A Movie A Day #222: Secret Service of the Air (1939, directed by Noel M. Smith)

When a secret service agent’s investigation into a supposed counterfeiting ring instead leads to him discovering a plot to smuggle illegal aliens into the United States via airplanes, the agent ends up plummeting several hundred miles to his death.  Realizing that they need someone who can go undercover and infiltrate the smuggling ring, the Secret Service recruits Lt. Brass Bancroft (Ronald Reagan).  Bancroft is a war hero who is now a commercial airline pilot.  He is also good with his fists, has an innate sense of right and wrong, and a sidekick named Gabby (Eddie Foy Jr., giving a very broad performance as the movie’s comic relief).  But before Brass can win the trust of the smugglers, he will have to establish a firm cover story and that means allowing himself to be arrested on fake charges.  In order to save the day, Brass will have to first survive prison.

If Secret Service of the Air is remembered today, it is because it featured future President Ronald Reagan in an early starring role.  In the role of Brass Bancroft, Reagan gives a performance that can be best described as being amiable.  He may not be anyone’s idea of a good actor but he is likable, a trait that served him well when, 26 years later, he ran for governor of California.  As for the rest of the movie, it was obviously cheaply made but it is also only an hour long, which means that there is rarely time for a dull moment.  It plays out like as serial, with a new cliffhanger ever few minutes.  Though Reagan was dismissive in the film in his autobiography, Secret Service of the Air was enough of an unexpected success that he would play Brass Bancroft is two sequels.

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