Saturday 19 January 2008

The Secret Bride (1934)

'This picture approved by the production code administration of the motion picture producers & distributors of America' says 'certificate no 384', which unfortunately means that this is 1934 and the precodes are gone. That's bad, especially as the two lead stars here were two of the leading stars of the precodes and one of them wouldn't really make it out. Warren William simply couldn't exist properly under the code so faded away into detective B movies and whatever he could get. He remained stunning but he wasn't allowed to shine the way he was made. Barbara Stanwyck could adapt though and found her way to different roles and shine she did just as William couldn't.

A few months earlier they probably wouldn't have been married, but we see the ceremony at the beginning of the film. He's a state attorney general, Robert Sheldon, and she's Ruth Vincent, daughter of Walter Vincent, the governor of a neighbouring state. Unfortunately before they can tell anyone, the very same governor gets caught up in a bribery case. The secretary of a convicted embezzler that he pardoned is caught red handed putting ten thousand dollars into his personal bank account. While the House of Representatives investigates Vincent, Sheldon investigates the embezzler, John F Holdstock, but he has to do so while keeping the wedding a secret.

This may be a code film but there's plenty of dubious practices going on. Sheldon is definitely one of the good guys, but he investigates without making pretty crucial knowledge public, uncovers the best proof against the governor but hands it over to his wife to confront her father with, even hides his wife from an investigation she becomes a witness to a murder. When Ruth visits Holdstock's secretary at work and finds that he's home sick, the firm just hands over his home address. All this is precode stuff, so I guess the early films under the code took a while to adjust.

There's a lot of cool stuff going on here. There's some early CSI type procedural material, matching notes to typewriters, checking the rifling on bullets and means of anonymous voting within a jury. Stanwyck is the star, and she's good, but it's William who shines brightest, with his secretary running a close second. She's Glenda Farrell, four years before Torchy Blane, but then I've been discovering how great she was way before then in films like Merry Wives of Reno and in more famous fare like Lady for a Day, Mystery of the Wax Museum or I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.

Even the court scenes were well done, with plenty of electricity. William Davidson is a solid interrogator and Grant Mitchell isn't bad at all as a nervous employee drawn into far more than he ever wanted. The mystery is decent, but the film is over too quickly, probably because I'm sure there are a whole slew of plot holes if only the speed hadn't effectively covered them all up. One thing I really enjoyed was pretty minor, all things considering, but still worthy of note. Newspapers fly at the screen as you'd expect, but these are fully set except for headlines which animate into place. I don't think I've seen this before, but certainly haven't this early on.

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