Watching 1939: Wings of the Navy

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: Wings of the Navy

Release date:  Feb. 3, 1939

Cast:  George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, John Payne, Frank McHugh, John Litel, Victor Jory, Henry O’Neill, John Ridgely, Regis Toomey, Donald Briggs, John Gallaudet, Edgar Edwards, Alberto Morin

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

Plot:
Brothers Cass (Brent) and Jerry Harrington (Payne) come from a military background. Cass is a star aviator, like their father was, and Jerry leaves the submarine service to become a flight cadet to be like his father and brother. The brothers start to share more than the same profession when Jerry falls in love with Cass’s girl, Irene (de Havilland).

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Watching 1939: Four Wives (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:  Four Wives (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 22, 1939

Cast:  Priscilla Lane, Rosemary Lane, Lola Lane, Gale Page, Claude Rains, Jeffrey Lynn, May Robson, Dick Foran, Eddie Albert, Henry O’Neill, Vera Lewis, John Qualen, Hobart Cavanaugh (uncredited), Ruth Tobey (uncredited), Olin Howland (uncredited), George Reeves (uncredited)
Archived information: John Garfield

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  Michael Curtiz

Plot:
After the death of her husband, Ann (Priscilla Lane) struggles when she learns she is pregnant with his child. She is haunted by his memory, which makes her engagement to Felix (Lynn) difficult and strained. Her sisters Emma (Page) and Thea (Lola Lane) are both trying to become mothers and Kay (Rosemary Lane) falls in love with a young doctor (Albert).

1939 Notes:
• The Lane sisters (Priscilla, Rosemary and Lola) were in two movies together released in 1939. Rosemary Lane was in five films released in 1939, and Lola Lane was in two films released in 1939.
• Priscilla Lane was in five movies released in 1939 and she co-starred with Jeffrey Lynn in four of them: Four Wives, Yes, My Darling Daughter, Daughters Courageous and Roaring Twenties. Jeffrey Lynn was in six films in 1939.
• Gale Page was in six films released in 1939.
• The second in the trilogy of films starring the Lane Sisters and Gail Page. The movies include “Four Daughters” (1938), “Four Wives” (1939) and “Four Mothers” (1941)
• One of four films directed by Michael Curtiz released in 1939.
• Eddie Albert’s third film. Albert made two films in 1939.
• Dick Foran was in four films released in 1939.
• Claude Rains was in five films released in 1939.

Jeffrey Lynn and Priscilla Lane in “Four Wives”

Other trivia: 
• While John Garfield’s character died in “Four Daughters,” he makes an appearance in memories in “Four Wives.”
• Based on a magazine story called “Sister Act” by Fannie Hurst, published in Cosmopolitan magazine.
• In response to the success of “Four Daughters” (1938), “Four Wives” and “Four Mothers” (1941) followed in the trilogy. “Daughters Courageous” was made in 1939 in response to the success of “Four Daughters.” “Daughters Courageous” was not part of the trilogy but had a similar formula and the same cast. Michael Curtiz directed “Four Wives” and “Daughters Courageous” in 1939.
• Michael Curtiz only directed the first two films, “Four Daughters” (1938) and “Four Wives” (1939). “Four Mothers” (1941) was directed by William Keighley.
• Working titles were Family Reunion, Family Affair, American Family and Sister Act.

John Garfield appears briefly in “Four Wives” from clips from “Four Daughters”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
With the success of “Four Daughters” (1938), starring the Lane Sisters and Gale Page, a few films followed: two more films in the series “Four Wives” and “Four Mothers,” and another separate film “Daughters Courageous.”

Priscilla Lane, Lola Lane, Gail Page, Rosemary Lane in a publicity photo for “Four Wives”

While some film sequels (like some of the Gidget films) aren’t great, “Four Wives” is a good sequel to “Four Daughters.” When I first saw the movie in high school, I remember feeling frustrated that the romance between Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn wasn’t picture-perfect. However, now I think it makes it more interesting that we see Priscilla Lane’s character struggle with the death of her husband and having his child, though their marriage wasn’t ideal.

However, for me the highlight was Eddie Albert in his third film role and looking as handsome and adorable can be.

While Priscilla Lane and Jeffrey Lynn were in several films together throughout the 1930s and 1940s, 1939 paired them together four times: Four Wives, Yes, My Darling Daughter, Daughters Courageous and Roaring Twenties.

The film has plenty of dramatic moments, but there are also several humorous ones, particularly with May Robson, Eddie Albert. Frank McHugh and Lola Lane.

The film leaves off with the sisters and their new babies, leaving room for a third film: “Four Mothers,” which was the last film pairing of the Lane sisters and Gail Page.

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Watching 1939: Yes, My Darling Daughter (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:  Yes, My Darling Daughter

Release date: 
Feb. 25, 1939

Cast: 
Priscilla Lane, Jeffrey Lynn, Roland Young, Fay Bainter, May Robson, Genevieve Tobin, Ian Hunter, Robert Homans

Studio: 
Warner Brothers Studios

Director: 
William Keighley

Plot:
Trying to follow in her mother’s feminist footsteps, Ellen (Lane) decides that she and her boyfriend Doug (Lynn) will spend a weekend alone in a cabin before he goes to Belgium for two years for a job. Though her mother Ann (Bainter) lived a single life in Greenwich Village, she isn’t thrilled at the prospect of her unmarried daughter staying the weekend with a man.

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Watching 1939: Nancy Drew…Reporter

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:  Nancy Drew…Reporter

Release date:  Feb. 18, 1939

Cast:  Bonita Granville, John Litel, Frankie Thomas, Dickie Jones, Mary Lee, Larry Williams, Betty Amann, Sheila Bromley, Olin Howland, Betty Amann, Joan Leslie (uncredited), Charles Smith (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Director:  William Clemens

Plot: Nancy Drew (Granville) enters a contest at the local newspaper with a group of teenagers for the best written high school story. The editor (Jackson) assigns them each trivial stories, but after overhearing a conversation about a murder trial, Nancy decides to cover a more interesting story. Eula Denning (Amann) has been charged with murder of her wealthy guardian. Nancy is determined to clear Eula and recruits her friend Ted Nickerson (Thomas) to help; sleuthing against the wishes of her district attorney father, Carson Drew (Litel).

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Review: The Very Thought of You (1944)

World War II films are my favorite genre. This doesn’t just include films about battle—I love looking at life on the home front, the Army Nurse Corps, and how actors were involved in the war effort in real life.

Then there are the World War II romance films, which often can involve a quick love affair that leads to marriage. A girl and a soldier meet while he’s on leave, and they marry, hardly knowing each other. They often marry so they will have someone to write home to or the girl falls in love with the uniform (we see this in Best Years of Our Lives).

One of the best in this genre is “The Very Thought of You” (1944). Directed by Delmer Daves and starring Dennis Morgan and Eleanor Parker, “The Very Thought of You” looks at whirlwind wartime marriages, and the disapproval a girl might meet from her family. War era films often show families happily welcoming soldiers into their homes and feeding them sandwiches and milk. But not in “The Very Thought of You”—we see the opposite.

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Musical Monday: Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951)

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.

paintingThis week’s musical:
Painting the Clouds with Sunshine (1951)– Musical #409

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
David Butler

Starring:
Dennis Morgan, Virginia Mayo, Gene Nelson, Lucille Norman, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Virginia Gibson, Tom Conway, Wallace Ford

Plot:
Vince (Morgan) has a gambling problem and his girlfriend Abby (Norman) has had enough and leaves for Las Vegas with her two singing partners, Carol (Mayo) and June (Gibson). The three are in search for millionaires, but one follows him there: millionaire dancer Ted Lansing (Nelson). However, Ted’s family isn’t keen on him marrying a performer.

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A day in LIFE: Jan. 8, 1945

LIFE magazine, Jan. 8, 1945 (Photo/Comet Over Hollywood)

LIFE magazine, Jan. 8, 1945 (Photo/Comet Over Hollywood)

Comet Over Hollywood is starting a new LIFE magazine series. At the beginning of each post, I’ll feature the film article and provide a listing of other magazine highlights. Published weekly starting in November 1936 to December 1972, over 1,800 issues of LIFE magazine was printed. I collect the magazines and decided to share the film news and current events in each film, giving a snap shot of world news and pop culture.

LIFE magazine is different from People, US Weekly or other contemporary gossip rags. LIFE was a premiere photo journalism publication with cartoons, paintings and photographs detailing wars, fashion trends, life in the United States (campus dances, award winning dogs, snow storms in Wyoming) and entertainment news.

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Musical Monday: Blues in the Night (1941)

Image

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.

Poster - Blues in the Night_01This week’s musical:
Blues in the Night” (1941)– Musical #191

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Anatole Litvak

Starring:
Priscilla Lane, Jack Carson, Richard Whorf, Lloyd Nolan, Elia Kazan, Billy Halop, Betty Field, Wallace Ford, Joyce Compton, Howard Da Silva, Faith Domergue (uncredited), Faye Emerson (uncredited), William Hopper (uncredited)

Plot:
Jigger (Whorf), Leo (Carson), Peppi (Halop), Nickie (Kazan), and Pete (Whitney) have formed a jazz band and want to take it on the road. With Leo’s wife, “Character” (Lane) as the lead singer, the group rides the rails and hitchhikes to each gig. Character and Leo’s marriage is unstable, as he gambles a great deal, and she’s afraid to tell him when she gets pregnant,because she knows he doesn’t want to be tied down. The group runs into escaped convict Del Davis (Nolan) who steals their money and then offers them a job at a New Jersey road house since they didn’t turn him over to the police. The road house is a dump but they eventually build it into a swinging establishment. Even with more steady work, their problems haven’t ended. Kay Grant (Field) first has her sites set on Leo and then turns to Whorf, causing him to eventually have a nervous breakdown.

Trivia:
-Harold Arlen (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics) were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Best Original Song, “Blues in the Night”
-Faith Domergue first role in a film as an uncredited jitterbug dancer.
-Richard Whorf’s role of Jigger was offered to both James Cagney and John Garfield, according to Anatole Litvak: The Life and Films
By Michelangelo Capua
-The original title of the film was first “Hot Nocturne” and then “New Orleans Blues,” according to Anatole Litvak: The Life and Films
By Michelangelo Capua

priscilla

Notable Songs:
-Blues in the Night performed several times throughout the film
-Hang on to Your Lids, Kids performed by Priscilla Lane
-Says Who? Says You, Says I
-This Time the Dream’s on Me performed by Priscilla Lane

Hightlights:
-Blues in the Night performed in the jail
-The crazy montage of when Richard Whorf has a break down

My review:

Betty Field in "Blues in the Night"

Betty Field in “Blues in the Night”

While categorized as a musical, “Blue in the Night” is an interesting blend of crime, noir and music. This isn’t your typical upbeat musical and Priscilla Lane isn’t plucky and carefree.
The film depicts the struggles of an up and coming jazz band and the dynamics of an unstable marriage. Priscilla Lane and Jack Carson are married in the film, but it’s clear that while he married her, he really doesn’t want to be tied down and is constantly gambling and carousing. When Priscilla Lane’s character gets pregnant, she is afraid to tell her husband because it would ruin his care free lifestlye and she fears he would leave her.
The movie has crime and gangster film elements as well when the band gets involved with Lloyd Nolan, a gangster who is hiding out, and his ex-moll, played by Betty Field who has her eyes on most of the men in the band.
Added bonus is that you get to hear Johnny Mercer’s “Blues in the Night” a few times throughout the film.
If you’re looking for a rollicking musical, “Blues in the Night” isn’t really for you.
But if you are looking for a characteristic brooding Warner Brothers film, this could be for you.

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A Familiar Face: Character actor John Ridgely

Character actor John Ridgely

Character actor John Ridgely

They are the highlights of most of our favorite films; coming in with the most striking lines and comedic moments.

A character actor is often the best part of the film. Not the star and a little lower than the secondary lead, a character actor has something distinct that they carry from film to film; whether it’s a funny voice, a physical appearance or personality trait. Think S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall’s chubby cheeks, Joyce Compton’s southern drawl or Una O’Connor’s fussy Irish habits.

But there are character actors who are just below these sidekick-like roles. The audience recognizes their face but may not know their name. These actors usually perform a role in the film that helps move the plot along, even if it is something as simple as being a police officer arresting the bad guy or a hotel clerk checking the lead actors into a hotel.

This role describes the versatile “every man” actor, John Ridgely (sometimes spelled Ridgeley). Born John Huntington Rea in Illinois, Ridgely was a graduate of Stanford University with plans to go into an industrial career. After performing in plays with the Pasadena Playhouse, Ridgely entered films in the 1930s.

If you have watched a Warner Brother’s film made between 1935 and 1948, chances are you have spotted Ridgley. The tall, dark haired vaguely attractive actor appeared in 145 feature films. His roles ranged from police officers, doctors, heavies, truck drivers, salesmen, orchestra leaders, part of a double date, cab drivers, hotel clerks, coroners and reporters.

John Ridgely as a hotel clerk in

John Ridgely as a hotel clerk in “Nancy Drew-Reporter.”

Some of his films include The Big Sleep (1946), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), “They Died With Their Boots On (1941), The Letter (1940) and Dark Victory (1939), humorously listed as Man Making Crack About Judith.

Actress Lauren Bacall’s first screen test was with Ridgely for the film “To Have and Have Not” (1944), performing the famous “put your lips together and blow” scene. The scene was written without any real intention of keeping it in the film, but after seeing the screen test, director Howard Hawks changed his mind, according to Bacall’s autobiography “By Myself.”

But Ridgely received top billing in the 1943 World War II film “Air Force;” co-starring with John Garfield, Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young and Harry Carey.

John Ridgley had top billing in

John Ridgley had top billing in “Air Force.”

For his first (and last) time in a lead role, Ridgely does an excellent job. In the Feb. 4, 1943, New York Times film review, critic Bosely Crowther called Ridgely’s performance “refreshingly direct.”

“Mr. Hawks very wisely recruited a cast with no outstanding star, thus assuring himself the privilege of giving everyone a chance. And his actors have responded handsomely,” Crowther wrote.

Two years later, Ridgely acted with John Garfield in “Pride of the Marines” (1945). Though the role is not as large as “Air Force,” Ridgely has a sufficient amount of screen time as a next door neighbor and friend of Garfield and his wife, played by Eleanor Parker.

But regardless how much screen time he received in films, Ridgley garnered media attention, as most film stars in the classic era did. This included:

  • April 10, 1943: A humorous newspaper story in an April 10, 1943, article where Ridgely gave a few kids a ride. The kids asked to be let out of the car when they found out he was an actor.
  • July 20, 1943: “Theater Gossip” John Garfield and John Ridgley announced to be acting with Cary Grant in “Destination Tokyo.” The two Johns are both noted for just coming from the film “Air Force.”
  • Nov. 11, 1943:The Evening Independent, “Playhouse Film Provides Thrills, Flynn Stars in Hudson Bay Story of Nazi Spies”: Ridgley is noted for acting in the upcoming Errol Flynn film, “Northern Pursuit.”
  • Feb. 11, 1944: “Sign on Windshield Almost Ruins Actor,” an article tells how Ridgely almost was in a car accident due to his surprise of seeing an old woman driving a 1903 Baker Electric.
  • Oct. 27, 1944: “The Evening Independent” under “Theater Gossip”: John Ridgley is noted for playing a “heavy” in the upcoming film, “The Big Sleep.” “Assignment of Ridgely was announced at the same time it was disclosed Regis Toomey was signed for an important role as a fast talking muscle man…Ridgely portrayed a meteorologist in Destination Tokyo and a confused husband in The Doughgirls.”
  • April 6, 1945: Ridgely is mentioned in the sub-head of a review on “God is My Co-Pilot” starring Dennis Morgan.
  • May 27, 1951: article mentions Ridgely was celebrating his 19th anniversary in film and his next upcoming project, playing a doctor in the “The Blue Veil.”
Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young, John Ridgely and Charles Drake in

Arthur Kennedy, Gig Young, John Ridgely and Charles Drake in “Air Force.”

Ridgely left the industry in 1953 and died in Manhattan in 1968 of heart failure. Conflicting reports say he is buried in New York while other says Forest Lawn in Hollywood. Ridgley was married to Virginia Robinson and had a son, John Ridgely Rea.

While he wasn’t a huge star, Ridgely was still considered important enough to be noted by the press. Regardless of the role, Ridgely always adds something to the film and it’s fun to pick him out in his various roles.

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I love to sing-a, about the moon-a and the June-a

ilovetosinga3.0

Owl Jolson loves to sing-a.

You may see me dancing around the office, shaking my finger and singing the tune from this Warner Brothers cartoon.

The 1936 cartoon “I Love to Singa” is one of those cartoons I saw as a child that has always stuck with me.

Every night before bed, I watched Warner Brother and MGM cartoons on Cartoon Network and TBS while I was growing up.

One of my favorite was the Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Tex Avery that features Owl Jolson. This was Avery’s ninth animated short.

In the cartoon, Mama Owl is sitting on her eggs as Papa Owl paces. They are waiting on their new children to be born in their home inside a tree.

ilovetosinga2.02

Owl Jolson’s brothers are already classically trained!

When they hatch: one owl pops out singing “Chi mi frena in tal momento” from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor,  another is playing “Traumerei” on the violin and a third is playing Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” on the flute.

Yet when the fourth owl hatches, he’s dancing and singing “I love to singa, ‘bout the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a.”

Papa Owl covers his ears and calls him a crooner and a jazz singer.

To correct his son’s love for contemporary music, Papa tries to teach him the classics and we see Owl Jolson unhappily singing “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.”

Owl Jolson runs away from home and is on a radio talent show hosted by Jack Bunny-a spoof of Jack Benny.

When his family hears little Owl on the radio, they rush down to the station, encourage his jazz music and he wins the talent show.

Picture 4

Jack Bunny holds an amateur hour contest.

“I Love to Singa” is a small tribute to Al Jolson’s film “The Jazz Singer” (1927). The song comes from the Jolson film “The Singing Kid” (1936).

The voice of Owl Jolson is child actor Tommy Bond who played Butch in the “Our Gang” series.

The cartoon demonstrates Tex Avery’s talents while paying homage to an early sound film.

One of my favorite parts of the eight minute cartoon is when all the different animals are trying out for the talent show, and all are so bad they fall through a trap door.

Owl Jolson's family accepts his love for jazz.

Owl Jolson’s family accepts his love for jazz.

My other favorite is when all the little owls hatch, already equipped with instruments and excellent musical prowess! Mama owl must be quite talented!

There isn’t one thing I don’t love about “I Love to Singa.” The title song is catchy, the jokes are witty and the name “Owl Jolson”-spoofing Al Jolson’s name- doesn’t fail to make me chuckle.

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