I just got this week from Warners a review copy of a new release from the Warner Archive. Many of their release I already know well and I’ve heard of most all of them. Not so with this new 2-DVDR set entitled the Brass Bancroft Mystery Collection. The collection is in fact four fairly short B pictures, all made in either 1939 or 1940 and starring a fledgling actor named Ronald Reagan.
The four films in order are Secret Service of the Air, Code of the Secret Service, Smashing the Money Ring, and Murder in the Air. They were all released in 1939 with the exception of the last one, which was released in 1940. Although they are not often mentioned now, they must have been fairly successful at the time, as four films in less than 18 months surely was the result of some level of popularity.
All four, however, are fairly standard B pictures, which is exactly what they were made to be. Reagan plays former Navy pilot and current Treasury office Brass Bancroft. The plots of the films are quite mundane but strong B level fare with lots of action, suspense, and odd bits of humor. Little time is spent on character development or backstory.
For example, throughout the entire series no explanation is ever given for the name “Brass.” It isn’t exactly a common name and presumably it is a nickname or had some unique genesis which the viewer may want to hear. Oh well.
There is a fair amount of stock footage from the WB archive which is cut into some of the action sequences. At some points this becomes a bit much but we have to take this in the context that these were never intended to be classics. I mean when you rattle off the many many outstanding pictures in what was surely Hollywood’s greatest year, you never mention Secret Service of the Air, do you?
My only real criticism, if you could call it that, is that the Gipper is just too clean for this job. In a few of the films he infiltrates alien smuggling or counterfeit rings, but he seems completely out of place with the gangs he is supposedly ingratiating himself with. It’s minor, but that’s me.
These are good fun. There are the holes in the story as I noted and production could be better. What perhaps could not be better (short of a full restoration) is the quality of these discs. These look really sharp considering their age and although it isn’t mentioned, I’m sure these are not restored outside of perhaps minimal fixes.
And the end result looks incredible and sharp. I’ve seen much less vintage fare looking far worse. In addition, these look better than the Warner Archive’s earlier releases. I took out my copy of Three Comrades from 1938 which was one of the earlier (perhaps even the original lot) releases from the Archives. These Reagan films look dramatically better. But again I don’t know the quality of the source material. My guess is that WB has improved the process a bit.
So again, this isn’t something you need to have but definitely doesn’t hurt. If the snow clears enough for the UPS guy to get up to the walk to you this might be something to consider. Plus, at least right now you can get the set from The WB Shop for $15. Now that’s hard to beat.
Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Thanks!