In Name Only (1939)

Fishing on a sunny afternoon can be quite a pleasant thing. It is quite relaxing. The fishing rod’s string gets stuck to one of the tree branches, and it isn’t enjoyable anymore. A good-looking stranger comes to the rescue, and there it began the story of ‘In Name Only.’

Julia Eden (Carole Lombard) is fishing with her daughter Ellen (Peggy Ann Garner) when the string gets stuck. Outcomes Alec Walker (Cary Grant) to offer his help. He is the son of the fishing estate owner. He strikes a conversation with Julia, and they both seem to have an excellent time chatting up.

It isn’t surprising that they fall in love with each other. Relatively easy to fall in love. Alec Walker is the son of a wealthy man who has an excellent reputation in social circles. Alec is unhappily married to Maida Walker (Kay Francis), which is one reason to fall in love with Julia. Julia and Alec keep meeting often, and it is clear the liking they have for each other.

Julia is unaware of Alec’s marital status. It takes a car accident and Julia’s sketchbook in the car for Maida to know about the other lady’s presence in Alec’s life. Who is Maida? She is a good-looking lady, a very calm, gentle, loving wife, and a daughter-in-law. That was the impression she had on Alec’s parents while having no such affection towards Alec.

Marrying a wealthy man’s son and being among the top in social circles can be quite an incentive, and she wasn’t the one to let go of this at any cost. She wasn’t in love to be married to Alec and wasn’t prepared to give up even when Alec wasn’t interested in her.

She makes quite a scene of Alec’s attraction for Julia and refuses to give divorce when Alec asks for one. Instead, she decides to be with Alec’s parents to have their support against her husband, their son. Julia is in love with Alec and is looking forward to being with Alec.

Once she gets the message from Maida and, coupled with Alec’s hesitance to break the social norm and accept her in total, she decides to give up on the relationship, thinking it has no future. Alec is in the middle of a deep emotional crisis, and he decides to become a recluse and stays in a hotel.

He gets drunk on a winter night and manages to get ill (pneumonia) as he doesn’t pay any attention to the cold winters of Christmas. He is admitted to the hospital. To restore Alec’s zeal, Julia decides to comfort him, falsely assuring him about them getting together.

Maida steps into the room, and Julia, while trying to block her, gets into a confrontation with her. Maida confesses openly about her intentions and states the reason for getting married. She even claims to have sacrificed her love to marry Alec and for the social status attached to it. This was overheard by Alec’s parents and recognises what kind of illusion they have been all this long.

One of the fascinating aspects of this movie is the intense portrayal of all the main three characters. Kay Francis impresses with her impish tricks, while Carole Lombard exhibits the other extreme of a lady pristinely in love. Cary Grant plays the lovable, irritated guy who manages to pull off Alec Walker’s role with subtle sophistication.

Directed by John Cromwell, the story of this 1939 RKO release is inspired by Bessie Breuer, an American writer’s debut novel ‘In Memory on Love’ (1935)

Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Baranca, a small stop in South America where Dutchman owns an airmail service, is where Bonnie (Jean Arthur) makes a stop. She encounters a group of mail pilots in a social shack.

The head of these mail comrades is Geoff Carter (Cary Grant), who has ample confidence yet retains the charm and sophistication.

It isn’t surprising Bonnie is falling for him. These mail pilots’ work is quite a tricky one, as the natural mountain slides coupled with tropical weather are always a recipe for an aviation disaster, the main being the plane crash—Geoff ventures to flying only under challenging circumstances.

Bonnie, amazed by Geoff, is repeatedly shut off whenever she tried getting to know Geoff better. It is evident, Geoff is cynical towards women and vows not to take any favours from them.

Each of his choices has a history behind it. His daring lifestyle didn’t go well with his ex, and as a result, she left him. It had a profound effect on his way of thinking. He became tougher, a touch more than what he was.

In the sub-plot, a couple comes down to Baranca. They both have a connection to Geoff and the group of mail pilots. Bat Macpherson (Richard Barthelmess) is seen as a villain in the eyes of all the pilots.

He once jumped out of the plane leaving behind the mechanic moments before the plane crash. This didn’t go well with the team and more so with Kid, who lost his brother in that crash. The agency was on the lookout for more pilots, and Bat was looking for a new challenge.

Bat’s wife Judy (Rita Hayworth) was Geoff’s ex. Her presence made Geoff a bit tougher on Bat and made it difficult to forget the past. One of the best scenes is when Judy gets drunk and has a word with Geoff; in some ways, clarity is provided as to why things happened and how it unfolded in the past.

Not a man to live in his emotions, Geoff is in serious need of workforce to get the Government’s contract. He offers the job to Bat, as he realises there is none better than him to weather the storm.

In a mission to deliver the cylinders, Bat is accompanied by Kid. Not in good terms, while flying, they encounter the storm as they try to deliver the goods.

Flying across Andes Mountains during a storm isn’t an easy task, and while Bat is trying his best to reach the destination, a bird hits the plane, and it catches fire. Bat battles it out and lands the aircraft amidst the fire on it. Kid is badly injured, and he dies not before he tells Geoff about Bat’s bravery.

Bonnie, unable to get the attention from Geoff, decides to leave Baranca. – “I am hard to get Geoff; all you have to do is ask me”. Geoff offers her a coin. Heads – she stays and Tails – she leaves.

Before he starts to toss the coin, the clouds clear and Geoff runs down to the flight for his next mission. Bonnie waits as she decides not to leave hurriedly and hopes to toss the coin with heads being on both sides.

I was amazed by Jean Arthur’s characterisation in this movie. This was my first movie of hers, and I was fascinated by her charm, and no wonder she remains one of my favorites. Beauty, brains, and a wonderful actor, that’s Jean Arthur to sum it up.

On the other hand, it was another scintillating performance by Cary Grant, who puts his coat of sophistication to perfection.

Rita Hayworth was provided with the acting platform to play prominent stream roles and achieve fame in the years to come. Directed by Howard Hawks, this 1939 classic was nominated for two Oscars under Best Cinematography (B/W) and Best Special effects (Audio and Visual).

Gunga Din (1939)

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem, the movie is set in the mid-1800s when the British regiment had made a settlement in India. There were quite a few rebellious groups formed to eliminate the British rule, with resistance coming from all quarters.

This movie had one such group who revered Goddess Kali (an important deity in Hindu mythology, Goddess of Blood) dedicated their lives to destroy the British army.

The movie is about a Hindu water carrier called ‘Gunga Din.’ Since childhood, he always wanted to be in the army. He was not allowed, which never bothered him as he learned the military’s tricks by observing the soldiers.

He gets friendly with Sgt Cutter and also tells him about the gold which can be taken back from a Kali temple. Parallely, there is an uprising of a religious group under the leadership of Swami, played by Eduardo Ciannelli.

The group had previously attacked many such regiments at different villages, and now they had made arrangements to eliminate the British army in that area.

I am not comfortable using the technical word for such groups. Although in English and the movie, they are referred to as ‘Thuggees’, I will not use the name. During the British rule, it was the perception, and often such groups were branded as enemies and not seen as patriots.

From a movie’s point of view, I can only talk about performances on screen. The film talks about three army sergeants and the rapport they shared working together. Sgt Archibald Cutter (Cary Grant), Sgt Mac Chesney (Victor Mc Laglen), and Sgt Ballantine (Douglas Fairbank Jr) are fun-loving army personnel who love going on adventures together.

All was fine until one of them decides to leave the service to get married. In what is called a final mission, the two trick the soon to be groom to be a part of the troop.

In search of gold, Sgt Cutter and Gunga Din get trapped in a massive religious group gathering. As a part of the plan, Sgt Cutter surrenders to the group while instructing Gunga Din to inform his army troop about the place and situation.

Call it miscommunication; the two friends, along with Gunga Din, turn up at the temple. All are caught, and Gunga Din is branded as a traitor for helping the British. While in the temple, the three musketeers get to know the master plan of the rebellion to eliminate the entire British army.

The last part of the movie talks about Gunga Din’s gallantry, who risks his life to warn the British troops and manages to convey the message of the traps set by the rebellion.

On the other hand, it talks about the patriotism of Swami and his men, who are fighting for their freedom, for their country.

Although, the methods employed are violent, it wasn’t for fun. They had a purpose, and they went about in their way.

In a periodic movie to some extent, George Stevens displays his taste for humour showcases army staff enjoying a good laugh as they went about waging wars. Joan Fontaine plays the sole female in few scenes and fails to capture the audience in a bland role. Sam Jaffe in the title role impresses with his tailor-made acting of a Hindu water carrier.

“Tho’ I’ve belted you and flayed you, by the livin’ Gawd that made you, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!” – Rudyard Kipling, last line of his highly acclaimed poem of the same name.

Released in 1939, RKO productions made this movie, which was the costliest at that time. Considering the war scenes and sets resembling rural India, the film was aptly nominated for an Oscar in the Best Cinematography Black and White category.

The Roaring Twenties (1939)

‘The Roaring Twenties’ refers to the period post-WWI and the events during the 1920s in North America and other parts of Europe.

The recession hit America is not able to find jobs for the war veterans who return from Europe. Eddie Bartlett, George Hally, and Llyod Hart meet and become friends towards the war’s end.

Jean Sherman, played by Priscilla Lane, becomes a big fan of Eddie Bartlett for his heroics at war and sends him her photograph and letters during his stay in Europe.

Upon return to America, they find jobs hard to secure. Llyod Hart goes to practice law. George Hally, played by Humphrey Bogart, enters into bootlegging. The same would be Eddie Bartlett’s path, who becomes one of the members to have a bootleg business.

American prohibition law at that time prevented the manufacture, selling, import, and export of liquor. So this was taken as an opportunity to trade alcohol illegally.

He builds a fleet of cabs by selling bootleg liquors and hires Llyod Hart as his lawyer.

Eddie helps Jean Sherman to get a job in a speakeasy run by Panama Smith. Eddie is in love with Jean, and she is under obligation because of all the favours done to him.

The plot thickens when George becomes the partner and sets about killing the rival gang to regain supremacy.

Love debacle when it becomes clear that Jean Sherman and Llyod Hart are in love, his breakout with George and subsequent fall of share market doesn’t go well with Eddie. He spends some time in prison for his activities.

Eddie starts afresh by driving a cab, meets Jean Sherman after few years. Llyod Hart, happily married to Jean Sherman, has a home, a kid and a good work position. His life is under threat since Llyod is out to enforce specific legal laws that would ruin his business.

The final part is one of the defining moments when Jean Sherman asks Eddie to save her family. Eddie and George are having a confrontation resulting in gunshots and both being dead.

The character of Eddie Bartlett is inspired by the life and career of bootlegger Larry Fay. This movie also turned out to be one of the last action films James Cagney featured in before he set out to venture into other character roles.

Released in 1939, The Roaring Twenties was directed by Raoul Walsh. Look out for scenes where Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney share the space. It’s a viewer’s delight.