Category Archives: 1939 Movie reviews

The Old Maid-1939

The Old Maid-1939

Director-Edmund Goulding

Starring-Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins

Scott’s Review #883

Reviewed April 3, 2019

Grade: B-

Not one to dare criticize the legendary Bette Davis (would there be much to criticize anyway?), her starring turn in The Old Maid (1939) is not one of her best remembered films through no fault of her own. With compelling characters and a nice flow to a short one hour and thirty-five-minute experience, the films suffers from too much melodrama and soap-opera style overacting to warrant a sturdy recommendation. The overwrought drama may have been interesting at the time of release but now feels dated and dusty.

Davis portrays Charlotte, a modestly attractive young woman living in Philadelphia during the Civil War era. When her cousin Delia (Miriam Hopkins) discards her beau Clem Spender (George Brent) in favor of marrying another well-to-do man, Charlotte and Clem begin an affair that results in the birth of baby Tina. When Clem is killed in battle Charlotte opens a home for orphans as a way of hiding Tina’s illegitimacy. As the years go by Delia’s scheming results in Tina not knowing her real mother and Charlotte suffering away as an old maid yearning to confess the truth the Tina before the young woman marries.

The highlight of the film naturally is Ms. Davis as she makes her character’s plight emotional and sympathetic. Especially for 1939 the character is written as a strong and intelligent female with a will all her own. Davis portrays all qualities with passion and gusto only adding to the perplexing wishy-washy indecisiveness of the character. Why does Charlotte go year after year living under the same roof with her daughter but under the constant guise of only being her aunt and allowing Delia the title of mother?

The reasoning of Charlotte is supposed to be to ensure Tina is given a proper upper-middle class, respectable upbringing all the while being a part of her life. The film does wonders to portray the roles of aunt and mother as opposites. As a teenager Tina lavishes Delia with praise while considering Charlotte as matronly and dull as dishwater due to her overbearing and militant respect for rigidity. Regardless, many facets of the story seem like plot setups to create drama and story points leading to vendettas and reoccurring conflict between Delia and Charlotte.

The fact that Charlotte is so strong and stoic on the surface is also a detraction as the audience is left frustrated over and over at the cousin’s decision not to tell the truth to Tina until the final scene when she is marrying a rich boy and even then, the scene is a disappointment. The decision for Delia to adopt Tina at the age of twenty to finally allow her respectability and her fiancee’s parents approval is weak and story dictated. The film makers attempts are to never allow Charlotte any happiness or satisfaction which is depressing to witness especially given Davis’s brash personality.

Regardless of the story issues, The Old Maid has some positives including a well-dressed set and gorgeous costumes as wedding after wedding occur over the film’s twenty-year period. The aging of the character’s is also successfully done specifically with Davis as she goes from impressionable youngster to graying and haggard over the years with good lighting and camera angles.

The Old Maid (1939) is a film of moderate interest as it includes some well-developed characters and a subject matter that might have been daring for the time. The film, decades later, has a conventional slant and too many story plot setups better served for daytime television. The overall result is too soapy style for much enjoyment but is saved by the graceful and powerful acting of Bette Davis, easily the best thing about the film.

The Little Princess-1939

The Little Princess-1939

Director-Walter Lang

Starring-Shirley Temple, Ian Hunter

Scott’s Review #827

Reviewed November 6, 2018

Grade: B+

The Little Princess (1939) is a latter-day Shirley Temple film released when the child star’s popularity was clearly on the decline. The film is also the first Temple production to be filmed in Technicolor and the last of her major successes. The picture is very good though not the first I would choose as a starting point in her collection: saccharin, wholesome, and predictable are adjectives to describe the film, but also just what audiences adore about the star’s cinematic projects.

Loosely based on a novel entitled A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the film was criticized at the time of release for straying too far from the original novel. The time is turn of the century England and the backdrop is the Boer war. The setting of the film is a highlight for American audiences who were amidst the first World War and on the cusp of World War II allowing for a timely and relevant quality of the film.

In the story Temple plays Sara, the wealthy daughter of a military Captain (Ian Hunter) who is left to reside in a well-to-do girl’s school when her father is called away to serve in the war. When he unexpectedly dies in battle Sara is left penniless and forced to work as a servant in the school she one attended. At first treated like royalty by the staff her treatment gradually harbors resentment among the principals especially the dastardly headmistress (Mary Nash). Sara keeps her chin up insisting that her father is not dead at all as she becomes determined to find him in a local hospital.

In the year 2018 Shirley Temple films mainly serve as a source of nostalgia versus any critical acclaim or cinematic dissection- what is the point? Her films are a wholesome trip down memory lane back to a simpler time for many. Ironic that the film is the first color picture in the collection, this detracts from the enjoyment and adds too much of a modern element foreign to Temple fans. My preference is for the black and white productions of the early and mid-1930’s.

The supporting characters spice up The Little Princess quite a bit. Most notably is Cesar Romero as neighbor Ram Dass, a man who fills the void that Sara needs due to the loss of her father. The chemistry between Romero and Temple is wonderful as the kindly Dass leaves warm blankets for Sara in a tender scene. As the main villainous, common in Temple films, Mary Nash as Miss Minchin does her job flawlessly. Serving as the main foil, Nash provides the perfect blend of rigid mannerisms and the brunt of Sara’s tension.

The overall tone of The Little Princess (1939), hence the title, contains a riches to rags, Cinderella in reverse, type of story. The film is above average, but not the best in the bunch. Venturing to say that the film is a forgotten work save for fans of the Shirley Temple series, it does what it sets out to do and entertains. With drama, musical numbers, and a happy ending, the result is a similar experience to her many other films.

Gone With The Wind-1939

Gone With The Wind-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh

Top 100 Films-#15

Scott’s Review #201

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Reviewed December 4, 2014

Grade: A

Gone with the Wind is the grand masterpiece of the sweeping epic drama. The film is based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel. Set in the south (Georgia) during the Civil War era, it centers on the life of Scarlett O’Hara, southern belle of cotton plantation Tara, and how she must struggle to keep her plantation alive after the south loses the war. Initially, Scarlett cares little about war, instead enjoying her spoiled, narcissistic lifestyle, and romances with many men in the town, all vying for her attentions. She revels in one sunny picnic and ball after another with all eyes on her. As war decimates the south, however, Scarlett must take over the plantation and survive the ravages of war. Mixed in with the war theme is a romance between Scarlett and Rhett, one of cinema’s most recognized and enduring couples. Having gone through three directors (Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Sam Wood), the film is as extravagant and precise in its style, attention to detail, and set design as films come.

At close to four hours in length, Gone with the Wind is a lavish production that can take an entire afternoon or evening to watch and is divided into two halves- interestingly the first half directed by Cukor, and the second primarily directed by Fleming. It is a film that can be viewed and analyzed over and over again and the set pieces and flawless perfectionism alone, marveled at. The first half is superior to the second, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon- it’s a preference of goodies. The first half is brighter, cheery, and fantastic. The wonderful Tara and neighboring plantation Twin Oaks host southern balls and parties and are filled with romance, gossip and beautiful costumes. War is coming, but it is a delightful time of merriment. The Southerners embrace going to war- they assume it will last for two weeks and they will be victorious. They party and they celebrate.

The second half has a much darker tone. By the beginning of the second half Atlanta has burned, thousands of men have died, and Tara is decimated, Scarlett’s mother dead and father gone batty. The rebuilding of the south is explored, the troubled Rhett and Scarlett marriage commences, their daughter dies, and the world famous line uttered by Rhett to Scarlett, “Frankly my dear…. I don’t give a damn”. Having been now directed by a different person (Fleming), the first and second halves almost seem like two separate films.

Vivien Leigh plays a wonderful role. In 1939 women were rarely strong characters in film, so for that reason Gone with the Wind is groundbreaking for female characters. Scarlett is selfish, yes, but she rises above, is strong, saving her plantation and succeeding as a successful businesswoman- almost unheard of in cinema for 1939. Her undying love for Ashley Wilkes, but unable to obtain him (he is married to his cousin Melanie) gives her a sympathetic vulnerability.

Clark Gable, already a huge star and the people’s choice to play Rhett, is charismatic and handsome. The fact that he and Leigh did not get along make their fights and sexual tension electric. They love each other, but also hate each other and this is transmitted on screen. Rhett is his own man- he defines himself as not a northerner, but not a southerner either. He is a vagabond and spends many nights at the local brothel in the company of Belle Watling. The character of Rhett is independent and strong.

The supporting characters are colorful, lively, and humorous. Aunt Pittypat with her dramatic worrying and smelling salts and Prissy with her insistence on expert child-birthing when in reality she knows nothing, are moments meant to lighten the mood. Mammie, a mother-figure to Scarlett, is a moral, kind, yet tough character. Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) is an even sweeter character in her caring and selflessness. Lesser characters such as Dr. Meade, Suellen, Carreen, India, and Frank Kennedy all serve their purpose and are not throwaway characters.

Bothersome is that over the years Gone with the Wind has been unfairly “feminized” once it began airing as an alternative to the annual Super Bowl, the assumption being that only women would enjoy it, is silly. I do not find this film to be a female film and frankly, some of the battle scenes are quite masculine, with epic fires and guns galore. Is Gone with the Wind now considered a racist film? Perhaps so, and time has made the political incorrectness much more glaring- this point can be debated endlessly. Ashley participates in a hooded Klan organization and is a hero of the film! Certainly the slaves are portrayed as happy, kindly, and comfortable with their place in life all throughout the film, vastly different from what surely transpired. However, Hattie McDaniel (Mammie) won the first ever Oscar for a black actress so that was monumental progress and influence. Using seemingly thousands of extras, the war torn Atlanta scene where the camera rises up and up and up panning down on hundreds of wounded and dead Union soldiers as Scarlett defeatedly walks among them is still heartbreaking to watch and is a reminder of the power and destruction that war is.

Gone with the Wind is an epic masterpiece from long ago that still holds up amazingly well. The sets, the rich characters, and the costumes can be admired and still inspire today.

The Wizard of Oz-1939

The Wizard of Oz-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Judy Garland

Top 100 Films-#11

Scott’s Review #34

70039535

Reviewed June 17, 2014

Grade: A

The Wizard of Oz is a magical film and one of my all time favorites- made in 1939 it still holds up amazingly well and the nuances continue to admire- especially given the time in which it was made. 1939 belongs to this film and Gone With the Wind- as both were and are true classics.

This film is so embedded in people’s minds that it can be tough to look at from an objective point of view. I fondly recall watching this gem annually as it aired on television each holiday season- traditionally around Thanksgiving if memory serves.

It’s a marvel from start to finish and masterfully artistic. How creative to show the first portion in black and white with dusty muted colors, not to mention the astounding twister sequence- done using a stocking. Then, we are introduced to a magic world filled with luscious colors and art direction still mind-blowing in depth. Munchkin-land, Glinda the Good Witch, and Emerald City are beautiful, lavish, and treats.

Who does not become teary-eyed during Judy Garland’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? The poignancy is becoming given the tragic (yet successful) life the star would lead.

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch/Elmira Gulch is delicious in her nastiness. As she mocks Dorothy, who whimpers in tears while missing Auntie Em, she almost sneers at the camera. One can tell she had a ball with this role.

And The Wizard of Oz is not simply a pop culture hit- it has merit and creativity. The special effects hold up tremendously well and were simplistic back then, no CGI in those days, but in many ways better than the CGI of today.

Audiences of all ages must see this film at least once, preferably in Blu-Ray. Judy Garland, later a tragic, troubled, lost figure, captured an innocence that was so sadly lost through the years. All of the characters (The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man) are perfectly cast and are uniquely created without being too over-the-top. Very few films are timeless and this is one of them.