1940 October to December

October 6, 1940 – REBECCA

On the screen – for seven days – Rebecca is a 1940 American romantic psychological thriller film from Selznick through United Artists and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was Hitchcock’s first American project, and his first film under contract with producer David O. Selznick. The screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison, and adaptation by Philip MacDonald and Michael Hogan, were based on the 1938 novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier.

The film stars Laurence Olivier as the brooding, aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the young woman who becomes his second wife, with Judith Anderson, George Sanders and Gladys Cooper in supporting roles. The film is a gothic tale shot in black-and-white. Maxim de Winter’s first wife Rebecca, who died before the events of the film, is never seen. Her reputation and recollections of her, however, are a constant presence in the lives of Maxim, his new wife and the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.

A critical and commercial success, it received eleven nominations at the 13th Academy Awards, more than any other film that year. It won two awards; Best Picture, and Best Cinematography, becoming the only film directed by Hitchcock to win the former award. In 2018, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The trailer

There was a Supporting Programme of short features.

13th October – SAPS AT SEA

On the screen – for seven days – SAPS AT SEA a 1940 American comedy film directed by Gordon Douglas, distributed by United Artists. It was Laurel and Hardy’s last film produced by the Hal Roach Studios, as well as the last film to feature Ben Turpin and Harry Bernard. After working in the noisy horn factory, just the sound of one drives Oliver into a violent fit. Dr. Finlayson prescribes a long, restful sea voyage, so Stan and Oliver rent a boat and set sail, unaware that escaped killer Nick Grainger has stowed away onboard. To disable the crook, the boys prepare him a meal using string for spaghetti, sponges for meatballs and soap for cheese. But Grainger discovers their plan and decides to make them eat the stuff themselves.

The trailer

In support was IN THE NICK OF TIME “Radio with Pictures” is often used as a put-down description of the sort of cartoon that began to show up after the Second World War. With shrinking budgets and staffs who no longer remembered the purely visual story-telling of silent films, it reached the point at which the entire lot was carried in the sound track. Despite my fondness for Rocky & Bullwinkle, one did not watch it for the pretty pictures or sight gags. This cartoon takes the concept, long before it became a necessity and does it up right. It takes the sort of western serial that children would listen to on the radio and adds the silly details that cartoons excelled in.


On the screen – for seven days -TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS, a 1940 coming-of-age British drama film from RKO Pictures, about a teenage boy’s experiences at Rugby School, Warwickshire in the early 19th century under the reforming headmastership of Thomas Arnold. It stars Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Freddie Bartholomew and Jimmy Lydon in the title role. The film was based on the 1857 novel Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes.

In this version, emphasis is placed on the development of Headmaster Thomas Arnold and his reformist ideas concerning the English public school. It was well received by critics, with Variety praising it in a January 1940 review as “sympathetically and skillfully made, with many touching moments and an excellent cast”. Hardwicke’s performance as Arnold was called “one of the best he has ever given,” as the veteran actor convincingly tempered the headmaster’s strict demeanor with “the underlying sympathy, tolerance, quiet humour and steadfast courage” for which Arnold was acclaimed. Jimmy Lydon as the title character was called “believable and moving in the early portions, but too young for the final moments”.

Watch the film in its entirety – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsnaKUem1R4

The supporting feature was COURAGEOUS DR CHRISTIAN a 1940 American film directed by Bernard Vorhaus. A contemporary drama about homelessness and poverty as relevant today as it was in 1940.

27th October – TURNABOUT

On the screen – for seven days – TURABOUT is a 1940 comedy film from United Artists, directed by Hal Roach and starring Adolphe Menjou, Carole Landis and John Hubbard. Based on the 1931 novel of the same name by Thorne Smith, the screenplay was written by Mickell Novack, Bernie Giler and John McClain with additional dialogue by Rian James. In 1979, the screenplay was adapted for the short-lived television series with the same name. A mystical bust of a turbaned god gives a bickering, unsatisfied married couple exactly what they want: they switch bodies…but unfortunately not voices, which means the husband–who is one-third of a partnership in a big city advertising firm–talks like a girl and prances around his office complete with pocketbook! Very early entry in the body-switching genre is much fresher than some of the similar comedies which followed years later; the film doesn’t have an esteemed reputation, so it’s difficult to imagine that it influenced other pictures, but surely this was the starting point (or close to it). There are some very fast, very funny lines, quick and efficient gags, bright performers–however the first thirty minutes (a straight satire on big business before the ‘magical’ troubles begin) is just fine all by itself.

An excerpt from the film

The supporting feature was Little Orvie a 1940 American comedy film directed by Ray McCarey and written by Lynn Root, Frank Fenton and Robert Chapin. The film stars Johnny Sheffield, Ernest Truex, Dorothy Tree, Ann E. Todd and Emma Dunn. The film was released by RKO Pictures.

3rd November – THE NIGHT HAWK

On the screen – for ONE day – THE NIGHT HAWK – is a 1938 American crime film from Republic Pictures, directed by Sidney Salkow and written by Earl Felton. The film stars Robert Livingston, June Travis, Robert Armstrong, Ben Welden, Lucien Littlefield and Joe Downing and tells the story of Gangster Charlie McCormick despairs as his young brother Bobby lays near death and vows to break the quarantine of the ocean liner Pacific Queen in order to retrieve the iron lung Bobby needs.

An excerpt from the film

In support was HOME FROM HOME a 1939 British comedy drama film directed by Herbert Smith and starring Sandy Powell, Rene Ray and Peter Gawthorne. It follows a man who struggles to cope with life after being released from prison.

4th November – THE BIRTH OF A BABY

On the screen – for SIX days – Publicity material for the free screening of the film The Birth of a Baby proclaimed, ‘See a baby born before your very eyes!’ Initially intended as a ‘nontheatrical’ medical training film, The Birth of a Baby was presented to general audiences under the auspices of the Ministry Of Information and an umbrella group consisting of several reputable medical and public-health associations. It received generally positive reviews. It was praised as an ‘absorbing example of visual education’ and was judged that it was ‘not in the class with so-called sex films’. The Birth of a Baby went on to become one of the most controversial films of the early 1940s: ‘The cinema explodes the stork myth’, proclaimed journalist Geraldine Sartain. ‘Almost overnight’, she claimed, ‘The Birth of a Baby became the most discussed picture since The Birth of a Nation’.


On the screen – for seven days – THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE – is a 1940 American musical film directed by A. Edward Sutherland from Universal, based on the 1938 stage musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, which in turn was based on the play The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare. It was nominated for two Academy Awards; one for Best Visual Effects (John P. Fulton, Bernard B. Brown, Joe Lapis) and one for Best Art Direction (Jack Otterson). The action takes place in Ephesus in ancient Asia Minor, and the story concerns the efforts of two boys from Syracuse, Anthipholus (Allan Jones) and his servant Dromio (Joe Penner), to find their long-lost twins who, for reason of plot confusion, are also named Anthipholus and Dromio. Complications arise when the wife of the Ephesians, Adriana (Irene Hervey) and her servant Luce (Martha Raye), mistake the two strangers for their husband, though the couples eventually get sorted out after Adriana’s sister Luciana and the Syracuse Antipholus admit their love.

Allan Jones gets to sing Falling In Love With Love which became a standard forever identified with him, almost as much as The Donkey Serenade.

The original cinema trailer

In support was YOU’RE NOT SO TOUGH – a 1940 Universal Studios drama film directed by Joe May and starring Dead End Kids and the Little Tough Guys and was the first in the series where Billy Halop and Huntz Hall weren’t billed in the opening credits before the Dead End Kids name.

November 17 – SOUTH OF PAGO PAGO

On the screen – for seven days – South of Pago Pago is a 1940 American South Seas adventure film released by United Artists, directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Victor McLaglen, Jon Hall and Frances Farmer. In the 1880s a group of adventurers look for pearls in the Pacific Islands: Bucko Larson, Ruby Taylor, Williams and Peg Legged Foster. They arrive at an island. Ruby is desired by Kehane, the chief’s son. Her friends use this to steal pearls from the island. Ruby genuinely falls for Kehane and has a crisis of conscience.

View the film in its entirety – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBsMAYEzxr4

In support was the feature YOU CAN’T FOOL YOUR WIFE a 1940 American comedy film directed by Ray McCarey and written by Jerome Cady. The film stars Lucille Ball, James Ellison, Robert Coote, Virginia Vale, Emma Dunn and Elaine Shepard. The film was released by RKO Pictures.

November 23rd – SAILORS THREE

On the screen – for seven days – Sailors Three (released in the US as Three Cockeyed Sailors) is a 1940 British war comedy film directed by Walter Forde and starring Tommy Trinder, Claude Hulbert and Carla Lehmann. This was cockney music hall comedian Trinder’s debut for Ealing, the studio with which he was to become most closely associated. It concerns three British sailors who accidentally find themselves aboard a German ship during the Second World War.

Detailed surveys published in Britain in the early years of the war by the “Mass-Observation” organisation, showed the popularity of comedy with wartime cinema audiences. Films with the war as a subject were particularly well received, especially those movies showing the lighter side of service life, largely because many in the audience would soon be finding themselves in uniform. John Oliver writes in BFI screenonline, ” to prepare such potential recruits for their own possible riotous and fun-packed life in the Royal Navy, Sandy Powell had already taken the shilling in All At Sea (dir. Herbert Smith, 1939) before Tommy Trinder did likewise with Sailors Three, following his comic misadventures in the army in Laugh It Off (dir. John Baxter) earlier that same year.”

The song “All Over The Place” (words by Frank Eyton; music by Noel Gay), sung by Trinder in the film, became one of the most popular of the war.

A scene from the film

In support was the feature CURTAIN CALL a 1940 American RKO Pictures comedy, directed by Frank Woodruff and starring Barbara Read, Helen Vinson, Alan Mowbray and Donald MacBride.


Theatre closed until January 4th 1941 for repairs resulting from the nearby explosion of German dropped bombs.

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