7th April – SONS OF THE SEA
On the screen – for seven days – SONS OF THE SEA – a 1939 British colour drama film from Grand National and directed by Maurice Elvey and starring Leslie Banks, Kay Walsh, Mackenzie Ward and Cecil Parker. Set in Britain, 1939. The head of Dartmouth Naval College is murdered. His successor, Captain Hyde, believes that he was in fact the intended target of the assassination. He soon begins to realise that both British and foreign intelligence agents are at work. He enlists the help of his son, a reluctant sea cadet, to smoke them out. The film was shot during the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, something explored in the themes of the film. Unusually for the time, it was made entirely in colour; it was the only feature film to use the Dufaycolor process.
In support was FLYING DEUCES also known as Flying Aces, a 1939 comedy film starring Laurel and Hardy, in which the duo join the French Foreign Legion. It is a partial remake of their 1931 short film Beau Hunks.
14th April – FOR FREEDOM
On the screen – for seven days – FOR FREEDOM – a 1940 British drama film from Gainsborough Pictures and released through Gaumont’s GFD, directed by Maurice Elvey and Castleton Knight. It was made largely for propaganda purposes during the Second World War. It features Will Fyffe, Guy Middleton, and Terry-Thomas. Through its blending of fiction and documentary it was similar to the The Lion Has Wings produced by Alexander Korda’s London Films. The film portrays the early events of the war, particularly the Battle of the River Plate, from the point of view of a British newsreel production company.
In support was BEHIND PRISON GATES a 1939 American Columbia Pictures crime film directed by Charles Barton and written by Arthur T. Horman and Leslie T. White. The film stars Brian Donlevy, Julie Bishop, Joseph Crehan, Paul Fix, George Lloyd and Dick Curtis.
21st April – FIFTH AVENUE GIRL
On the screen – for seven days – FIFTH AVENUE GIRL – is a 1939 comedy film directed by Gregory La Cava from RKO Pictures and starring Ginger Rogers and Walter Connolly. The film was edited by a young Robert Wise (Director of West Side Story and The Sound Of Music). Wealthy industrialist Alfred Borden (Walter Connolly) has problems both at work and at home. His employees at Amalgamated Pump are making demands that may drive the business he has built up from nothing into bankruptcy, and his son Tim (Tim Holt) has lost a major customer through neglect (he prefers playing polo). On his birthday, Borden’s secretary gives him a loud tie as a gift, but when he goes home to his Fifth Avenue mansion, he finds nobody there but the servants. His unfaithful wife Martha (Verree Teasdale), his daughter Katherine (Kathryn Adams), and Tim have all forgotten or do not care.
Feeling lonely, he goes to Central Park, where he meets Mary Grey (Ginger Rogers), a young, out-of-work woman. Seeing that she has only a meager meal to last the day, he invites her to dine with him at a fancy nightclub. They get drunk, start dancing, and are spotted by Martha and her boyfriend. The next morning, he awakes with a hangover and a black eye, to discover that he had apparently invited Mary to spend the night in a guest room.
Seeing the reaction this elicits from his formerly indifferent family, he concocts a scheme: he hires Mary to pretend to be his mistress. He neglects his company, forcing his son to take up the slack. Tim comes up with fresh new ideas to save the firm. Meanwhile, Borden and Mary go out every night, supposedly partying to all hours, though they are actually just driven around by the ardently communist chauffeur Mike (James Ellison). Embarrassed by the resulting newspaper gossip column items and shunned by her friends, Martha calls in family psychiatrist Dr. Kessler (Louis Calhern), but he finds nothing wrong with her now-cheerful and carefree husband. She starts staying home, plotting ways to drive Mary out. She has Tim try to buy her off, but that fails. Tim makes no effort to hide his contempt for the interloper, but eventually falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Mary tries to help Katherine, who is in love with an unnoticing Mike. Finally, Martha tries to convince Mary she’s giving up and they should be friends, then goes to make a favorite dinner to lure her husband, who Martha tells that Mary has left (as unknown to them, she was preparing to do).
Katharine shows up and announces she has married Mike, who has decided to quit and open a repair shop. At first, Martha is aghast, but then Borden reminds her that they started their own marriage about the same way, and she grudgingly accepts her new son-in-law. Mary, who has been sitting on the steps outside with Tim, returns and Mr. Borden launches into a scene of telling her off. Mary can no longer continue with the charade and tearfully confesses the truth and leaves. As Borden then retreats to his bedroom, Martha invites him into hers. Meanwhile Tim chases after Mary, finds her, picks her up, and carries her back into the mansion. When a policeman tries to interfere, Mary tells him to mind his own business.
In support was THE DAY THE BOOKIES WEPT a 1939 RKO American comedy film directed by Leslie Goodwins and written by Bert Granet and George Jeske. The film stars Joe Penner, Betty Grable, Richard Lane, Tom Kennedy and Thurston Hall.
28th April – ESCAPE TO HAPPINESS
On the screen – for seven days – ESCAPE TO HAPPINESS – (also known as Intermezzo) is a 1939 romantic film made in the US by Selznick International Pictures fro United Artists and nominated for two Academy Awards. It was directed by Gregory Ratoff and produced by David O. Selznick. It is a remake of the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936) and features multiple orchestrations of Heinz Provost’s piece of the same name, which won a contest associated with the original film’s production. The screenplay by George O’Neil was based on the screenplay of the original film by Gösta Stevens and Gustaf Molander. The scoring by Lou Forbes was nominated for an Academy Award, and music credit was given to Robert Russell Bennett, Max Steiner, Heinz Provost, and Christian Sinding. The cinematography by Gregg Toland, who replaced Harry Stradling, was also nominated for an Academy Award.
It stars Leslie Howard as a (married) famous virtuoso violinist, who meets Anita Hoffman, his daughter’s piano instructor, during a trip home. Impressed by Anita’s talent, he invites her to accompany him on his next tour. They begin touring together and a passionate relationship ensues. Holger’s wife Margit asks him for a divorce. Knowing how much Holger misses his daughter Ann Marie and son Eric, and torn with guilt for breaking up his family, Anita decides to pursue her own career and leaves Holger. Holger returns home to see his children again. He first travels to Ann Marie’s school, but as she runs across the street to greet him she is hit by a car in front of his eyes. He takes the injured Ann Marie back home, and confronts his angry son in an attempt to explain his infidelity. To Holger’s relief, the doctor informs him that Ann Marie will survive and eventually recover from her injuries. Margit then forgives Holger and welcomes him back into his family.
The support was FULL CONFESSION a 1939 is a US film-noir, crime drama film made by RKO Radio Pictures. It was directed by John Farrow from an adaptation by Jerome Cady of Leo Birinski’s story. The film stars Victor McLaglen, Sally Eilers, Barry Fitzgerald and Joseph Calleia.
5th May – THE PROUD VALLEY
On the screen – for seven days – THE PROUD VALLEY – a 1940 Ealing Studios film from Associated British, directed by Pen Tennyson and produced by Michael Balcon, starring Paul Robeson. Filmed in the South Wales coalfield, the principal Welsh coal mining area, the film is about a seaman who joins a mining community. It includes their passion for singing as well as the dangers and precariousness of working in a mine. From a treatment entitled David Goliath by the married writing team of Herbert Marshall and Fredda Brilliant, friends of Robeson in Highgate and Moscow, The Proud Valley’s script was written by Louis Golding with the help of the novelist Jack Jones.
Robeson’s role was based on the real-life adventures of a Black miner from West Virginia who drifted to Wales by way of England, searching for work. After two years of refusing offers from major studios, Robeson agreed to appear in this independent British production, seeing (he told The Glasgow Sentinel) an opportunity to “depict the Negro as he really is – not the caricature he is always represented to be on the screen.”
Filming was completed in September 1939 but producer Michael Balcon and director Pen Tennyson were forced to re-cut the ending of the film in the new jingoistic atmosphere following the outbreak of war. An ending in which the workers took control of the mine was replaced with a scene in which management agreed to make concessions to the miners.
The supporting feature was EVERYTHING’S ON ICE a 1939 RKO American film directed by Erle C. Kenton. The film is also known as Frolics on Ice. A 6-year-old skater is financially exploited in this story, which features “the world’s youngest ice figure-skater, Irene Dare.” Meanwhile, the girl’s older sister “suddenly finds her love-life taken over by a kibitzing uncle … leading to a succession of laughable situations.”
12th May – THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
On the screen – for seven days – THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME – is a 1939 American romantic drama film starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. Released by RKO Pictures, it was directed by William Dieterle and produced by Pandro S. Berman, the film is based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel. For this production RKO Radio Pictures built on their movie ranch a massive medieval city of Paris and Notre Dame Cathedral in the San Fernando Valley. This was one of the largest and most extravagant sets ever constructed. Screenwriter Sonya Levien, who was entrusted to translate Hugo’s novel into this film, made the story relevant to the events of the time the film was made: she made the obvious parallel between Paris’ persecution of the gypsies and Germany’s treatment of the Jews prior to World War II.
There was a full supporting programme that included the latest edition of MOVIETONE NEWS.
19th May – I STOLE A MILLION
On the screen – for seven days – I STOLE A MILLION – is a 1939 film noir crime film starring George Raft as a cab driver turned small-time crook who makes a big score and lives to regret it. The supporting cast includes Claire Trevor, Dick Foran, and Victor Jory. The movie was written by Nathanael West based on a story idea by Lester Cole, which in turn was based on the life story of bank robber Roy Gardner. It was directed by Frank Tuttle, and released by Universal Pictures. The film garnered favorable reviews, particularly for its script, which Variety called “strongly motivated”. A reviewer for The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “it is a story which will exert pulse-quickening effect on audiences of both sexes… plot structure and pithy dialogue are all to the play’s advantage.” However the movie was a box office flop.
In support was HAWAIIAN NIGHTS a 1939 American romantic comedy film directed by Albert S. Rogell. Produced by Universal Pictures, the film was written by Charles Grayson and Lee Loeb. It stars Johnny Downs, Constance Moore, and Mary Carlisle. Also, there was a Porky Pig cartoon, CHICKEN JITTERS.
26th May – DAYTIME WIFE
On the screen – for seven days – DAYTIME WIFE – is a 20th Century Fox 1939 comedy directed by Gregory Ratoff, starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. Linda Darnell and Tyrone Power play Jane and Ken Norton , a married couple approaching their second anniversary. This was Linda Darnell’s second film. Day-Time Wife was the first of four films that Darnell and Power made together over the next few years. Jane (Linda Darnell) comes to believe her husband Ken (Tyrone Power) is having an extramarital affair with his secretary Kitty (Wendy Barrie). To give him a taste of his own medicine, Jane secretly takes a job as secretary to womanizing architect Bernard Dexter (Warren William), who, as it turns out, and unbeknownst to Jane, has a business relationship with Ken.
Despite playing a married woman, star Linda Darnell was only 16 years old at the time of filming, having been born Oct 16, 1923. Fox studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck added two years to her real age when he signed her to a contract.
The programme was completed with MEET DR CHRISTIAN a 1939 American film directed by Bernard Vorhaus, the first of six films in the Dr.
2nd June – DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK
On the screen – for seven days – DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK – is a 1939 American historical drama film based upon a 1936 novel of the same name by American author Walter D. Edmonds. The film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by John Ford. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert portray settlers on the New York frontier during the American Revolution. The couple suffer British, Tory, and Indian attacks on their farm before the Revolution ends and peace is restored. Edmonds based the novel on a number of historic figures who lived in the valley. The film—Ford’s first Technicolor feature—was well received. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and became a major box office success.
In support was THE HONEYMOON’S OVER a 1939 American comedy film directed by Eugene Forde and written by Leonard Hoffman, Hamilton MacFadden and Clay Williams. It is based on the 1921 play Six-Cylinder Love by William Anthony McGuire. The film stars Stuart Erwin, Marjorie Weaver, Patric Knowles, Russell Hicks, Jack Carson and Hobart Cavanaugh. The film was released by 20th Century Fox.
9th June – UNTAMED
On the screen – for seven days – UNTAMED – a 1940 American Paramount Technicolor adventure film directed by George Archainbaud and starring Ray Milland, Patricia Morison and Akim Tamiroff. It is based on the 1926 Sinclair Lewis novel Mantrap. A doctor takes a hunting trip to the Canadian wilderness. When he gets badly mauled by a bear, his life is saved by his guide, Joe Easter (Tamiroff). Easter takes the doctor to his cabin, where he is nursed to recovery by Easter’s young beautiful wife Alverna. They fall in love. Easter leaves for an extended hunting trip, while the doctor and Alverna grapple with their feelings for each other, a blizzard, and an epidemic.
In support was a Pathe documentary, THE SPIRIT OF THE PEOPLE, an interview with a London woman who is staying put despite the Blitz showing Mrs Barker climbing out of her Anderson shelter after air raid in which her house was damaged. She talks about the damage to her house and states that she must stay there to look after her family and the chickens and the cat, she then says that she will stay in her home regardless of Hitler and Goering – excellent interview with a typical cockney woman who is determined not to be forced from her home by the Blitz bombing raid.
16th June – ON THE NIGHT OF THE FIRE
On the screen – for seven days – ON THE NIGHT OF THE FIRE – (released in the United States as The Fugitive), is a 1939 British thriller from Gaumont, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Ralph Richardson and Diana Wynyard. The film is based on the novel of the same name by F. L. Green. It was shot on location in Newcastle upon Tyne and was released shortly after the outbreak of World War II. It is regarded as an early example of British film noir, with the kind of subject matter and filming style which fell completely out of favour during the war years – when British studios felt that cinemagoers would want either light entertainment and escapism or topical patriotic propaganda pieces – and would not be taken up again until the later 1940s.
Film critic David Quinlan describes the film as “grim but gripping”. Andrew Spicer, in his book European Film Noir, writes: “A riveting psychological study. With its sustained doom-laden atmosphere, Krampf’s expressive cinematography, its adroit mixture of location shooting and Gothic compositions and Richardson’s wonderful performance as a lower middle-class Everyman, On the Night of the Fire clearly shows that an achieved mastery of film noir existed in British cinema”.
Watch the film in two parts – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbOXw_BX8sE
In support was THREE SONS, a 1939 American drama film directed by Jack Hively using a screenplay by John Twist, based on the novel, Sweepings by Lester Cohen. Produced and distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, and released on October 13, 1939, it is a remake of an earlier RKO film, Sweepings (1933). The film stars Edward Ellis, William Gargan, J. Edward Bromberg and Robert Stanton (whose real name was Kirby Grant, which he would use for most of his career). Gargan, who plays the uncle in this film, had played one of the sons in the earlier film.
23rd June – A CHUMP AT OXFORD
On the screen – for seven days – A CHUMP AT OXFORD – directed in 1939 by Alfred J. Goulding and released in 1940 by United Artists, was the penultimate Laurel and Hardy film made at the Hal Roach studios. Originally released in America as a streamliner featurette at forty minutes long, the original streamliner version was slightly reedited and twenty minutes of footage largely unrelated to the main plot were later added for European distribution and, ultimately, American distribution. A later reissue version was further reedited, jumping from Stan and Ollie’s entrance into the employment agency to them sweeping the streets. The title echoes the film A Yank at Oxford (1938), of which it is a partial parody.
In support was THAT’S RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG a 1939 American musical film directed by David Butler and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The film stars Kay Kyser and his band, with a cast that included Adolphe Menjou, Lucille Ball, Edward Everett Horton, Roscoe Karns, and Ginny Simms (as herself).
30th June – REMEMBER THE NIGHT
On the screen – for seven days – REMEMBER THE NIGHT – is a 1940 American Christmas romantic comedy trial film from Paramount, directed by Mitchell Leisen, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. The film was written by Preston Sturges, and it was the last of his scripts shot by another director, as Sturges began his own directorial career the same year with The Great McGinty.
The trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKcLcT9dOFk
The programme was completed with RKO‘s MEXICAN SPITFIRE a 1940 American comedy film starring Lupe Vélez. She plays a hot-headed, fast-talking Mexican singer taken to New York for a radio gig, who decides she wants the ad agency man for herself. The film was the sequel of the film The Girl from Mexico (1939) and was the first of a film series of seven more films with the same title and main characters.