripts with words full of “R’s”— a letter she had difficulties with due to a speech impediment. However, Francis didn’t back down and continued acting. With that said, her later film roles weren’t anything to write home about her Francis’s film career ended in 1946. Though “It’s a Date” is towards end of Francis’s career, she is radiant in this film and it’s a wonderful part for her.

S.Z. Sakall and Kay Francis on the set of "It's a Date"

S.Z. Sakall and Kay Francis on the set of “It’s a Date”

The plot is a little goofy: a teenage daughter falls in love with a man more than twice her age. For a little while, the audience is made to believe that he loves her too. But don’t worry, this film has a non-creepy ending.

There are several laugh out loud moments — some coming from S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall in his first American film. The Hungarian actor left Europe due to Hitler and the growing power of the Third Reich and bestowed his comedic talents on United States audiences.

Deanna Durbin plays a teenager with a wish to be an actress like her mother and grandmother. Her character is a little overly dramatic, as teenagers can be, but it’s humorous at the same time. She delivers many beautiful songs throughout the film and you can see tears in her eyes as she sings “Ave Maria.”

For someone not familiar with Deanna Durbin, this is a good film to start with if you are interested in diving in. It’s a wonderful blend of music, comedy that’s filled with handsome Walter Pidgeon in white evening coats and Kay Francis in lavish evening gowns.

Give this one a watch.

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The Mystery of the Murdered Movie

I love Nancy Drew.

I have played and solved 21 of the HerInteractive PC games and read most of the original yellow bound novels. I even own a Nancy Drew cookbook, a “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” book and a large Nancy Drew cut out.

Nancy Drew has played a pivotal role for the past 80 years in literature for young girls, as well as in pop culture.

Everyone knows who she is and is fairly respected as a literary character. However, why is there not a flattering movie adaptation depicting everyone’s this important literary character and symbol for American women?

Eight years after the first Nancy Drew novel, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” was published in 1930, the first Nancy Drew film adaptation was released.

Nancy Drew, Reporter,” the first film adaptation of the series, was released in 1938, three more movies were released all in 1939. These movies included “Nancy Drew  Troubleshooter,” “Nancy Drew Detective ” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase).”

Film series were not rare in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In fact many studios made a great deal of money off of series such as “Andy Hardy,” “Dr. Kildaire,” “Maisie” and “Boston Blackie just to name a few of many.

I imagine that is what Warner Brothers was trying to do with Nancy Drew. But none of the films followed or resembled any of the Nancy Drew books, except for snippets of “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” which I think is modeling itself after the book “The Hidden Staircase.”

In novels Miss Drew is level-headed, fearless and intelligent. She doesn’t goof off and there isn’t much time for romance in her life. Yes there is her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, but I can count on one hand the amount of times they kissed or flirted in the novels. She was also very talented and fashionable. She could tap dance the Morris code while wearing a freshly pressed tailored suit.

Also in the novels, Ned was concerned about Nancy but never hindered her sleuthing. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, was a distinguished lawyer. He teased his daughter for her appetite for mysteries and trusted her good sense.

However, the characters in the 1930s Nancy Drew series didn’t resemble Carolyn Keene’s intelligent teens.

Nancy Drew, played by Bonita Granville, was bumbling, scatter-brained and frightened for most of the films. She set out to solve a mystery but would run home before finding any actual clues.

Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson

Ned Nickerson, played by Frankie Thomas, was named TED in the movies for some reason. He was maybe the most tolerable character in the movies, but I wouldn’t run to him to protect me.

John Litel was a very irritating Carson Drew. He forbid Nancy from sleuthing and worried about her constantly. Even Hannah Gruen, the housekeeper, ran away in terror when someone broke into their home. Hannah in the books would have knocked them on their ear.

John Litel as Carson Drew in “Nancy Drew…Reporter” (1938)

The films involve very little mystery solving and an over abundance of silly slap-stick. I’m not asking for a whole detailed novel to be played out in the 68 minute films, but Warner Brothers could have at least been accurate with their character depictions.

Bonita Granville, who was 16 when she played Nancy Drew, was in top-notch films such as “These Three”(1936), which she received her only Oscar nomination, and “Now, Voyager” (1941), giving excellent performances in both but clearly Nancy Drew was not the role for her.

I made a list of who, with some tweaks to the script, could have been the perfect Nancy Drew casting in the 1930s or 1940s.

Nancy Drew: Deanna Durbin (19 at this time) would be my first pick. She sometimes plays silly characters, but also plays serious roles beautifully. Nancy Drew was also supposed to be very attractive. Miss Granville wasn’t ugly, but Deanna Durbin is decidedly prettier. I’m sure they would have to fit in a song or two for Deanna. She would have been old enough by this time, because “First Love,” the film that she received her first on-screen kiss came out the same year as the series.

Carson Drew: John Litel is generally a character actor with small roles. I’m not sure why they chose him to play the distinguished lawyer, Carson Drew. I can’t think of anyone else who could play this role more perfectly than Walter Pidgeon. Mr. Pidgeon is the definition of distinguished and sophistication. With his fatherly and friendly acting style, along with his pipe, I can picture him now giving Nancy advice.

Ned Nickerson: I would either say a teen-aged Jackie Cooper (17 at the time) or Robert Stack (20 at this time). Both boys were attractive and would have seemed more protective of Nancy Drew than Frankie Thomas. Stack was also in the 1939 film “First Love” with Miss Durbin and would have been of a suitable age.

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