1939 October to December

1st October – A GIRL MUST LIVE

On the screen – for seven days – A GIRL MUST LIVE – is a 1939 British romantic comedy film directed by Carol Reed and starring Margaret Lockwood, with supporting cast Renee Houston, Lilli Palmer, and Hugh Sinclair. Based on the 1936 novel by Emery Bonett with the same title, the plot features a group of chorus line girls who compete for the affection of a distinguished bachelor. The film was based on a novel by Emery Bonnett published in 1937. Gaumont British bought the rights and decided to make the film as one of their 12 “A class” features for 1937-38, made with an eye on the US market. Anna Lee and Lili Palmer were to be the original stars. Eventually Margaret Lockwood and Renee Houston were announced.

A short extract from the film

In support was MR MOTO IN DANGER ISLAND a 1939 American mystery film directed by Herbert I. Leeds and starring Peter Lorre, Jean Hersholt and Amanda Duff. It is part of the Mr. Moto series of films. The film was based on the novel Murder in Trinidad, but the setting was moved to Puerto Rico


On the screen – for seven days – THE MODERN MIRACLE – was originally titled The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. It is a somewhat fictionalised 1939 biographical film of the famous inventor. It was filmed in black-and-white and released by Twentieth Century-Fox. The film stars Don Ameche as Bell and Loretta Young as Mabel, his wife, who contracted scarlet fever at an early age and became deaf. The first half of the film concentrates on the hero’s romantic, financial, and scientific struggles, starting in 1873. Most scenes are set in Boston and vicinity; a few late scenes are in London. Henry Fonda is notable in a supporting role as the “Mr. Watson” who hears the first words ever spoken over the telephone. In a pivotal scene, Bell (Don Ameche), while working on the telephone, accidentally spills acid onto his lap and shouts in pain, “Mr. Watson, come here! I want you!”. Watson, barely able to contain his own excitement, rushes into the room and stammers out the news that he heard Bell calling out to him over the telephone receiver. Bell has Watson repeat his own words to him to confirm it, and the two men begin hopping around the room, with Watson yelling out a war whoop. The last part depicts the legal struggle against Western Union over patent priority in the invention of the telephone, ending with a courtroom victory. The final scene has the hero contemplating manned flight, under his wife’s adoring gaze.

Scenes from the world premiere

The supporting feature was THE JONES FAMILY IN HOLLYWOOD a 1939 American comedy film directed by Malcolm St. Clair and written by Harold Tarshis. The film stars Jed Prouty, Spring Byington, Kenneth Howell, George Ernest, June Carlson and Florence Roberts. The film was released by 20th Century Fox.

15th October -GOODBYE MR CHIPS

On the screen – for FOURTEEN days – GOODBYE, MR CHIPS – is a 1939 British romantic drama film directed by Sam Wood and starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. Based on the 1934 novella Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton, the film is about Mr Chipping, a beloved aged school teacher and former headmaster of a boarding school who recalls his career and his personal life over the decades. Hugely successful at the box office it was produced for the British division of MGM at Denham Studios. Goodbye, Mr. Chips was voted the 72nd greatest British film ever in the BFI Top 100 British films poll. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards for Outstanding Production, Best Director, Actor, Actress, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound. It was up against Gone with the Wind in all seven categories; Robert Donat won for Best Actor, beating Laurence Olivier, Clark Gable and James Stewart, though Goodbye, Mr. Chips lost to Gone With the Wind in five of the six remaining categories, while Mr. Smith Goes to Washington won Best Original Story. In 2003, the American Film Institute ranked Mr. Chipping the 41st greatest film hero of all time.

The unusual trailer

29th October – MUSIC HALL PARADE

On the screen – for seven days – MUSIC HALL PARADE – is a 1939 British musical film directed by Oswald Mitchell. film featured Billy Cotton and his band, Glen Raynham, Richard Norris (actor), and Charles Sewell. Sid Palmer also had a role. The story is about a daughter who works to keep her father’s music hall going after his death. It was written by Mitchell and Con West. The film was reissued in 1940 as Cavalcade of Variety. The film was produced at the Walton on Thames studios. The flimsy story tells of a girl who tries to carry on a music hall after her father’s death, in spite of competition, and is helped by a publicity agent to succeed.

Music Hall Parade under its other title Cavalcade Of Variety

Sharing the billing was WOLF CALL, based on a story by Jack London, this film follows the adventures of young Michael Vance (John Carroll) as he travels with his faithful dog to check out the value of a family mine. As they travel north, John meets a beautiful Indian girl (Movita) and his canine companion joins up with a pack of wolves.


On the screen – for seven days – ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE – is a 1939 American musical drama film, featuring the already well-known popular song with the same title. Set in 1920s New York City, the film focuses on singer Rose Sargent and her turbulent relationship with con artist Barton DeWitt Clinton, whose criminal activities threaten her professional success in the Ziegfeld Follies. Although the names of the principal characters were changed, the plot was obviously inspired by vaudeville entertainer Fanny Brice’s career and marriage to gambler Nicky Arnstein (both the film’s title song and “My Man” were closely associated with Brice), and Brice sued 20th Century Fox for $750,000. The studio settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Written by Nunnally Johnson (who co-produced with Darryl F. Zanuck) and directed by Gregory Ratoff, it stars Alice Faye, Tyrone Power and Al Jolson, with a supporting cast that includes William Frawley, Joyce Compton, Hobart Cavanaugh, Moroni Olsen, Charles Lane, and Louis Prima.

A look at Alice Faye and Tyrone Power

Support was THE SAINT IN LONDON a 1939 British crime film, the third of eight films in RKO’s film series featuring the adventures of Simon Templar, alias “The Saint”. It stars George Sanders as Templar and was produced by William Sistrom. John Paddy Carstairs directed. Lynn Root and Frank Fenton wrote the screenplay based on Leslie Charteris’ short story “The Million Pound Day”, which was published in the 1932 collection The Holy Terror, published in the US as The Saint vs. Scotland Yard.

On Saturday the 11th – the programme was retimed in order that @9pm the broadcast by QUEEN ELIZABETH to the women of the British Empire could be relayed live, reminding them that in the war “we, no less than men, have real and vital work to do.”

12th November – SHIPYARD SALLY

On the screen – for seven days – SHIPYARD SALLY – a 1939 British musical comedy film directed by Monty Banks and starring Gracie Fields, Sydney Howard and Norma Varden. The film is notable for the song “Wish Me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye”, which became a major hit. Sally, a failed music hall performer, and her father take over a pub near the John Brown & Company shipyard at Clydebank. When the closure of the yard threatens to put many out of work she leads a campaign to persuade the government to reconsider the decision. Made shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, it was Fields’ last British film. It was shot by 20th Century Fox at Islington Studios with sets designed by Alex Vetchinsky.

The opening of Shipyard Sally

Support was an American RKO picture SWIFT VENGEANCE (also known as The Rookie Cop) a 1939 film directed by David Howard and starring Tim Holt as a rookie cop who wants to prove his friend wasn’t involved with a robbery. The film also stars Virginia Weidler, Janet Shaw, Frank M. Thomas, and Muriel Evans.

19th November – THE SUN NEVER SETS

On the screen – for seven days – THE SUN NEVER SETS – a 1939 American drama film directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Basil Rathbone and Barbara O’Neil. The film had been in development with Universal “on and off” for three years. Eventually Rowland V. Lee was assigned to direct and Basil Rathbone to star. (The two men had just made Son of Frankenstein together.) In February Douglas Fairbank signed to co star. The script was written by W.P. Lipscomb who said the film wanted to pay tribute to the British colonial service. We attacked it by telling the story of one family, typical of hundreds of families who devote their lives to “the service.” We show human beings and human emotions involved in affairs greater than themselves., and watch how they react. ‘ They are not conscious heroes; they make bad mistakes and cause intense suffering- If they worry through, it is by keeping their sense of humour in desperate circumstances and trusting that doing one’s best, although one can’t see the end in sight, may sometimes bring unexpected results. That is a trait common to all people in “the service” and is particularly true of Englishmen whose ability to take on a big job, face difficulties and meet them with good humour when ‘things go badly, is accepted as one of the finest traditions of their national character.

A short clip from the film

In support was THE FAMILY NEXT DOOR a 1939 American comedy film starring Hugh Herbert, Joy Hodges, Eddie Quillan and Ruth Donnelly telling the story of Rose Pierce whi is discontent with her life as the wife of a small town plumber and has visions of becoming a wealthy socialite.

26th November – BACHELOR MOTHER

On the screen – for seven days – BACHELOR MOTHER – EMPIRE – a 1939 RKO American romantic comedy film directed by Garson Kanin, and starring Ginger Rogers, David Niven, and Charles Coburn. The screenplay was written by Norman Krasna based on an Academy Award-nominated story by Felix Jackson written for the 1935 Austrian-Hungarian film Little Mother. With a plot full of mistaken identities, Bachelor Mother is a light-hearted treatment of the otherwise serious issues of child abandonment. The film was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s the trailer

The supporting programme was lead by IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, a 1939 American comedy film directed by Alfred L. Werker and written by Lou Breslow and Allen Rivkin. The film stars Stuart Erwin, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Walburn, Douglas Fowley, June Gale and Clarence Kolb. The film was released by 20th Century Fox. There was also a newsreel documentary BATTLE FLEETS OF BRITAIN.

3rd December – TELL NO TALES

on the screen – for seven days – TELL NO TALES – a 1939 American crime film directed by Leslie Fenton, written by Lionel Houser, and starring Melvyn Douglas, Louise Platt, Gene Lockhart and Douglass Dumbrille. Fenton’s feature-film directorial debut, it was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It tells the story of Michael Cassidy, the editor of a failing newspaper. A scoop would be welcome to boost the sales and to avoid closure. To this end, he decides to personally track down a gang of kidnappers.

A scene from Tell No Tales – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4IlAJYfzIo

The double feature bill was completed by a re-issue of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, a 1934 British thriller film from Gaumont British, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring Peter Lorre, and released by Gaumont British. It was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed films of Hitchcock’s British period. The film is Hitchcock’s first film using this title and was followed later with his own 1956 film using the same name featuring a significantly different plot and script.

10th December – FIVE CAME BACK

On the screen – for seven days – FIVE CAME BACK – is a 1939 American black-and-white melodrama from RKO Radio Pictures, produced by Robert Sisk, directed by John Farrow, that stars Chester Morris and Lucille Ball. The film was photographed by cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, and written by Jerry Cady, Dalton Trumbo, and Nathanael West. Although considered a B movie, the positive notices received by Ball helped launch her as an A-list actress. Five Came Back is considered a precursor of the disaster film genre.

The trailer for Five Came Back

Making up the double bill was THAT GIRL FROM COLLEGE a trite little film from RKO. Anne Shirley plays Alice Fisher-the daughter of a small grocer who at the last minute gets to go to little Talbot College. She learns that joining a sorority is an essential thing at the school. Unfortunately her late admission means that none of the sororities know about Alice and initially she is not even rushed. Fortunately her roommates have their own sorority problems and she soon falls in love with the BMOC.

The latest short cartoon from Walt Disney was probably the biggest draw on the programme, MICKEY MOUSE – THE POINTER.

17th December – THE LION HAS WINGS

On the screen – for seven days – THE LION HAS WINGS – a 1939 British made, United Artist’s black-and-white, documentary-style, propaganda war film that was directed by Adrian Brunel, Brian Desmond Hurst, Alexander Korda and Michael Powell. The film was produced by London Film Productions and Alexander Korda Film Productions and ‘was preparing the nation (for war) and shining a light on the power of the RAF’.

The Lion Has Wings was made at the outbreak of World War II and was released to cinemas very quickly. It helped convince the British government of film’s value for disseminating both propaganda and information. It is recounted in various ‘chapters’ with a linking story revolving around a senior Royal Air Force (RAF) officer, played by Ralph Richardson, his wife and his family. A RAF Vickers Wellington bomber sets off on an attack on the Kiel shipyards in Germany, a pivotal event in the film. The film opens with a newsreel-style documentary comparing life in Britain to life in Nazi Germany, narrated by E.V.H. Emmett in the upbeat and patriotic narrative style common to such newsreels in Britain. This mainly uses existing newsreel footage with some additional footage shot especially for the film. It includes scenes from Fire Over England with Queen Elizabeth I giving her speech to the troops at Tilbury about repelling invaders. It also compares the relaxed lifestyles and openness of the British Royal Family and the British people with the militarism of Nazi Germany by including footage from the Nazi propaganda documentary Triumph of the Will (Triumph des Willens).

The second chapter shows an early bombing raid on German warships in the Kiel Canal. Although it was mainly recreated in the studio, and with special effects, it also includes some footage of the real bombers and their crews returning from the raid. The third chapter shows an attack by Luftwaffe bombers, and how it is repelled by the RAF, with assistance from the Observer Corps and barrage balloons.

The epilogue has Mr. and Mrs. Richardson taking a break from their duties, enjoying an afternoon by the river. She gives a stirring speech about how the women of Britain have in the past given their sons and lovers to the land and to the sea, and must now give them to the air. They will do so willingly to defend all that is fair and kind about the British way of life. But Wing Commander Richardson is so tired he falls asleep part way through her speech.

The trailer for Lion Has Wings

See the trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLaKc_E4TOQ

MAN ABOUT TOWN, a 1939 Paramount musical comedy film starring Jack Benny and Dorothy Lamour. The screenplay concerns a producer who tries to get his leading lady to take him seriously romantically by pursuing other women.

24th December – FROZEN LIMITS

On the screen – for seven days – THE FROZEN LIMITS – is a 1939 British comedy western film from GFD and directed by Marcel Varnel and starring Jimmy Nervo, Bud Flanagan, Teddy Knox, Chesney Allen and Charlie Naughton a group of entertainers commonly known as The Crazy Gang. It was written by Val Guest. A group of British pioneers decide to take part in the 1898 Alaska and Yukon goldrush having read about it in the newspaper which wrapped up their fish and chips. Their main problem is that it is now 1939.

Watch the film in full – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rivno-UiPl8

Completing the programme was BOYS’ REFORMATORY a 1939 American crime film directed by Howard Bretherton and produced by Lindsley Parsons for Monogram Pictures. The screenplay was written by Wellyn Totman and Ray Trampe after a story by Ray Trampe and Norman S. Hall. The film is about Tommy Ryan (Frankie Darro), a good natured teenager who takes the blame for a burglary committed by his foster brother (Frank Coghlan, Jr.), and his life in to a boys’ reformatory where a morally upright staff physician, Dr. Owens (Grant Withers), takes an interest in his welfare.

A special war-time Christmas treat was the inclusion of Walt Disney’s cartoon, DONALD’S PENGUIN


On the screen – for seven days – STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE – a 20th Century Fox, 1939 American adventure film directed by Henry King and Otto Brower. It is loosely based on the true story of Welsh reporter Sir Henry M. Stanley’s quest to find Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary presumed lost in Africa, who finally met on November 10, 1871. Spencer Tracy plays Stanley, while Cedric Hardwicke portrays Livingstone. Other cast members include Nancy Kelly, Richard Greene, Walter Brennan, Charles Coburn and Henry Hull.The film was originally envisioned as a vehicle for Tyrone Power as Stanley and a script was prepared accordingly. Darryl F. Zanuck, head of production at 20th Century Fox was sent a memo suggesting the project be changed to be about a more cynical Stanley who looks for Livingstone as a publicity stunt, then becomes idealistic after meeting him. Zanuck agreed and got Dunne and Julien Josephson to rewrite it. Dunne later recalled “Every time Spencer Tracy as the reporter said, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume,’ he started to laugh hysterically, to roll around the studio floor. And Cedric Hardwicke, as the missionary, laughed so hard tears rolled down his cheeks. We did it as an aside, we had to.” The safari sequences were shot in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The American scenes set in Wyoming were shot in Sun Valley, Idaho.

A short clip from the film

Completing the bill was a new Donald Duck cartoon from Walt Disney, SEA SCOUTS.

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