Watching 1939: Bad Lands (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:  Bad Lands (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 8, 1939

Cast:  Robert Barrat, Noah Beery Jr., Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, Andy Clyde, Paul Hurst, Robert Coote, Francis Ford, Addison Richards, Douglas Walton, Francis McDonald

Studio: RKO Radio Picture

Director:  Lew Landers

Plot:
Set in Arizona in 1875, a sheriff and his posse are traveling through the desert trying to find a killer. The group is short on water and Apaches are a threat to the group.

Continue reading

Advertisements

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

Plot:
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).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Watching 1939: Henry Goes Arizona

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: Henry Goes Arizona (1939)

Release date:  Dec. 8, 1939

Cast: 
Frank Morgan, Virginia Weidler, Guy Kibbee, Slim Summerville, Douglas Fowley, Owen Davis Jr., Porter Hall (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Plot:
Henry (Morgan) is a down-on-his-luck New York vaudeville actor. He thinks he has a stroke of luck when he inherits his half-brother’s ranch in Arizona. But he may not be so lucky when he finds out his brother has been murdered.

1939 Notes:
• Douglas Fowley was in nine films released in 1939
• Frank Morgan was in four films released in 1939
• Virginia Weidler was in 10 films released in 1939.
• Slim Summerville was in four films released in 1939

Continue reading

Watching 1939: They All Come Out (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:  They All Come Out (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 4, 1939

Cast: 
Rita Johnson, Tom Neal, Bernard Nedell, George Tobias, Edward Gargan, John Gallaudet, Addison Richards, Frank M. Thomas, Ann Shoemaker, Charles Lane, Paul Fix (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited)
Themselves: U.S. Attorney General Homer Stille Cummings, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons James V. Bennett

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Jacques Tourneur

Plot:
Kitty (Johnson) meets jobless and down-on-his-luck Joe (Neal). After paying for his meal, Kitty hires him to be the driver for the gang she’s in, lead by Reno (Nedell). When the whole gang goes to jail, Kitty and Joe try to lead a crime-free life, but their past follows them.

Continue reading

Watching 1939: The Roaring Twenties

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:  The Roaring Twenties (1939)

Release date:  Oct. 28, 1939

Cast:  James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Priscilla Lane, Gladys George, Jeffrey Lynn, Frank McHugh, Paul Kelly, Robert Armstrong (uncredited)

Studio: 
Warner Brothers

Director:  Raoul Walsh

Plot:
During World War I, three men meet in a foxhole and become friends: Eddie Bartlett (Cagney) who wants to go back to his pre-war job as a mechanic, George Hally (Bogart) who is a bit brash and wants to run a saloon, and Lloyd Hart (Lynn) who is college educated and wants to be a lawyer. When the war ends, Eddie returns home and can’t find work. Prohibition begins and Eddie gets mixed up with bootleggers. He also meets and falls in love with Jean (Lane), who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, and gets Jean a job singing in a club owned by Panama Smith (George). The years go by and Eddie and George work together as bootleggers and Jean grows closer to Llyod.

Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

Watching 1939: These Glamour Girls

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:  These Glamour Girls (1939)

Release date:  August 18, 1939

Cast:  Lew Ayres, Lana Turner, Tom Brown, Richard Carlson, Ann Rutherford, Jane Bryan, Marsha Hunt, Anita Louise, Mary Beth Hughes, Owen Davis Jr., Sumner Getchell, Ernest Truex, Peter Lind Hayes, Tom Collins, Gladys Blake (uncredited), Nella Walker (uncredited), Robert Walker (uncredited), Henry Kolker (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  S. Sylvan Simon

Plot:
During a night in New York City, drunk, rich college boy Philip S. Griswold (Ayres) and his friends head to a taxi dance hall (where people pay 10 cents a dance to dance with girls who work at the hall). Philip dances with Jane Thomas (Turner) and asks her to the Kingsford College House Parties, an exclusive party where New York debutantes are invited by the college “glamour boys.” When Jane arrives at Kingsford, she isn’t welcomed with open arms.

The female Kingsford House Parties attendees include:
Ann (Hughes): Invited to the House Parties by Greg Smith. Her mother doesn’t think it’s proper that he may not be in the social registry.

Daphne (Louise): Uppity debutante who receives three invites to Kingsford and calls up all the other debutantes to humble brag. Throughout the course of the weekend, she is snobbish to everyone but especially Jane.

Carol (Bryan): Carol is sweet, understanding and comes from a wealthy family whose father has recently lost his money and without servants. To keep up appearances, she pretends to be servants when she answers the phone. Carol was invited by Philip (Ayres) and they are childhood sweethearts, but she is really in love with Joe (Carlson).

Mary Rose (Rutherford): High strung debutante who says she’s a social outcast when she isn’t invited to Kingsford like all the other debutantes. Her mother has to call her usual date Homer (Brown) to invite her.

Betty (Hunt): Betty is older than the other girls at the old age of 23. They called her the prom queen of 1936. She is over the top to get attention.

Continue reading

Watching 1939: Nurse Edith Cavell

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:  Nurse Edith Cavell

Release date: Sept. 22, 1939 (NYC premiere)

Cast: 
Anna Neagle, Edna May Oliver, George Sanders, May Robson, Zasu Pitts, H. B. Warner, Mary Howard, Robert Coote, Henry Brandon, Jimmy Butler, Rex Downing

Studio:  RKO

Director:  Herbert Wilcox

Plot:
Starting in 1913, English nurse Edith Cavell is the matron of a small hospital in Brussels. The Germans occupy Brussels when World War I begins. With the help of three other local women — Countess de Mavon (Oliver), Mme. Rappard (Robson) and Mme. Moulin (Pitts) — Nurse Cavell shelters Belgian, French and English that are wounded or prisoners of war and helps them escape to the Netherlands.

Awards and Nominations:
• Anthony Collins was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score

1939 Notes:
• Released Sept. 22, 1939, only a few weeks after Germany invaded Poland, beginning World War II on Sept. 1, 1939.
• The first film that Anna Neagle made for RKO in the United States
• “Nurse Edith Cavell” (1939) is a remake. Director Herbert Wilcox first directed the story of Edith Cavell in te film Dawn (1928). He remade the film in 1939 with his wife Anna Neagle as the lead.
• One of 5 films Zasu Pitts made in 1939; one of seven films May Robson made, one of four films starring Edna Mae Oliver, one of 8 films made by George Sanders
• Anna Neagle’s only film in 1939
• 1939 news briefs said this was Anna Neagle’s first American film.

Anna Neagle and Edna May Oliver in “Nurse Edith Cavell”

Other trivia: 
• One of five versions of Edith Cavell’s story. The others are: Nurse and Martyr (1915), Nurse Cavell (1916), The Woman the Germans Shot (1918), Dawn (1928)
• Jimmy Butler plays Jean Rappard, a runaway Belgium prisoner of war, fought in World War II and was killed in action in France.
• The screenplay was written based on Nurse Cavell’s personal papers including letters, notes in Nurse Edith Cavell’s Bible and in her diary from 1913 to 1915, according to an April 20, 1939, article.
• Herbert Wilcox wanted Wendy Barrie to play one of the supporting characters, according to an April 21, 1939, brief.
• A film brief on April 24, 1939, also mentioned Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was going to be in the cast. Fairbanks Jr. did not end up in the film.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Nurse films are one of my favorite types of films. And in the classic age of films, telling the biographical stories of brave nurses caring for patients was nothing new. For example, Kay Francis had already played Florence Nightingale in “White Angel” (1936) and the story of Nurse Edith Cavell had been told four times before this movie’s release.

But there is something different about “Nurse Edith Cavell” (1939). In comparison to some medical films that can be rather melodramatic, “Nurse Edith Cavell” is a very quiet film that has some tense moments.

English actress Anna Neagle plays Nurse Cavell as a level-headed character who is very calm and collected and rarely speaks above a low, soft voice. Even when she faces danger, she doesn’t yell or scream. The plot solely revolves around Cavell and three other women helping British, Belgian and French soldiers escape occupied Belgium to the Netherlands.

Knowing nothing about this film, you glance at the cast and see Zasu Pitts, May Robson and Edna May Oliver and could assume this is a comedy. While there are slightly funny parts involving Zasu Pitts, this is a serious film. This was one of Edna May Oliver’s last films and she passed away in 1942.

While it is set during World War I, the film doesn’t condemn the Germans. Nurse Cavell’s sentiment was that “patriotism is not enough, I must have no hate in my heart.” Because of this, she cared for German soldiers who were brought to her hospital, along with the British, French and Belgians that she helped escape. If anything, the message of this film is pacifism. With the political climate in 1939, director Herbert Wilcox was asked if the film would reflect that:

“Our job is entertainment, not propaganda,” Wilcox is quoted in the “Around Hollywood” column by Robbin Coons on May 29, 1939. “The film will be anti-militarist, not anti-German.”

“We will show Edith Cavell as one of war’s victims, as the great woman she was,” Neagle is also quoted in the article.

George Sanders has a surprisingly small role as a German officer, entering into the story 50 minutes into the 100-minute film. The Germans suspect that someone is aiding prisoners of war and enlist a soldier, played by German actor Henry Brandon, to investigate.

Portrait of the real Nurse Edith Cavell

Before seeing this movie, I had never heard of Nurse Edith Cavell, but she became a prominent figure during World War I, particularly in 1915. I’m not sure if everyone knows the history of Nurse Cavell and what became of her and I don’t want to share any spoilers. But I will share that her story shook the world and was shared internationally. Her story was used in her home country of England for military recruitment and to rally the United States into joining the war. The United States did not enter World War I until 1917.

A few notes I thought were particularly interesting:
– In regards to history and 1939, this film is interesting because it shows homefront conditions in Europe during World War I. And it was released only weeks after England and France declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland. During film screening and a personal appearance in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 21, 1939, Anna Neagle said:
“Over here, the war is so unreal, that I actually cannot believe that it affects my country, my people. I am on my way home, but I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m returning to.

– Many biographical films have dramatic elements added to the real story, but from what I have read, much of what was portrayed in the film was factual. This would have been an easy story to exaggerate and the Germans could have been portrayed as “barbaric,” as they were in news stories in 1915, but they are not. The story shows Germans occupying the town and searching the hospital, but nothing is over the top. The main realistic difference is that Anna Neagle was 35 when she performed this role, and Nurse Cavell was 49 in 1915.

– “Nurse Edith Cavell” differs from many films revolving around a woman made at this time. There is no contrived love story what so ever, which is rare. Anna Neagle has no suitor or lover in the film, nor do her three “underground” accomplices. (Though Zasu Pitts is married, her husband is only seen in a few scenes helping soldiers escape).

– Director Herbert Wilcox is remaking his own film. In 1928, Wilcox told the story of Nurse Cavell in the film “Dawn” starring Sybil Thorndike. Neagle and Wilcox were married when this film was made.

“Nurse Edith Cavell” is not a well-known movie today and not terribly easy to find (I watched it on Amazon Prime, but the sound is garbled for 20 minutes in the middle). But while it was being made, it received a great deal of news coverage in 1939. It is a quiet film that I enjoyed and delivered a great message of strength.

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

 

Watching 1939: Ninotchka

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:  Ninotchka (1939)

Release date: Nov. 29, 1939

Cast: 
Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart, Bela Lugosi, Alexander Granach, Gregory Gaye, Dorothy Adams (uncredited), George Tobias (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: 
Ernst Lubitsch

Plot:
Three Russians, Comrade Iranoff (Ruman), Comrade Iranoff (Bressart) and Comrade Kopalski (Granach) travel to Paris, France, from Russia on official business – to sell the jewels of Grand Duchess Swana (Claire) that the Soviets confiscated. When Swana gets wind of this, she sends her boyfriend Count Leon d’Algout (Douglas) to intervene so she can reclaim her jewelry. To trick the comrades out of the jewelry, Leon changes the point of view of the three comrades, showing them what life is like in Paris. When the Soviet government hears that the sale is not moving forward, they send Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka, (Garbo) to Paris to clean up the mess. Rigid and serious when she arrives, Ninotchka soon is also warmed and changed by Paris and falls in love.

1939 Notes:
• Ernst Lubitsch’s only film in 1939
• Greta Garbo’s only film of 1939 and her first comedy. This was her second to last film.
• Melvyn Douglas made four films in 1939.
• Ernst Lubitsch’s first assignment as a producer for M-G-M

Garbo (and Melvyn Douglas) laugh in Ninotchka (1939)

Other trivia: 
• Remade as the musical “Silk Stockings” (1957) starring Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire and Janis Paige. The 1957 film version was an adaptation of a 1954 stage musical with music by Cole Porter.
• Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder
• Greta Garbo wanted Cary Grant to play the lead, according to a Sheilah Graham column published on Jan. 3, 1939.
• For Greta Garbo’s first talking film, “Anna Christie” the slogan “Garbo talks!” was used in advertisements. Mimicking that advertising, this movie used the slogan “Garbo Laughs!”
• Adapted in 1950 as a stage play.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Ninotchka” is a glittering example of the perfect 1939 film:
1. It was Greta Garbo’s first comedy and her only film of 1939.
2. Was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, so it has that “Lubitsch touch.” (Also his only 1939 film)
3. Includes a script written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder

All of these factors add up to create a charming film.

The satirical comedy was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and is chockful of hilarious one-liners and back-and-forths.

This was Greta Garbo’s first film since 1937’s Conquest. Newspapers in 1938 announced her return to film with two films to be released in 1939: Ninotchka and Madame Curie. The latter wasn’t released until 1943 and starred Greer Garson. After Ninotchka, Garbo didn’t make another film until 1941, “Two-Faced Woman,” which was her last film.

Greta Garbo is a performer revered as one of the best actors of all time. Garbo’s film career began in 1920 and spanned 21 years with 32 films. This is my favorite Greta Garbo film. For much of her career, we saw Garbo brood, suffer or fall in love. But in Ninotchka, we get to see how funny she could be, even when she’s playing the very dry and mechanical Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, before she loosens up to be Ninotchka.

In her first talking film, Anna Christie (1930), the advertising slogan was “Garbo talks!” Playing off of that, MGM advertised the comedy with “Garbo laughs!” Her performance here is just as joyous as that advertising line captures. It’s amazing that Ninotchka was her second to last film. With the right comedic material, you can’t help but wonder what other films Garbo could have made had she stayed in Hollywood.

As production was beginning, Sheilah Graham reported that Garbo had picked Cary Grant “to make love to her” in her new film, Ninotchka. And as wonderful as Cary Grant is, I’m glad Melvyn Douglas was the final selection as the male lead in this film. Douglas brings his understated charm and also his sense of humor to the movie.

Outside of our leads, the supporting cast practically steals the show. Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach as the three comrades who blunder the business deal are hilarious and adorable as they explore the joys of life outside of Soviet Russia.

Sig Ruman, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach

Set in France, “Ninotchka” was released on Nov. 29, 1939, as the landscape of Europe was rapidly changing. On Sept. 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. The film begins with a bittersweet intro:

“This picture takes place in Paris in those wonderful days when a siren was a brunette and not an alarm…and if a Frenchman turned out the light it was not on account of an air raid!”

Though our allies at this time, this film was banned in Soviet Russia because of the way Soviets were portrayed.

It’s difficult not to gush over this film (as I already have). Watching it is such a cheerful experience. It is a great example of the sparkling 1939, and it may be a perfect film (if not pretty darn close).

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