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Case Number 20795: Small Claims Court

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Brass Bancroft Of The Secret Service Mysteries Collection

Code Of The Secret Service
1939 // 58 Minutes // Not Rated
Secret Service Of The Air
1939 // 61 Minutes // Not Rated
Smashing The Money Ring
1939 // 57 Minutes // Not Rated
Murder In The Air
1940 // 56 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 28th, 2011

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All Rise...

International filmmakers, beware of Judge Gordon "Brass" Sullivan.

The Charge

International Spies Beware!

The Case

The Hollywood studio system required a constant flood of product, and not only to fill theaters. Because of the contract system, if a studio wasn't making a movie, they were losing money paying stars, crew, and mortgages on real estate. So the constant production of films, even those destined for second or third billing, was essential. I can only imagine that's why the "Brass" Bancroft of the Secret Service films got made. They're a series of films featuring our illustrious fortieth president Ronald Reagan. They're middling action pictures at best, but thanks to the furor over what would have been Ronnie's hundredth birthday and the attention of the Warner Archive Collection, fans can enjoy these hard-to-find films.

In all four films, Ronald Reagan plays Lt. "Brass" Bancroft, a Secret Service agent in charge of doing what Secret Service agents do when not guarding the president—catching counterfeiters and foiling other criminals. All four Bancroft films are included in this set on two discs:

Secret Service of the Air
In pre-Department of Homeland Security days, the Secret Service handled some of the issues related to illegal aliens. When a pilot smuggling illegal aliens dumps his load (which includes a Secret Service Agent) rather than be captured, the Secret Service has to call on the talents of agent Bancroft to infiltrate the smuggling ring and bring it down.

Code of the Secret Service
While investigating a counterfeit ring, the evil counterfeiters murder Bancroft's partner, pinning the murder on him. He has to beat the rap so he can save himself and expose the money men.

Smashing the Money Ring
We find Bancroft going up against counterfeiters again, and this time he has to infiltrate a prison to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Murder in the Air
For his final outing, Bancroft must impersonate a dead man to infiltrate a group of bad guys sabotaging deliveries for the war effort.

All four of these movies are firmly in the "B" camp of Hollywood productions. That means they were given minimal budgets, second-rate scripts, and little time to get things done (all four of these films appeared in either 1939 or 1940). They were intended to play as the companions to bigger films, and it shows. The acting (including lead Ronald Reagan) is passably at best, and wooden at worst. The action set pieces are well imagined, but don't have to budget to pull off much (and several decades later can sometimes look a bit laughable). The sets are generic, and the whole set gives off the feeling of a hastily mounted television production. The television vibe is furthered by the short (sub-60 minute) running time of these features.

However, for those willing to take Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service on its own merits, there's much to be enjoyed. Never intended as high art, the films don't seem to take themselves too seriously (even if they do claim to be based on the work of W.H. Moran, ex-Chief of the Secret Service). There's a fun, campy quality to watching them these days, and the old Hollywood charms are definitely on display.

All four of these films were made just prior to the moment Reagan became a national star as "The Gipper," which also makes them prior to his enlistment in the military and his political career. As such, they offer a fascinating look at a guy with definite charisma learning his craft in the pressure cooker of the studio system (which Jimmy Stewart has said is the best training for a film actor). These films are essentially all Ronnie, all the time. The character doesn't require him to stretch too much beyond being a support system for a strong jaw, but Reagan invests the character with his charm and determination.

The Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service Mysteries Collection is being released as part of the Warner Archive collection, which means they've taken the films out of their archives with minimal cleanup, and are printing the films on DVD-R on demand. All things considered these films look good. Contrast is fairly strong, print damage isn't too bad, and grain isn't a huge problem. There is some flicker, and the prints aren't in perfect shape, but for B movies from the era they look great. The mono soundtracks are all well-balanced, with little in the way of hiss or distortion. The only real downside of this collection (like all in the Warner Archive Collection) is the lack of extras. So fans looking for a featurette or two on Reagan or the Secret Service will be disappointed. Also, the back of this set warns that the DVDs are designed to be played back in play-only DVD devices. They can be hit-or-miss in DVD burners and the like. I had trouble in one of my DVD drives, but not the other, so if your only DVD player is also a burner, your mileage may vary.

The Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service Mysteries Collection is a great collection for fans of Ronald Reagan or the Hollywood studio-era B action picture. Everyone else should probably avoid the collection, as these aren't stellar examples of the form.

The Verdict

It hasn't aged well, but Brass Bancroft is not guilty.

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Scales of Justice, Code Of The Secret Service

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Code Of The Secret Service

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 58 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Code Of The Secret Service

• None

Scales of Justice, Secret Service Of The Air

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Secret Service Of The Air

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 61 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Secret Service Of The Air

• None

Scales of Justice, Smashing The Money Ring

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Smashing The Money Ring

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 57 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Smashing The Money Ring

• None

Scales of Justice, Murder In The Air

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Murder In The Air

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 56 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Murder In The Air

• None








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