“Secret Service Of The Air” (1939)

lobby card

Directed by Noel Smith
Warner Brothers
US, 61 minutes
Starring Ronald Reagan, John Litel, Ila Rhodes

February 6 is Ronald Reagan’s birthday and this year, had he still been alive, he would have been 100. In celebration of this, Warner was kind enough to stream one of his early films, Secret Service of the Air for free. This was the first time I had sat through one of his films because, let’s face it, he was a B-Movie actor. If he hadn’t become President, no one would care about him today at all. Seeing Secret Service just confirms this.

In it, he plays pilot Brass Bancroft, who is asked by the Secret Service to get into an illegal immigration ring so they can stop it. The first twenty minutes of the film is used to give Bancroft the necessary criminal record to get in, because apparently this smuggling ring only hires criminals. Like just about every other plot point in this film, if you start to think about it, you only realize how silly it is. If the government has the evidence and knows this is going on, why do they need to catch them in the act? Just go arrest them. On top of that, why can’t they just write up a criminal record for Bancroft?

Of course, though, the point of a B-Movie is to watch it to enjoy it and not really think too much about it. If you can do that, this is actually a fun movie.  The production values are cheap and silly (why does Reagan need to be wearing such heavy make-up in close-ups?) and the acting is pretty pathetic (it’s pretty sad, but watch out for the great George Bancroft, who starred in von Sternberg’s silents and played the Sheriff in Stagecoach, making an appearance towards the end), but it’s also only an hour, so it doesn’t take too much of your time.

Reagan made three more films as the same character, so Warner bundled all four into a 2-DVD Warner Archive set.

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