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).

1939 Notes:
• This is one of three Nancy Drew films released in 1939 by Warner Brothers starring Bonita Granville. The others were: “Nancy Drew…Trouble Shooter” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.” The Nancy Drew series ended in 1939.

• Bonita Granville four films in 1939 and only one of them wasn’t a Nancy Drew film, “Angels Wash Their Faces.”

• John Litel was in 13 films in 1939.

• Mary Lee’s first film. She was in 19 films between 1939 and 1944.

Other trivia: 
• One of four Nancy Drew movies from 1938 to 1939. Three of these films were released in 1939.

Joan Leslie in an early film role (right)
Screen cap by Jessica P.

• Joan Leslie’s fourth film. She plays an uncredited role as a journalism student

• Based on Nancy Drew stories by Carolyn Keene

• In 1962, Justice Arthur J. Goldberg in a Supreme Court Decision disallowed a practice called “block booking,” where motion picture distributors required televisions stations to buy packages of films to get the ones they wanted. Goldberg named one of the Nancy Drew films in his statement:
“Station WTOP in Washington, in order to get such film classics as Casablanca and Treasure of the Sierra Madre , also had to buy Nancy Drew, Troubleshooter and Gorilla Man,” according to “Translate Nancy Drew from Print to Film,” an essay by Diana Beeson and Bonnie Brennan.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Growing up, I collected all of the yellow-bound Nancy Drew books, dressed up as her for Halloween and played all of the Her Interactive Nancy Drew computer games. I even have a Nancy Drew cardboard cut out in my spare bedroom. Needless to say, I’m a fan.

So because of my love for Nancy Drew, I sought these films out in middle school. I love Nancy and Bonita Granville, so I want to say I love these films. But my love and knowledge of Nancy Drew is what holds me back.

With the first Nancy Drew mystery published in 1930, the books were popular by the time the first Nancy Drew film adaptation was released in 1938. By 1938 and 1939, Bonita Granville was also starting to transition from child roles to teenage and young adult characters. But the script for this film doesn’t allow Granville to grow up.

In the books, Nancy Drew is cool, calm, collected and smart. The 1930s books (before the 1950s edit) depicted Nancy as self-confident, brave and kind. But the film script did not portray Nancy Drew that way. Warner Brothers’ Nancy Drew is frantic, flighty, and filled with screwball comedy. The portrayal is not only unfair and insulting to fans of the Nancy Drew novels, it’s also unfair that Granville was still pigeon-holed in her shouting and child-like characters that made her famous.

Of the four Nancy Drew films, three of them were released in 1939 (which speaks to how much money Warner Brothers put into them) and all of them starred Bonita Granville. Granville was only in one other film in 1939, which was Angels Wash Their Faces (1939). Starting in the early 1940s, Granville grew into more adult, and sometimes sophisticated, roles like H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941) or Now, Voyager (1942), proving she could play more than a shouting brat (though she is wonderful in those bratty roles).

In the books, Carson Drew encourages his daughter’s sleuthing and discusses cases with her, while also advising her to be careful. But in the movies, Carson Drew (played by Litel), chastises her in a “I told you time and time again not to do that” manner. Litel, who seems to show up in nearly every film of the 1930s and 1940s, was in 13 films in, 1939 including the three Nancy Drew films released that year.

Ilike Frankie Thomas in this film, though I’m puzzled why he’s Ted Nickerson rather than Ned. The character of Ted is more similar to Nancy’s novel character: cautious and sensible.

Bonita Granville and Frankie Thomas as Nancy Drew and “Ted” Nickerson in “Nancy Drew…Reporter.”

Back in 2010, I wrote a piece about my ideal Nancy Drew 1930s or 1940s film cast. But now, I realize the cast isn’t the issue (though Walter Pidgeon would have been a fabulous Caron Drew), it was the script. Bonita Granville would have been a wonderful Nancy Drew had she been allowed to play Nancy as she was written in the novels.

“Warner Brothers failed to realize that Nancy Drew’s appeal to the moppets and others familiar with her through the books was as a detective and not a screwball comedian,” according to “Translate Nancy Drew from Print to Film,” an essay by Diana Beeson and Bonnie Brennan.

The Nancy Drew films were also not successful in the theater, according to Mystery Movie Series of 1930s Hollywood by Ron Backer.

However, these Nancy Drew movies are important. Three of the films were released in 1939. And these four films are also one of the few film portrayals of Nancy Drew. For a character so famous, Nancy Drew has only been on the silver screen in these four Warner Brothers films and in a 2007 film “Nancy Drew,” starring Emma Roberts (which also got the character wrong.) After the last Nancy Drew film was released in 1939, the character did not manifest outside of the books again until the 1970s TV show, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977) starring Pamela Sue Martin. Nancy Drew didn’t even appear on radio.

I hate to be so hard on this film. I don’t dislike it, and honestly, the movies would be fine if the lead character was named Betty Harper or Susan McGillicuddy. The let down comes because the script is tied to such an iconic fictional character that so many people grew up with.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Watching 1939: Maisie (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: Maisie

Release date: June 22, 1939

Cast:  Ann Sothern, Robert Young, Ruth Hussey, Ian Hunter, Cliff Edwards, George Tobias, John Hubbard (credited as Anthony Allan), Art Mix, Willie Fung

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:  Edwin L. Marin

Plot:
Maisie Ravier (Sothern) is a fast-talking, brassy New York vaudeville performer who travels to Wyoming for a show. When she arrives, she finds that the show folded after one performance, and now she’s broke and stranded. Maisie meets cowboy Slim (Young), who is a manager of a nearby ranch. He instantly dislikes her, but begrudgingly takes her to the ranch so she has a place to stay for the night. The owner of the ranch and Slim’s boss, Clifford Ames (Hunter) arrives with his wife Sybil (Hussey). Instead of leaving, Maisie starts working as Sybil’s maid, but Maisie gets in over her head when she discovers Sybil’s extracurricular romance.

1939 Notes:
• The first of the 10 Maisie films released by MGM. The last film was released in 1947. There was also a spin-off radio show called “The Adventures of Maisie” which broadcast from 1945 to 1947 and again from 1949 to 1953.
• Ann Sothern signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer because of this film.
• Ruth Hussey was in seven films released in 1939
• Ann Sothern was in four films released in 1939
• Robert Young was in four films released in 1939
• Ian Hunter was in five films released in 1939

Other trivia: 
• The film rights were purchased with plans for Jean Harlow to star in the film. However, Jean Harlow died in 1937 and the film idea was shelved. When MGM execs saw Ann Sothern in Trade Winds (1938), they felt she was perfect for Maisie and signed her to a contract to play the role, according to a 2015 film introduction by former TCM host Robert Osborne.
• The concept was based on the book “Dark Dame” by Wilson Collison
• The working title for the film was Maisie Was A Lady and Broadway to Wyoming. One of the films was titled “Maisie Was a Lady” and was released in 1941.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:

This week’s 1939 film is significant: It started a film series that spanned from 1939 to 1947 (and it had a spin-off radio show) and it boosted actress Ann Sothern’s career.

From Boston Blackie to the Saint, there were several film series during the classic era of film.

But to me, few film series stand out as much as the “Maisie” series, which kicked off in 1939. The character of Maisie Ravier is the brassy showgirl with clanging bracelets and loud clothing. But she has a heart of gold. I could certainly see Jean Harlow in the role since the story was purchased with her in mind, but Ann Sothern makes this her role and is perfect for the part.

After the first “Maisie” film was released in 1939, nine more followed, with the last released in 1947. While each film follows Maisie’s adventures, there was no continuation of the storyline from the previous film and she has a different boyfriend in each story.

The year of 1939 was a turning point for Ann Sothern. Not only was the first “Maisie” film released in 1939, but this film boosted her career. Sothern had steadily in Hollywood for several years but with no large successes. Her film career began in 1927, where she was in uncredited parts until 1930. Sothern was signed a film contract with Columbia Pictures in 1934 and then RKO Radio Pictures in 1936, but her roles were not of a high callibur. Ann Sothern did not find true success until MGM signed her and she was cast as Maisie.

Ann Sothern, who I feel is an underrated actress, is perfect for this role and makes the Maisie films so much fun. While her character is sassy and fast-talking, she’s also warm and funny.

Robert Young, Ruth Hussey and Ian Hunter co-star in “Maisie” (1939), and all do a terrific job. Robert Young plays his usual nice guy role (with a touch of grumpiness) and Ian Hunter is his usual stalwart, loveable character. Ruth Hussey, who is also underrated and can play any type of role, makes it easy to dislike her character in this one.

The “Maisie” series is one of my favorite film series. I’ll never forget when Warner Archive released the series on DVD in 2012 how thrilled I was (I was so happy I think I cried). If you don’t have the two volume Warner Archive Maisie set, I highly recommend it. All of the Maisie films are as delightful as the first film in the series.

The Maisie films never rose above a B-level budget movie and all of them were filmed in black and white. But these B-movies always made MGM money. They were cheap to make and made money, which executives liked, according to the late Robert Osborne.

Regardless of budget, the Maisie films are a delight and Ann Sothern is wonderful in the role. The year 1939 was a good year for Sothern and us since we still get to enjoy this film.

Ann Sothern and Robert Young

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Watching 1939: Arizona Legion

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: Arizona Legion

Release date: Jan. 20, 1939

Cast: George O’Brien, Laraine Day (billed as Laraine Johnson), Carlyle Moore Jr., Chill Wills, Tom Chatterton, Edward LeSaint, Glenn Strange, Harry Cording

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director: David Howard

Plot:
When a stagecoach is robbed by Whisky Joe (Cording), everyone is too afraid to speak up and identify or accuse the criminal. Boone Yeager (O’Brien) is a hard-drinking cowboy who the judge (LeSaint) asks to infiltrate the clan of Whiskey Joe. The daughter of the Judge, Letty (Day/Johnson) is engaged to Boone and she doesn’t understand his recent behavior.

1939 Notes:
• Laraine Day was billed Laraine Johnson. Laraine changed her last name to “Day” after signing a contract with M-G-M. She only made three films released in 1939 and the last is what helped boost her career, Calling Dr. Kildare (1939). It was her first role in the Dr. Kildare film series, where she played the doctor’s girlfriend, Mary Lamont.

George O’Brien and Laraine Johnson (Day)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
There are several great westerns of the classic film era. And there are even more low-budget westerns that graced the silver screen. “Arizona Legion” (1939) would fall in the latter category.

The film plot isn’t anything new or different, though it is an entertaining film. During this point in his career, George O’Brien starring almost exclusively in westerns from 1937 to 1940. Many of these films barely (or don’t) surpass a 60-minute length.

While the film type or plot isn’t anything new to films at this time, O’Brien’s leading lady was. The lead actress is billed as Laraine Johnson, who later changed her name to Laraine Day and became one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s contract players. “Arizona Legion,” Day’s fifth film, wasn’t necessarily important to her career, but 1939 was the year she broke out in films.

This same year, Laraine Johnson was signed to MGM, changed her name and was cast in the Dr. Kildare film series (starring Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore) as Dr. Kildare’s love interest. In 1940, she even went on to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940).

While some films released in 1939 are not of great importance in the grand scheme of things, some were the catalyst to a successful career. That could be the case for Laraine Day and this film.

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Watching 1939: Blackmail (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: Blackmail

Release date: Sept. 9, 1939

Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Ruth Hussey, Gene Lockhart, Bobs Watson, Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams, John Wray, Arthur Hohl, Esther Dale, Willie Best (uncredited)

Studio:  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director: H.C. Potter

Plot: John Ingram (Robinson) has a successful business fighting oil fires and lives a happy life with his family (Hussey, Watson). But his not so savory past comes to light when he’s seen in a newsreel and someone tries to blackmail him.

1939 Notes:
• Edward G. Robinson was only in two films in 1939.
• Bob Watson was in five films released in 1939.
• Ruth Hussey was in seven films released in 1939.
• Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams was in nine films in 1939.

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Watching 1939: The Rookie Cop (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: The Rookie Cop

Release date: April 28, 1939

Cast:  Tim Holt, Virginia Weidler, Janet Shaw, Frank M. Thomas, Robert Emmett Keane, Monte Montague, Ace the Wonder Dog

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  David Howard

Plot:
Clem Maitland (Holt) is a police officer who is trying to get the police commissioner to agree to hiring a police dog. Clem uses the German shepherd Ace (Ace the Wonder Dog) on the job prove the dog’s value with police work. Using the dog backfires on a case and Clem is suspended. When his handyman friend Tom (Montague) gets accused of stealing a company’s payroll, Clem works with Ace to clear his name. Clem’s small young friend Nicey (Weidler) tags along to help solve the crimes.

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Watching 1939: It’s a Wonderful World (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: It’s a Wonderful World

Release date: May 19, 1939

Cast: Claudette Colbert, James Stewart, Guy Kibbee, Nat Pendleton, Frances Drake, Edgar Kennedy, Sidney Blackmer, Ernest Truex, Hans Conried, Grady Sutton, Cecilia Callejo, Cecil Cunningham, Frank Faylen (uncredited), Phillip Terry (uncredited)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
W.S. Van Dyke

Plot:
Wealthy Willie Heyward (Treux) is accused of murder and his private detective Guy Johnson (Stewart) is arrested for obstruction of justice for hiding Heyward after the murder. Johnson escapes the police by jumping off a train, and poetess Edwina Corday (Colbert) witnesses his escape. Guy kidnaps Edwina so she won’t report him to the police as he tries to continue to clear Heyward of murder.

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Watching 1939: Four Girls in White (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 Girls in White

Release date: January 27, 1939

Cast: Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford, Una Merkel, Mary Howard, Alan Marshal, Kent Taylor, Buddy Ebsen, Jessie Ralph, Sara Haden, Phillip Terry, Tom Neal, Joy Anderson (uncredited)

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
S. Sylvan Simon

Plot:
Four nurses (Rice, Rutherford, Merkel, Howard) are student nurses trying to make it through their three years at a hospital until graduation. Norma (Rice) is looking for a rich husband, Mary (Howard) pines way for her young daughter, Patricia (Rutherford) is sweet and diligent, and Gertie (Merkel) looks forward to her next meal. The girls face the stresses of becoming a nurse and making mistakes. Norma falls in love with a doctor (Marshal) but is frustrated that he always gets called into work.

1939 notes:
• Ann Rutherford was in seven films released in 1939. This one was released first.

• Phillip Terry was in 12 feature films in 1939. This is one of four films that was credited. The rest were uncredited.

Mary Howard, Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford and Una Merkel in “Four Girls in White” (1939)

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I love nurse films and this one is no exception. The 1930s were filled with nurse films, but many of the Pre-Code era featured sassy, fast-talking nurses who have at least one scene in their skivvies and rolling up or down their stockings. An example of this would be Night Nurse (1931), where Barbara Stanwyck ends up as a private nurse to children of an alcoholic mom.

Others were very dramatic accounts, like Prison Nurse (1938) or The Nurse from Brooklyn (1938).

While there have been many films focusing on the nursing field throughout the 1930s, I feel that “Four Girls in White” (1939) provides something a little different.

I felt that “Four Girls in White” showed girls working to become nurses in a hospital with the same tone and feeling that the Dr. Kildare film series (which began in 1937) showed about young doctors coming into the medical field.

Each nurse is independent and eager for a career in the medical field. Now, some of these nurses had different agendas other than just helping sick people. One, in particular, was looking to marry a rich husband, but we see each of them studying and working hard to learn (and also messing up). Much of their learning is shown through montages that give a feel for the four nurses’ personalities.

These low-budget Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films of the late 1930s and early 1940s all have a brisk brightness that is especially pleasing. There are some overly dramatic moments (a few disasters strike and all nurses are needed) but it really is a fun film.

Is it a great film? Probably not, but it has a fresh and hopeful feeling that is found in MGM films of this time.

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