An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm & Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2022): 1939 with… Balalaika (1939)

It’s December now, and with the holidays upon us, it’s time to look at a movie that fits within the season! So, for today, we’re looking at the 1939 musical Balalaika starring Nelson Eddy and Ilona Massey!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Arbor Day (1936)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5 (1935-1936) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 17 minutes, 39 seconds)

It’s Arbor Day, and the school is putting on a pageant featuring all the kids, which is something that Spanky (George McFarland) wants to avoid. He is caught by the truant officer, along with a pair of midgets from a nearby circus mistaken as kids. This one was, at best, average. My big complaint is how much of the short was taken up by the Arbor Day pageant, with mostly forgettable music (aside from Alfalfa memorably “singing” the poem “Trees”) and dancing. Spanky attempting to play hooky was funny (but not long enough). I was also amused by the antics of the two midgets as they tried to escape their manager, and then later when they tried to perform in the pageant (which they had been dragged to). Plain and simple, this one wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t leave me with a desire to see it again, either.

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s 1914. The Russian Cossack Guards have just come back from maneuvers, and want to stop at the Cafe Balalaika for wine, music and women. Cafe singer Lydia Pavlovna Marakova (Ilona Massey) quickly catches their eye, and she is ordered to come have a drink with them. Unbeknownst to any of the Cossacks, Lydia and her family are a part of a group of revolutionaries, so, in spite of being blackmailed to go to them by the cafe owner, she finds a way to get out of there in a hurry. She doesn’t meet one of the leaders of the Cossacks, Prince Peter Karagin (Nelson Eddy), but he sees her as she leaves and is impressed. He quickly finds out that she has a thing for students, so he goes undercover as a student named “Peter Illyich Teranda” in order to catch her eye. Due to his singing ability, he is accepted by Lydia’s musician father and brother (although they don’t trust him enough to tell him of their revolutionary activities). When Peter learns of Lydia’s desire to sing in the opera, he gets her an audition with the opera’s director, Ivan Danchenoff (Frank Morgan). Danchenoff is impressed with her ability, and, pressed by Peter, gives her a spot in the opera. Things are starting to look up for them, but Lydia’s brother starts speaking out in a public square. In all that mess, the Cossack guards (including Peter) arrive to break up the gathering (trampling Lydia’s brother in the process). Lydia and Peter see each other in all that mess, and she refuses to see him again. On one of his attempts to see her, he announces that he will be resigning from the Cossacks, which gives her mixed feelings. On the one hand, she’s glad to hear it, but on the other hand, some of her associates had made plans to assassinate Peter and his father, General Karagin (C. Aubrey Smith), at the opening of the opera. Without telling him the real reason why, Lydia convinces Peter to stay away from the opening (and get his father to not come, either). However, Peter’s father does indeed go to the opera, as does Peter, who comes to deliver a message to his father. Before the assassins can do anything, the general announces to everyone in the opera that Germany had declared war on Russia. His announcement leads Lydia’s father to reconsider their plan, but his associate still manages to get a shot off before they are caught (but he only wounds the general). Once the Cossacks learn that Lydia’s father was one of the attempted assassins, she is quickly arrested. Before he goes off to war, Peter manages to get Lydia freed, but she has a hard time of it. In between the war keeping them apart and the brewing revolution, will Peter and Lydia ever get back together, or will they be separated by distance and ideology?

Balalaika was based on a 1936 London stage musical of the same name by Eric Maschwitz, with music by George Posford and Bernard Grun. MGM bought the rights, but it took them nearly two years before production actually started on the film. The studio had hoped to have Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy star in the film together, but the two stars had been demanding solo films. So, Nelson Eddy got Balalaika, with the song “At The Balalaika” being the only one retained from the show, while music director Herbert Stothart adapted other music for the film. With Jeanette MacDonald out of the picture, the role of the leading lady was offered to Miliza Korjus, but she believed it to be a joke (thinking that Jeanette would be teamed with Nelson again) and turned it down. So, the role was given to Ilona Massey (who had worked with Nelson, albeit in a supporting role, in Rosalie two years earlier, and would work with him again for 1947’s Northwest Outpost, his final film).

I first saw this movie just about a decade ago, and I’ve seen it numerous times since (otherwise translated, I like this movie). Nelson Eddy was the reason I first tried the movie, and remains one of the reasons that I like this film as well as I do. As usual, he’s in fine voice and has a few relatively fun tunes in the way of “At the Balalaika” and “Ride, Cossack, Ride.” But the songs that really stick out in my mind (and make the movie memorable) are him singing “The Song of the Volga Boatmen” (“El Ukhnem”), and singing the German version of “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”). The latter song is done during a scene that takes place on the battlefield during the Russian Christmas (this is why I like to watch the movie at this time of the year), with it reminding me strongly of the famous Christmas Truce Of 1914 (even though this scene takes place three years later), as the Austrians (who had already celebrated their Christmas) start singing “Silent Night” to celebrate the Russian Christmas, with Nelson Eddy joining in.

Nelson Eddy is hardly the only reason I like this film. Ilona Massey is very good as his leading lady, with a beautiful voice. I think they have fairly good chemistry (admittedly, it’s hard not to compare her against Jeanette MacDonald, whose chemistry with Nelson was on a whole different level, but she’s not terrible, either). Frank Morgan is good here, too (if a little underutilized) as an opera impresario who is at first put upon by members of the Russian nobility in terms of who he has to cast in the opera, and then again at the end of the film (SPOILER) when he works as a doorman in Paris (END SPOILER). Overall, it’s Charlie Ruggles as Peter’s (Nelson Eddy) Cossack servant who manages to create a strong (and humorous) impression throughout the entire film, while winning our affections. This is not a perfect film by any means, with only a handful of memorable musical moments and (as I mentioned) some cast members being underutilized, plus it’s hard to feel much sympathy for either the Russian nobility (at least, not until the last few scenes of the movie) or the revolutionaries. Still, it’s one I like to watch (especially around Christmastime to hear Nelson singing the German version of “Silent Night”), so I would certainly recommend giving it a chance!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 42 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Girl Of The Golden West (1938) – Nelson Eddy – The Chocolate Soldier (1941)

Ilona Massey – International Lady (1941)

Bringing Up Baby (1938) – Charles Ruggles – It Happened On Fifth Avenue (1947)

Naughty Marietta (1935) – Frank Morgan – The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

Ninotchka (1939) – George Tobias – Music In My Heart (1940)

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Fifth Avenue Girl (1939)

Now we have the 1939 Ginger Rogers comedy Fifth Avenue Girl, also starring Walter Connolly.

On his way out of a business meeting, Alfred Borden (Walter Connolly) is reminded by his secretary that it is his birthday. At home, he finds his wife and children out. At the advice of his butler Higgins (Franklin Pangborn), he goes out to Central Park, where he meets the unemployed Mary Grey (Ginger Rogers). After talking, they go out to dinner at a nightclub. The next day, Alfred wakes up and finds Mary had spent the night in another room. When he sees how the rest of his family is reacting to her presence, he offers her employment as a pretend mistress, in the hopes that his family will treat him better. His wife, Martha (Verree Teasdale), who has been enjoying the nightlife with a playboy friend, now wants to devote her attention to her husband again, although he keeps going out nights with Mary (even though they don’t really do anything). Alfred’s son, Tim (Tim Holt), has been more interested in playing polo than in working at his father’s office, but with Alfred spending more time fooling around than going to the office, Tim is forced to take up the slack, all the while developing feelings for Mary himself. Alfred’s daughter Katherine (Kathryn Adams) has been a party girl, but she befriends Mary in the hopes that she’ll help her get the attention of their communist chauffeur, Mike (James Ellison).

I’ll admit, this was probably the first time I’ve watched this movie since the early part of the decade (when I was originally given it as a gift). The main thing I remembered was that it started off like the previously reviewed Upper World (also starring Ginger Rogers). We have a very busy business executive with little time for fun, who has an event worth celebrating (this time a birthday instead of a wedding anniversary), but nobody at home to celebrate it with. On an outing, he meets Ginger’s character, and they become friends. Admittedly, from then on, this movie differs, and it was on this last viewing that I noticed the similarity to the movie My Man Godfrey (an observation I couldn’t have made previously as I hadn’t seen My Man Godfrey until late 2018). And that is very much the case, as Ginger’s character works for the father of the family (although this time nobody else knows), as she tries to help the family solve some of their problems.

I’ll say it right off: when it comes down to it, I very much prefer My Man Godfrey to this film. Even though both My Man Godfrey and Fifth Avenue Girl share the same director Gregory La Cava, Godfrey was done much better. Some of the family members aren’t as effective, as I would say that Tim Holt doesn’t work as well as the son, and his relationship with Ginger’s character just never quite meshes well for me. And, to a degree, actress Verree Teasdale as the wife manages to remind me a lot of actress Alice Brady from some of the movies of hers that I have seen (although that’s not a complete knock, as I still she is funny enough for the role). Ginger isn’t quite as good as I’ve seen her in other movies, but she’s still good enough for me. And, despite my comments, I do enjoy this movie. The only real complaint I have, though (and I don’t know whether it is the transfer or just my copy on disc), but the movie could use a good restoration if only to help improve the audio, as it sometimes requires me to crank up the sound (and even then, I can’t always hear it clearly, which hurts when there are no subtitles or closed captions). If that alone were fixed, I would probably watch the movie a bit more often. Again, if you can get past some of these faults, there is some fun to be had with this movie, and it certainly merits my recommendation (although at present I would sooner suggest watching it some way where you could have subtitles/captions).

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Bachelor Mother (1939)Ginger RogersLucky Partners (1940)

Carefree (1938) – Jack Carson – Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 & An Old-Fashioned Christmas Movie On The Farm (2019) with… Bachelor Mother (1939)

Now, to finish out our celebration of the 80th anniversary of 1939 is the classic comedy Bachelor Mother, starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven!

Ginger Rogers stars as Polly Parrish, a seasonal worker in the toy department at the John B. Merlin & Son department store, who has just been fired the day before Christmas. While on her lunch break trying to find another job, she comes across a baby being left on the doorstep of a foundling home. Running to pick it up, she is discovered and mistaken for the mother. She denies being the mother, and leaves the baby there. However, they come to see her boss, David Merlin (David Niven), who gives Polly her job back. Later, back in her apartment, the baby is delivered to her. In her frustration at being stuck with the baby, she tries to leave the baby with David to be put back in a home, while she goes to try and make some money in a dance contest with her co-worker, stock clerk Freddie Miller (Frank Albertson). David is waiting for her at her apartment, and threatens to fire her if she doesn’t keep the baby. She decides to keep the baby, and she and David start to develop feelings for each other. However, unknown to them, Freddie, who believes David to be the father (due to some of Polly’s comments that he overheard), has tried to tell David’s father, John Merlin (Charles Coburn), that he is a grandfather. Mr. Merlin decides to try and take the baby away when David refuses to be pushed into marrying Polly, which forces her to find a way out of this problem.

Bachelor Mother was Ginger Rogers’ first solo outing after doing The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle with Fred Astaire, which was planned to be their last movie together (and was until they were reunited one final time for The Barkleys Of Broadway a decade later). David Niven was starting to rise after being in many supporting roles, with this movie giving him his first chance as a romantic comedy lead. The story had already been done before in the movies, and the fifties would see a remake, Bundle Of Joy starring Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. But Bachelor Mother has become the best-known version of the tale, helped by the presence of the leads, along with Charles Coburn as the “grandfather.”

This is a movie I have enjoyed ever since the first time I saw it! So many fun moments! Even though her partnership with Fred Astaire had ended, we still get to see her dancing with co-star Frank Albertson (and, if only because of her, it’s no surprise when they win the dance contest)! And, before I go any further, I should also mention one of her “co-stars” in this movie: Donald Duck! No, it’s not him in animated form, it is instead a group of toy Donald Ducks. Ginger’s character works in the toy department selling these things. It’s definitely fun to see RKO studios connection to Disney at work here (since they were distributing Walt’s films at this time), and see what some of those toys must have been like. Of course, it’s a lot of fun watching David Niven’s character trying to exchange a broken duck at his store incognito (in order to prove to Polly that the store does do exchanges). And there are certainly many more wonderful comedic moments in this movie that make it worth watching, so I definitely have very high recommendations for this movie!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939)Ginger RogersFifth Avenue Girl (1939)

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938) – David Niven – Magnificent Doll (1946)

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1939)

Up for a good mystery? Then let’s get into The Hound Of The Baskervilles from 1939, starring Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie and Nigel Bruce.

Upon the death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Ian MacLaren), his nephew Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene) comes from Canada to take over the estate. Among some of the late Sir Charles’ friends is Dr. James Mortimer (Lionel Atwill), who comes to see Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) in hopes that the famous detective might be able to convince Sir Henry to stay away from Baskerville Hall. When Sir Henry arrives, Sherlock instead wants to encourage him to go on. He ends up foiling an assassination attempt before Sir Henry leaves London, but sends Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) with Sir Henry, electing to stay behind to work on something else. After they arrive at Baskerville Hall, they meet Beryl Stapleton (Wendy Barrie) and her brother John Stapleton (Morton Lowry), along with a few of their other neighbors. The howling of a hound at night bothers them, considering the legend of a hound that had killed one of Sir Henry’s ancestors, but it is the convict brother of Sir Henry’s butler’s wife that ends up killed (because he was wearing some of Sir Henry’s clothes). Sherlock, meanwhile, has been lurking in the background, trying to figure things out. After revealing himself, he decides to pretend to leave, in order to allow the potential murder of Sir Henry so that he could catch the killer. But can he get back in time and prevent the murder?

Based on the classic story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the 1939 film is probably the best-known version of the tale. Of course, at the time, they had no idea that it would be so successful, spawning thirteen more films as well as a radio series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce continuing in their roles. But for this movie, Basil Rathbone as Sherlock was the second-billed actor, behind Richard Greene’s Sir Henry Baskerville (although, to be fair, Basil’s Sherlock disappears for a good part of the movie). But one remarkable point about this movie, according to TCM, is that it was the first Sherlock Holmes movie done as a period piece, being set firmly in the past as opposed to being done in then-modern times. The movie’s success resulted in another film being produced by Fox that same year (also a period film, based on a play), before the series moved to Universal a few years later, who brought the series back to modern times.

Having seen all of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series, I will say that this is the best of the bunch. While it is definitely an introduction, I do like Basil’s portrayal of the character. It may not be based on the original stories, although I really don’t know myself, as I am going off what others have said plus other big and small screen versions of the character, but I like his way best. To me, he brings out the character’s humanity without maintaining the arrogance that I have seen in other portrayals. To me, he cares, and that alone makes his version more fun to watch. The fact that Basil and Nigel were friends offscreen just heightens the dynamic here. This is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend! The first movie in this series is definitely the best place to start (at least, if you want to start with a high point instead of a low one, anyways)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray as part of the fourteen film Basil Rathbone In The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection from MPI Home Video.

Film Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – Basil Rathbone – The Mark Of Zorro (1940)

Nigel Bruce – The Chocolate Soldier (1941)

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… The Cat And The Canary (1939)

Next up from 1939, we have the more Halloween appropriate film The Cat And The Canary starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.

Coming Up Shorts! with… From Bed To Worse (1971)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Ant And The Aardvark from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 13 seconds)

After getting hit in the road, the ant and the aardvark end up in an animal hospital. With a dog in the hospital that also acts as a foil as well as an older lady running the place, I can’t help but be reminded of the similar 1957 Looney Tunes cartoon “Greedy For Tweety.” In spite of that similarity, this one is still hilarious (although the Sylvester and Tweety cartoon was far better). Still, it’s the last of the Ant And The Aardvark cartoons, and its entertainment value is high enough for me to revisit it!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Lawyer Crosby (George Zucco) comes out to the isolated mansion of the late Cyrus Norman. There, he is to read Cyrus’s will to his potential heirs, including Wally Campbell (Bob Hope), Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard), Fred Blythe (John Beal), Charlie Wilder (Douglass Montgomery), Aunt Susan (Elizabeth Patterson) and Cicily (Nydia Westman). According to the will, Joyce is to inherit everything, unless she dies or goes insane in a short period of time (at which point everything would go to the second heir, whose name was being kept hidden in a second envelope). Since the mansion is rather isolated in the swamps, with no way for anybody to get away that night, they are all given rooms to spend the night in. Soon, some rather spooky things start happening, particularly around Joyce, including Crosby disappearing while he was trying to warn Joyce. While all the remaining men volunteer to help Joyce, Wally in particular helps her out. The two of them manage to find a valuable necklace that Cyrus had left for Joyce, but it ends up disappearing. Wally does his best to try and find out who is behind everything going on, as he cares for Joyce, but can he stop the other heir before Joyce is driven crazy with fear?

This is the third filmed version of the story, following a silent film from 1927, which shared the same name, and a talkie from 1930 called The Cat Creeps. As best as I can tell, the 1939 film is the movie that established Bob Hope as a major movie star, allowing him to really make use of the screen persona that he would become known for. Admittedly, I wouldn’t *quite* call it fully formed yet, considering the lack of quips around the lawyer named Crosby. Had this movie been made a few years later, I can’t help but think he would certainly have been using the opportunity to make fun of Bing Crosby. But, this was made in 1939, nearly a year before he would first work with Bing onscreen (not to mention the fact that Crosby was the character’s name in the previous versions as well, so it was hardly anything aimed at Bing himself).

Honestly, though, Bob Hope is the main reason that this film is considered a comedy. The rest of the cast otherwise seem to play it straight, as if it was otherwise a dark house type of movie. Gale Sondergaard plays the creepy house caretaker Miss Lu, generally in tune with the “spirits” that are haunting the place, and constantly watching everyone from the sidelines (and creeping you out in the process). In some respects, Bob Hope’s character almost seems to be an audience member that’s been dropped into the movie. Since his character is supposed to be an actor, he seems to have some idea of what’s going to happen (based on many plays and such that he had done), accurately predicting that Joyce would be the heir. Obviously, his so-called “knowledge” doesn’t keep him from being scared, or knowing everything that’s going to happen right from the start, but it does help. However you want to look at it, though, his comedy works, and this is a fun movie to watch any time of the year (but especially around Halloween)! Highly recommended!

This movie is available on DVD from Universal Studios either individually or as part of several different multi-film sets.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2020) with… The Cat And The Canary (1939)

On September 15, 2020, The Cat And The Canary was released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The case doesn’t appear to be claiming that this is a new restoration/remaster, but, based on how the movie actually looks, I would say it doesn’t need one. The detail is superb, and the movie looks pretty good in action. It’s hard to imagine this movie looking any better than it does here! I would certainly say that it’s an improvement over the DVD from Universal, and would highly recommend the Blu-ray of this wonderful classic!

Film Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

College Swing (1938)Bob HopeRoad To Singapore (1940)

The Young In Heart (1938) – Paulette Goddard – The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Bob Hope/ Paulette Goddard (screen team) – The Ghost Breakers (1940)

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 & What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) on… Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Next up from 1939, we have the classic Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda.

In New Salem, Illinois, Abe Lincoln (Henry Fonda) is running for the state legislature. After making a speech, he makes a trade with the Clay family, who is passing through in their wagon. Since they don’t have any money, he takes a barrel containing some books, including Blackstone Commentaries. The book inspires him to learn more about law and Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) encourages him to study it. After Ann’s death, Abe moves to Springfield, where he tries to set up as a lawyer. One Independence Day, Abigail Clay (Alice Brady) comes to town with her two grown sons, Adam (Eddie Quillan) and Matt (Richard Cromwell). That night, they get into a fight with deputy Scrub White (Fred Kohler, Jr.) who pulls a gun on them, but ends up being killed by a knife. Abigail gets there just before it happens, and Scrub’s buddy J. Palmer Cass (Ward Bond) gets there, and starts accusing the two of murder. The sheriff comes and arrests them, but a crowd gathers and gets riled up, becoming a lynch mob. Abe gets in their way and manages to talk them down, while declaring himself to be their lawyer. So now he has the challenge of going against a more experienced lawyer as he tries to help the Clay family avoid either brother being hanged.

All I can say is this is just an absolutely wonderful movie! Of course, it goes without saying that Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln is the best part of the movie. He just seems to fit the part, giving us a performance of a man who wants to learn, and wants to do the right thing, no matter what. His speech may be simple, but he is still smart! My own opinion is that, if this were released in any other year, I would have said he should have at least been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (if not win it). But, this was 1939, Hollywood’s golden year, with so many great films and performances.

But I would hardly say Henry Fonda is the only reason to see this movie. The rest of the supporting cast is great, too! With a few future TV stars, such as Ward Bond (from Wagon Train), Milburn Stone (from TV’s Gunsmoke) and a very young Jack Kelly (Maverick), it’s a lot of fun! And Donald Meek as the opposing prosecutor is wonderfully nasty, making us hate him when he tries to make Abigail Clay reveal which of her sons killed the deputy. And the whole courtroom section of the movie is worth it alone, not just for some of the drama, but for some of the humor, too (especially when Henry Fonda’s Abe Lincoln is grilling Ward Bond’s character about his name 😉 ). Honestly, the only really disappointing thing about the movie is that it is, for the most part, fictional (although the court case was based on one Lincoln dealt with in the 1850s). Still, it’s fun to see some of the various historical figures connected to Abraham Lincoln. However you look at it, I can very easily say this is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Jesse James (1939) – Henry Fonda – The Lady Eve (1941)

Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… Ninotchka (1939)

As the old movie posters said for the movie, “Greta Garbo laughs!” in the classic 1939 comedy Ninotchka, also starring Melvyn Douglas.

Three Russian commissars (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach) come to Paris with the intention of selling jewelry that had once belonged to the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire). However, Swana is living in Paris, and she learns about the jewels through a former Russian nobleman working at the hotel the commissars are staying at. She sends her lover, Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), to delay the sale of the jewelry in the hope that she can reclaim it. Leon helps introduce the commissars to some of the pleasures of Paris and capitalism, but special envoy Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to take over the case. Leon accidentally meets her on the street, and is instantly smitten (although at first neither realizes who the other is). Once she overhears his telephone call with one of the commissars, they realize who they are with. Leon still likes her, and keeps trying to go out with her, which becomes easier after he is able to make her laugh and loosen up. Swana sees all this going on, and jealously takes advantage of Ninotchka when Ninotchka comes back to her hotel room drunk and leaves the safe containing the jewels open. Swana agrees to relinquish her rights to the jewelry if Ninotchka would immediately return to Russia, which she reluctantly agrees to do.

Going into production for Ninotchka, Greta Garbo was trying to shift gears in her career, as she was mainly known for doing a lot of tragic romantic dramas (and was coming off a rare box-office failure with the 1937 film Conquest). The tagline “Garbo laughs!” was apparently the big idea going into the movie, even before the screenplay itself was written! While she was unsure about trying to do a comedy, it resonated with audiences and with critics, resulting in her fourth Oscar nomination and allowing her a new potential career path. Sadly, it was short-lived, as her next film, Two-Faced Woman from 1941, failed. For a variety of reasons, that film’s failure was enough to convince her to retire from the movies.

For me, this movie is the only Greta Garbo movie I have seen at this time. I enjoyed it very much! The comedy worked very well for her and the rest of the cast as well! It’s fun seeing Sig Rumann again (since I mainly know him from some of the Marx Brothers films), along with George Tobias (best known as Abner Kravitz from Bewitched). It’s slightly disappointing to see how little Bela Lugosi is in the movie, considering he was billed fourth, but only really makes a relatively short appearance near the end of the movie. Still, it’s a nice, fun movie, and one I would quite heartily recommend!

The movie is available from Warner Home Video on Blu-ray, both individually and as part of the 5-film Golden Year Collection, and on DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 51 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

That Certain Age (1938) – Melvyn Douglas – Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939) – George Tobias – Balalaika (1939)

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

Now for a patriotic turn, we have the classic 1939 drama Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, starring Jean Arthur and James Stewart!

When U.S. Senator Foley dies, Governor Hopper (Guy Kibbee) has to appoint a new one. Political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) has a man in mind that he orders the governor to appoint, but some citizen committees have somebody else. Governor Hopper’s own children have a recommendation of their own: their leader of the Boy Rangers, Jefferson Smith (James Stewart). Taylor and Senator Joe Paine (Claude Rains) decide to let the choice of Jeff Smith be. When Jeff gets to Washington, he explores the monuments, and enjoys the feeling of history. However, some of the reporters make fun of him, and make him realize his appointment is honorary, and that he is expected to be nothing more than a “yes man,” going along with what Senator Paine tells him to do. With the help of his secretary Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur), he tries to introduce a bill for the creation of a boys’ camp. When it is discovered he wants to use land that Taylor owns and is planning to sell for use for a dam in another bill, Taylor visits Washington to straighten him out, or else. Jeff tries to speak up about the graft, but HE is instead accused of graft and tries to run away. Saunders stops him, and helps him to go into a filibuster to delay his expulsion from the Senate.

For me, this is one of those wonderful movies that was really well done by all those involved. I have great admiration for the set crew, who had to recreate the Senate chamber in Hollywood (since they couldn’t use the real location for filming). James Stewart works so well in his role as Jefferson Smith, it’s easy to see why he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. Yes, as the audience, we learn all about the corruption in power early on, but it’s hard not to get swept up by Jeff’s earnestness and admiration for the Capitol and all the landmarks. And of course, director Frank Capra does a great job with Jeff’s big filibuster. While it lasts for quite a while, it doesn’t get stale or boring, especially interspersed with all the action as Edward Arnold’s James Taylor goes to work trying to tear him down in the state while Jean Arthur’s Saunders tries so hard to reach the people! I do enjoy this movie very much, and it is one I would highly recommend (especially in high definition, allowing you to see so many more details in the sets)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Film Length: 2 hours, 10 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Only Angels Have Wings (1939) – Jean Arthur

You Can’t Take It With You (1938) – James Stewart – The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – Claude Rains – The Sea Hawk (1940)

You Can’t Take It With You (1938) – Edward Arnold – Nothing But The Truth (1941)

The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – Eugene Pallette – The Mark Of Zorro (1940)

Fifth Avenue Girl (1939) – Jack Carson – Lucky Partners (1940)

Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… At The Circus (1939)

Personally, I’ve always found that one of the best places to find a group of clowns would be At The Circus, and what better group of clowns to do it than the three Marx brothers, Groucho, Chico and Harpo?

Circus owner Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker) is finally able to pay back his debt to John Carter (James Burke). However, Mr. Carter wants the circus itself, and so gets some of his allies to rob Jeff. Jeff’s buddy Antonio (Chico Marx) figured on trouble and brought in lawyer J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho Marx). Along with Antonio’s buddy Punchy (Harpo Marx), they try to find the money. When they fail, Loophole goes to Newport to find Jeff’s aunt, Mrs. Dukesbury (Margaret Dumont), and, behind her back, arranges for Jeff to bring the circus to her big society party.

Personally, I do think that the Marx brothers’ best movies were behind them at this stage. It doesn’t help that the studio they were under contract to, MGM, didn’t really know how to handle them (or really care), as their main benefactor in coming over to MGM was Irving Thalberg, and he had passed away partway through filming A Day At The Races. Without him, the Marx brothers were being poorly handled, which apparently was a problem the studio had with comedians (case in point, silent film comedian Buster Keaton had been reduced to coming up with gags for different movies, including being assigned to this one, although his ideas didn’t make it into the movie, since the Marx brothers had a different style of comedy). I do think this movie was better than some of the later Marx brothers movies, with the main exception of Go West (but I’ll get into that one for another time). The music here isn’t particularly memorable, outside of Groucho’s rendition of “Lydia The Tattooed Lady” (and the less than politically correct song “Swingali” doesn’t help matters, either). Not to mention some of the various circus stunts seem obviously faked when some of the leads are supposed to be doing them.

As I said, though, this movie does have some bright spots.  Personally, I think most of them belong to Groucho and some of his exchanges with Chico.  Whether it be when he tries to get on the circus train but Chico won’t let him without a badge (even though he sent for him) or when Groucho is trying to interrogate some of the circus performers and Chico bluntly accuses them. I think Chico and Harpo have a few good moments together, mostly with the two of them trying to “re-destruct” the crime or Harpo trying to point out a clue that Chico was obviously missing. Like I said before, I do think this was one of the weaker Marx brothers movies, but I don’t think that it had quite fallen far enough for me to not recommend it. So, if you are in the mood for a decent circus movie, give this one a try!

This movie is available as part of a Marx Brothers double-feature with Room Service on DVD from Warner Home Video.

Film Length: 1 hour, 27 minutes

My Rating: 6/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

A Night At The Opera (1935) – Groucho Marx – A Night In Casablanca (1946)

A Night At The Opera (1935) – Harpo Marx – A Night In Casablanca (1946)

A Night At The Opera (1935) – Chico Marx – A Night In Casablanca (1946)

Having Wonderful Time (1938) – Eve Arden – My Dream Is Yours (1949)

A Night At The Opera (1935) – The Marx Brothers – A Night In Casablanca (1946)

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Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 on… Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Next up from 1939 is the Cary Grant and Jean Arthur drama Only Angels Have Wings.

Jean Arthur plays chorus girl Bonnie Lee, whose ship makes a stopover in the port of Barranca. She meets a pair of American flyers and goes with them to buy them a drink. However, their party is short-lived, as their boss Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) tells one of them that they have to fly the mail out. The flight is cut short by the foggy weather, and the pilot dies trying to land. Horrified at first by the almost indifferent reactions of his co-workers, Bonnie decides to stay when she develops an attraction to Geoff and tries to learn to be more accepting of the lifestyle the pilots have taken on. Everything gets a bit harder, though, as Geoff is forced to ground his buddy Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell) and has to hire Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess), a pilot trying to live down his mistake of jumping out of a plane and leaving his engineer, Kid’s brother, to die. His wife, Judy (Rita Hayworth), makes everything even more complicated, as she was Geoff’s former girlfriend, who soured him on women.

In learning about this movie, I found out that its director, Howard Hawks, had been a flyer himself, back during the first World War. Not only that, but a lot of the characters were based on people he knew. Considering that, it does seem like Jean Arthur’s character is the audience’s representative, as we’re also coming into the world of this group of flyers. No doubt, we’re all horrified to see their reactions to the death of the young flyer near the beginning of the movie, but, as we begin to get an idea of what their life is like, it becomes easier for us to understand them and want to stay as well. And from that point on, the focus seems to shift away from Bonnie Lee onto the men, although we still empathize with her. And, to a large degree, we need an “in” to this world, as I suspect it was a vastly different life for the airplane pilots at that time than it was for most people, considering commercial flight wasn’t a big thing yet. Never mind the how different it would be for today’s audiences, since flight technology has come so far since then.

I really liked this movie. It’s definitely different from the other Cary Grant/ Howard Hawks collaborations, being that the others are all screwball comedies while this one is more dramatic. I do love the camerawork on this movie, particularly for the flight scenes. Almost gives us the feeling of flying right along with them, and never more so than when Richard Barthelmess’s character (or, more likely, the actor’s pilot stand-in) has to fly a doctor up on a cliff and we follow the plane as it goes around to make its landing. It seems like I read something that said this movie influenced the TV shows Tales Of The Gold Monkey and Tailspin, and I can certainly see that. I’ll admit, this movie’s pacing might make it harder for modern audiences to watch, which is made somewhat worse by the almost episodic nature, not to mention some of the plot threads that are not as fully realized as we might expect them to be (like their need for regular mail delivery within a set length of time to earn a contract with the government). Still, I do enjoy it, and would easily recommend it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 2 hours, 1 minute

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Holiday (1938)Cary GrantThe Philadelphia Story (1940)

You Can’t Take It With You (1938) – Jean Arthur – Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)

Rita Hayworth – Music In My Heart (1940)