Many moons prior to his holding office as 40th President of the United States, being elected as Governor of California or establishing the classic phrase “I don’t recall” into the national lexicon, Ronald Wilson Reagan was an actor. Granted, he wasn’t a very good actor (see: Death Valley Days) — not by today’s standards, at least (and some feel the same way about his status as Head of Government, as well) — but, as the quintessential b-movie leading man of the ‘30s and ‘40s, ol’ Ronnie turned the heads of many a lass and inspired American men and boys of all ages to proudly support their country.
Wait, what? Actors stirring some sort of patriotic enthusiasm out of their audiences? Yeah, we really don’t see that sort of thing anymore like we did with the Silver Screen stars of from the Greatest or Silent Generations, do we? Well, we do every once in a while, but they’re usually sitting with people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Alas, we are not here to mete out any feelings some of us may hold towards maniacal conservative talk-show shock-jocks with verbal diarrhea and incurable folly; we’re here to take a gander at a couple of old Ronald Reagan movies from World War II — long before the words “patriotism” and “extremism” became so confounded with each other.
And, honestly folks, I’m not trying to make fun of Ronnie here. Really.
Now then, during the ‘30s and ‘40s, Hollywood concocted many a strewn franchise about cowboys, detectives, and even secret agents. A few of such now-legendary characters have gone down in the Annals of Cinematic History, while many others were simply swept under the Red Carpet over the years for being nothing more than cheapo b-movies. Which brings us to a guy known as “Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service.” While this character isn’t as noteworthy in the Chronicles of Moving Pictures as someone like, say, “Hopalong Cassidy” (or even “Holt of the Secret Service,” for that matter), he isn’t quite as easily forgotten as Bill Elliott’s legacy as “Wild Bill Saunders.”
And, to make sure we don’t forget about Brass and his celluloid exploits, Warner Bros has put together a Manufactured-On-Demand DVD(-R) release of Brass Bancroft Of The Secret Service Mysteries Collection, a series of four quickie movies that were based on several real life accounts accumulated by former Secret Service Chief W.H. Moran, and which played on the bottom end of a Saturday Matinee double feature. All four films were made by Warner Brothers, starred the great Ronald Reagan as our dashing hero, and served as starring vehicles for the actor.
We begin with 1939’s Secret Service Of The Air, which introduces Lt. “Brass” Bancroft — a pilot who gets recruited by the Secret Service to infiltrate and help bring down a ruthless gang of smugglers based just below the American border in Mexico, who have been runnin’ illegal immigrants in that aren’t Mexican (such émigrés exists, believe it or not — you hear that, Limbaugh?) for a fee. A jaunting moment at the beginning has a nervous pilot dropping his entire cargo (read: human beings) from his small aircraft via a secret trap door (years before Christopher Walken ever did it in A View To A Kill) when the Feds get wise to ‘em.
Secret Service Of The Air also familiarizes us with Bancroft’s wacky sidekick, “Gabby” Walters: who is always savin’ Brass’ bacon throughout the string of films when he’s not being the token comic relief. Our first film also tosses in a love interest for Lt. Bancroft, who is played by one Ila Rhodes. Not only was the beautiful young actress engaged to Ronald Reagan around the time the movie was made, but the poor lass never went anywhere as an actress after she and Reagan separated and Ronnie went on to marry Jane Wyman the following year (in Hollywood, it’s not what you know…). True to life, that particular love interest is never seen, heard from, or mentioned ever again — even though Brass heads off to marry her at the conclusion of the first film.
In the second Brass Bancroft flick, Code Of The Secret Service (also from 1939), Brass journeys down to Mexico (again) to go after some counterfeiters. While he’s there, he gets framed for murder when bad guys knife one of his fellow undercover agents and has to track down the phony money makers while eluding the Mexican authorities (whom Brass’ sidekick Gabby plays strip poker with) in the process.