1940 January to March

7th January – MAN OF CONQUEST

On the screen – for seven days – MAN OF CONQUEST – is a 1939 American Western film directed by George Nicholls Jr. and starring Richard Dix, Gail Patrick, and Joan Fontaine. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Score, Best Sound (Charles L. Lootens), and Best Art Direction (John Victor Mackay). The film marked the first serious attempt by Republic Pictures to break out from its traditional production of B movies and produce a work of greater cost and prestige. The film is a biopic of the politician Sam Houston, focusing on his relationship with Andrew Jackson and his role during the Texas Revolution. It was inspired by Marquis James’s 1929 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Houston.

It shared a double bill with BRIDAL SUITE is a 1939 American comedy film from MGM, directed by Wilhelm Thiele and written by Samuel Hoffenstein. The film stars Annabella, Robert Young, Walter Connolly, Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, and Arthur Treacher.

The trailer for Bridal Suite

14th January – HOTEL FOR WOMEN

On the screen – for seven days – HOTEL FOR WOMEN – is a 1939 Twentieth Century Fox American drama film directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, and James Ellison. It was Darnell’s screen debut. When she is jilted by her boyfriend, a young woman is encouraged to become a model by the women at the hotel where she is staying. The film’s sets were designed by the leading art directors of the day, Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright.

Making this a popular double bill was CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND, a 1939 American film from Fox and directed by Norman Foster, starring Sidney Toler as the fictional Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan, that takes place on Treasure Island during San Francisco’s Golden Gate International Exposition.

Watch the entire film here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WS6I2bL8Gg

21st January – WHERE’S THAT FIRE?

On the screen – for seven days – WHERE’S THAT FIRE? – a 1940 British comedy film, produced by Twentieth Century Fox, directed by Marcel Varnel and starring Will Hay, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. It was the last film Will Hay made with his most famous comic foils, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. Will Hay plays the incompetent Fire Captain Viking who fails to find a large fire, gets lost in the process and ends up on a newspaper headline as ‘The engine that never made it’. Finally upon arriving at the location of the fire (discovering it’s been put out) he hears that his local town hall is on fire. After failing to appear before the town hall burns down, Fire Captain Viking is told to put out a fire successfully or else he and his men face the sack. Viking and his crew, Albert and Harbottle, proceed to London to gain more experience of an efficient fire station, with Albert and Harbottle “knocking-off” several items. Shortly after embarking on a series of dangerous exploits to improve the efficiency of his fire department including automated turn out equipment and destroying public property with a fireman’s pole, Captain Viking accidentally creates a new form of firefighting foam that he wishes to demonstrate in London, the London fire department begins to assess the formula for the foam and intends to get in touch with them shortly after. Meanwhile a group of criminals having seen Vikings fire engine in the newspaper wish to hire it for what Viking and his crew believe to be a film, Viking initially refuses but promises they can borrow the engine after his foam has been demonstrated in London, (Also after the criminals offer a £30 bribe to him and his crew). The criminals intent then being revealed to be the theft of the Crown jewels from the Tower of London as Vikings engine is almost identical to the Tower fire engine. Harbottle becomes impatient waiting for his money and decides to start a large fire at a Petrol Station to allow the foam to be demonstrated and for the news to reach London, with Albert reminding them if they fail to put out this fire they will be sacked. After failing to turn out for nearly half-an-hour thanks to Vikings automated turn out equipment they arrive at the fire, after a series of problems with hoses they start spraying the blaze only to discover that their hose is hooked up to a petrol pump, the result being the entire petrol station burning to the ground. Now facing the sack Viking and his crew enjoy a brief reprieve when the Mayors house catches fire, however upon returning to their fire station they discover their engine and horse are both missing, the engine having been stolen by the criminals and their horse simply following it. Realizing they will now be sacked they hear that their horse has been found in the London borough of Wapping, whilst packing Viking finds a letter from the London fire brigade wishing him and his crew to demonstrate their firefighting foam in London the next day. Viking and his crew now proceed to London to recover their engine full of foam. The eventually trace their engine to the Tower of London where the criminals are setting a fake fire to distract the Guards and gain access to the jewel tower. When Viking finds his engine and believes this to be an actual fire he sprays the entire area with his firefighting foam, stopping the criminals in the process. Shortly after this the London fire brigade and Police turn up to deal with the fire and criminals, the criminals complaining that they would have pulled off the heist had it not been for the foam, the fire brigade chief wishes to know who is responsible when Viking, Albert and Harbottle appear wearing the Crown Jewels.

See the film in its entirety – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F2018Z5bxc

THE SPELL BINDER, a 1939 American drama film directed by Jack Hively, written by Thomas Lennon and Joseph Fields, and starring Lee Tracy, Barbara Read, Patric Knowles, Allan Lane and Linda Hayes. It was released by RKO Pictures.

Also in the programme was THE UGLY DUCKLING, a 9 minute animated film from Walt Disney, based on the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen. The 1939 film was directed by Jack Cutting and Clyde Geronimi, and released in theaters on April 7, 1939. Music was composed by Albert Hay Malotte, who was uncredited for the film. The animated short was distributed by RKO Radio Pictures.

28th January – WIFE HUSBAND & FRIEND

On the screen – for seven days – WIFE, HUSBAND & FRIEND – a 1939 comedy film directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring Loretta Young, Warner Baxter and Binnie Barnes in the three title roles, respectively. The film, based on a script by Nunnally Johnson, tells the story of a contractor and his wife, and how their musical ambitions result in marital tensions and a romantic triangle with a professional singer. The film was remade in 1949 as Everybody Does It. Wife, Husband and Friend was one of the last films made by Loretta Young under contract with 20th-Century-Fox. She declined to sign again with Fox or any other studio, in the belief that this would put her at the mercy of studio bosses. Myrna Loy was originally cast in the role eventually played by Loretta Young, with Lionel Atwill considered for the part of Hertz, Ed Brophy for the part of Jaffe, and Eily Malyon for the part of Mrs. Craig.

The supporting programme included MR MOTO TAKES A VACATION a Norman Foster-directed entry in the Mr. Moto film series, with Lionel Atwill and Joseph Schildkraut and G. P. Huntley, as Archie Featherstone, in supporting roles. This was the last Mr. Moto film that Peter Lorre appeared in. The movie was the seventh filmed in the series. However it was not released until after Mr. Moto in Danger Island, which was the last filmed out of eight Mr. Moto films from 20th Century Fox. Also there was an edition of the Time Magazine documentary series MARCH OF TIME and a Walt Disney Donald Duck animated short, AUTOGRAPH HOUND.

See the Mr Moto film in it’s entirety – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO-fXffyA1M&t=2s


On the screen – for seven days – WHEN TOMORROW COMES – a 1939 American romantic drama directed by John M. Stahl and starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. The screenplay concerns a waitress who falls in love with a man who later turns out to be a married concert pianist. Bernard B. Brown won the Academy Award for Best Sound. A scene in the movie where the two protagonists take refuge from a storm in a church was the subject of Cain v. Universal Pictures, a case in which the writer James M. Cain sued Universal Pictures, the scriptwriter and the director for copyright infringement. Judge Leon Rene Yankwich ruled that there was no resemblance between the scenes in the book and the film other than incidental “scènes à faire”, or natural similarities due to the situation, establishing an important legal precedent.

A scene from the film

The supporting programme included MR WONG IN CHINA TOWN a 1939 American mystery film directed by William Nigh and starring Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong and an edition of MARCH OF TIME.


On the screen – for seven days – SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES – is a 1939 American drama film from 20th Century Fox, directed by William A. Seiter and starring Shirley Temple, Randolph Scott, and Margaret Lockwood. Based on the 1936 novel Susannah of the Mounties by Muriel Denison, the film is about an orphaned survivor of an Indian attack in the Canadian West who is taken in by a Mountie and his girlfriend. Following additional Indian attacks, the Mountie is saved from the stake by the young girl’s intervention with the Indian chief. The plot differs significantly from the book in that it is set twenty years earlier at a much smaller Mounted Police fort and Susannah’s parents are dead rather than in India. Walter Lang was meant to direct but he fell ill and was replaced by William Seiter.

In the film there was a contingent of 12 full blooded Blackfoot Indians led by Chief Albert Mad Plume, who were brought in largely as extras. Another member of the Blackfoot tribe, Martin Goodrider, played the role of Little Chief. Temple and Goodrider struck up an instant friendship (something unusual with Temple as she was normally forbidden from mingling with her child co-stars). As an act of good will, Temple swore in all members of the Blackfoot tribe as members of the Shirley Temple Police Force while Temple was made an honorary member of the Blackfoot tribe and given the name Bright Shining Star.

The Shirley Temple trailer

Making up the programme was 20th Century Fox’s NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT a 1939 American comedy film directed by Alfred L. Werker and written by John Larkin. The film stars Preston Foster, Lynn Bari, Russell Gleason, George Barbier, Eddie Collins and Minor Watson.

18th February – IN NAME ONLY

On the screen – for seven days – IN NAME ONLY – a 1939 RKO romantic film starring Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Kay Francis, directed by John Cromwell. It was based on the 1935 novel Memory of Love by Bessie Breuer. The fictional town Bridgefield, Connecticut, is based on the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Alec Walker (Cary Grant) puts up with a loveless marriage to Maida (Kay Francis) until he meets widow Julie Eden (Carole Lombard). They fall in love and he asks his wife for a divorce. She refuses; as she goes on to tell him, she married him solely for his social position and wealth and won’t give them up. She is such a skillful liar that she has Alec’s parents (Charles Coburn, Nella Walker) convinced that Julie is out to destroy the marriage. Julie breaks up with Alec because she cannot see any future with him. On Christmas Eve, a distraught Alec gets drunk, falls asleep in front of an open window, and becomes deathly ill. At the hospital, Dr. Muller (Maurice Moscovitch) tells Julie and Alec’s father that the patient is likely to recover if he has the will to live. Julie lies to Alec, telling him that Maida will let him go. When Maida shows up and tries to see Alec, Julie blocks her. With no one else in the room, Maida freely admits she gave up the man she really loved for Alec’s position and his father’s wealth. However, Alec’s parents enter behind her and overhear her cold-blooded admission. With Maida’s plotting exposed, the path to Alec and Julie’s happiness is now clear.

A preview of the film

The supporting feature CAREER a 1939 drama film directed by Leigh Jason and starring Anne Shirley and Edward Ellis. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo and Bert Granet, with cinematography by Frank Redman. The film was distributed by RKO Radio Pictures and centres on a rivalry between two men who are in love with the same girl.

25th February – THE RAINS CAME

On the screen – for seven days – THE RAINS CAME – a 1939 20th Century Fox film based on an American novel by Louis Bromfield. The film was directed by Clarence Brown and stars Myrna Loy, Tyrone Power, George Brent, Brenda Joyce, Nigel Bruce, and Maria Ouspenskaya. The story centres on the redemption of its lead female character. Tom Ransome is an artist who leads a rather dissolute if socially active life in the town of Ranchipur, India. His routine is shattered with the arrival of his former lover, Lady Edwina Esketh, who has since married the elderly Lord Esketh. Lady Edwina first sets out to seduce, then gradually falls in love with, Major Rama Safti who represents the “new India.” Ranchipur is devastated by an earthquake, which causes a flood, which causes a cholera epidemic. Lord Esketh dies and Lady Esketh renounces her hedonistic life in favor of helping the sick alongside Major Safti. She accidentally drinks from a glass that has just been used by a patient, becomes infected and dies, making it possible for Safti to become the ruler of a kingdom that he will presumably reform. In the course of the story, a missionary’s daughter, Fern Simon, and Ransome also fall in love.

A scene from the film

In support was STOP, LOOK AND LOVE a 1939 American comedy film directed by Otto Brower and starring Jean Rogers, William Frawley, and Robert Kellard.


On the screen – for seven days – THE ARSENAL STADIUM MYSTERY – EMPIRE – a 1939 British mystery film and one of the first feature films wherein football is a central element in the plot. The film was directed by Thorold Dickinson, and shot at Denham Film Studios and on location at Arsenal Stadium. It was written by Dickinson, Donald Bull, and Alan Hyman, adapted from a novel by Leonard Gribble and distributed by Gaumont’s GFD. The film is a murder mystery set, as the title suggests, at the Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, London, then the home of Arsenal Football Club, who were at the time one of the dominant teams in English football. The backdrop is a friendly match between Arsenal and The Trojans, a fictitious amateur side. One of the Trojans’ players drops dead during the match and when it is revealed he has been poisoned, suspicion falls on his teammates as well as his former mistress. Detective Inspector Slade (Leslie Banks) is called in to solve the crime.

A clip from the film

The second feature was FUGITIVE AT LARGE a 1939 Columbia Pictures American crime film directed by Lewis D. Collins and starring Jack Holt, Patricia Ellis and Stanley Fields.

10th March – THE FOUR JUST MEN

On the screen – foe seven days – THE FOUR JUST MEN – also known as The Secret Four, is a 1939 British thriller film released by Associated British and directed by Walter Forde and starring Hugh Sinclair, Griffith Jones, Edward Chapman and Frank Lawton. It is based on the novel The Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace. There was a previous silent film version in 1921. This version was produced by Ealing Studios, with sets designed by Wilfred Shingleton. The Four Men are British World War I veterans who unite to work in secret against enemies of the country. They aren’t above a spot of murder or sabotage to achieve their ends, but they consider themselves true patriots. The Four Just Men was re-released in 1944 with an updated ending featuring newsreel of Winston Churchill and the Allied war effort as a fulfilment of the ideals of the Four. The adviser on the House of Commons of the United Kingdom scenes was Aneurin Bevan.

In support was MICKEY THE KID, a 1939 American film from Republic starring Bruce Cabot and ZaSu Pitts about a 12 year old boy, Mickey, and his corrupt father.

17th March – BABES IN ARMS

On the screen – for seven days – BABES IN ARMS – is the 1939 MGM American film version of the 1937 Broadway musical of the same name. Directed by Busby Berkeley, it stars Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, and features Charles Winninger, Guy Kibbee, June Preisser, Grace Hayes, and Betty Jaynes. The film concerns a group of youngsters trying to put on a show to prove their vaudevillian parents wrong and make it to Broadway. The original Broadway script was significantly revamped, restructured, and rewritten to accommodate Hollywood’s needs.

Babes in Arms is the first film directed in its entirety at MGM by choreographer Busby Berkeley. It was produced by the Arthur Freed unit at the studio. Filming of Babes in Arms began on May 12, 1939, soon after Garland and Hamilton had finished filming The Wizard of Oz, and was completed on July 18, 1939. The original release of the film included a segment during the finale in which Rooney and Garland lampoon Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; this was edited from the film after FDR’s death.

All of the Rodgers and Hart songs from the stage musical were cut, except for the title tune, “The Lady Is a Tramp” – used as background music during a dinner scene, and “Where or When”. Freed and Nacio Herb Brown wrote a new song for the film, “Good Morning”, later to be a musical number in Singin’ in the Rain. “God’s Country”, from Hooray for What! by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg – composer and lyricist for The Wizard of Oz – was used for the finale. Garland and Rooney later sang “I Wish I Were in Love Again” from the Broadway version of the show in the Rodgers and Hart biopic Words and Music (1948). Garland also sang “Johnny One Note” in the same picture. The film, as well as the musical, included the song “I’m Just Wild About Harry”, which was written in 1921 for the Broadway show Shuffle Along, with lyrics by Noble Sissle and music by Eubie Blake. The musical numbers were recorded in stereophonic sound, but released to cinemas with conventional mono sound.

The trailer for the film

The supporting programme included the latest British edition of Fox’s MOVIETONE NEWS which would become a standard part of the programme at the Empire.

24th March – FIRST LOVE

On the screen – for seven days – FIRST LOVE – EMPIRE – a 1939 American musical film from Universal, directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin. Based on the fairy tale Cinderella, the film is about an orphan who is sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle after graduating from boarding school. Her life is made difficult by her snobby cousin who arranges that she stay home while the rest of the family attends a major social ball. With the help of her uncle, she makes it to the ball, where she meets and falls in love with her cousin’s boyfriend. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Music.

Deanna Durbin sings one of the songs from the film

In support was HIDDEN POWER, a 1939 American drama film directed by Lewis D. Collins and starring Jack Holt, Gertrude Michael and Dickie Moore.

31st March – BAND WAGGON

On the screen – for six days – BAND WAGGON – a 1940 British comedy film released through Gaumont’s GFD, directed by Marcel Varnel and starring Arthur Askey, Richard Murdoch and Moore Marriott. It was based on the BBC radio show Band Waggon. Arthur Askey and Stinker Murdoch, two out-of-work performers, are living on the roof of the Broadcasting House in Central London. After being called in for an audition with the BBC three months before, they were forgotten about and settled down to live there waiting for their big chance the film tells the story of what happens next.

See the film in its entirety –

In support was SUED FOR LIBEL a 1939 American mystery film directed by Leslie Goodwins from a screenplay by Jerry Cady, based on Wolfe Kaufman’s story. Released by RKO Radio Pictures, the film stars Kent Taylor, Linda Hayes, Lilian Bond, and Morgan Conway.

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