Code of the Secret Service


58m 1939
Code of the Secret Service

Brief Synopsis

Secret Service agents try to solve the theft of treasury banknote plates.

Film Details

Also Known As
Smashing the Money Ring
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Crime
Release Date
May 27, 1939
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 6 Nov 1939
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Mexico
Screenplay Information
Based on material compiled by W. H. Moran, Ex-Chief of the United States Secret Service.

Technical Specs

Duration
58m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6 reels

Synopsis

Tom Saxby, head of the United States Secret Service, assigns Lieutenant Brass Bancroft and his assistant, Gabby, to go to Mexico to investigate a gang of counterfeiters who have stolen treasury engraving plates that are being used to flood the country with spurious bills. Bancroft joins agent Dan Crackett in a little Mexican town, but spotters for the gang trail him there. To erase suspicion that they are working together, Brass and Crackett stage a fight in the Silver Dollar Saloon, which is a front for the counterfeiting operation. During the fight, Crackett slips a note to Brass informing him that the leader of the counterfeiters is a peg-legged man named Parker, and when the lights go out, Crackett is shot and killed. Brass flees when the police arrive and he realizes that he is going to be framed for the murder. Brass instructs Gabby to meet him in the Mexican village of Santa Margarita, and then boards a train. When Brass asks the train conductor how to get to Santa Margarita, the train conductor suggests that he ask the two men in the next car, who are going to the same place. Although Brass declines to involve the two men, who he believes are part of the counterfeiting ring, the conductor tells them about Brass's request and they immediately recognize him from the Silver Slipper shooting. In an attempt to shake Brass off their trail, the two toss a note, which says that a murder suspect is aboard, out of the train as it passes a switch operator's station, and at the next stop the police board the train looking for Brass. Brass makes a daring escape by jumping off the train while it crosses a bridge, and loses the police by hiding underwater. When a man dressed as a friar stops to offer Brass a lift, he is taken not to a monastary, but to Santa Clarita, where the friar reveals that he is the head of the counterfeit operation. After Brass is shot while attempting to escape, he fakes his death and eludes the friar, whose real name is Parker, long enough to find the evidence he needs. He then flees, only to be captured by the police, who doubt his story and jail him. Gabby rides into town just in time to help Brass make a jailbreak by creating a diversion with a game of strip poker. Brass escapes and meets Elaine, a racher's daughter, whom he kidnaps and forces to take him to the nearest telegraph station. The two head for the telegraph office to send the State Department a wire confirming that the counterfeiters have been found. However, Parker's men intercept them before they get there and bring them back to their old mission hide-out. Though the men tie up Brass and Elaine, they are able to free themselves long enough to destroy some of the money plates. Eventually they are caught and are left to die in the monastary after Parker has it blown up. Parker's men die in the explosion, but Parker escapes with some of the plates. While being pursued by the police, Parker's car is hurtled over an embankment and he is killed. Having recovered the plates, Brass returns to Washington, his mission accomplished.

Film Details

Also Known As
Smashing the Money Ring
Genre
Drama
Adventure
Crime
Release Date
May 27, 1939
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 6 Nov 1939
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Mexico
Screenplay Information
Based on material compiled by W. H. Moran, Ex-Chief of the United States Secret Service.

Technical Specs

Duration
58m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
6 reels

Articles

Code of the Secret Service


Ronald Reagan stars as Treasury Department agent Brass Bancroft in Code of the Secret Service (1939) – the second film in Warner Bros.'s Secret Service series. The saga kicked off with Secret Service of the Air (1939), starring Reagan, Eddie Foy, Jr., and Rosella Towne. All three were back in action for the sequel and so were director Noel Smith and producer Bryan Foy (who was the brother of star Eddie Foy, Jr.). This time the story centered on some stolen U.S. Treasury engraving plates and a counterfeiting ring that Reagan and Foy trace to Mexico. Yet, despite the talented cast and momentum from a successful first outing, Code of the Secret Service failed to live up to the expectations set by Secret Service of the Air.

In fact, Reagan disliked the picture so much that he urged the studio not to release it - and he was not the only one who felt that way. Producer Foy, known for saving many a film in the cutting room, deemed Code of the Secret Service beyond repair. Even when director Smith approached him with an idea to fix the movie ($30,000 worth of reshoots), Foy decided it was not worth the expense. As Reagan would later relate, it was often necessary for the main actors and director to rewrite the quickly churned out Secret Service scripts on the set, "plugging [their] more glaring holes." But in this case, producer Foy had urged them to shoot the script as written. The results left Reagan to comment, "never has an egg of such dimensions been laid."

Of course Warners was not about to shelve the film, no matter how disappointing it was. The studio did, however, make a concession to rising star Reagan – they would not release the film in Los Angeles. Still, it seems Reagan could not escape the film's shadow. One famous anecdote related how he was walking past a theater in another city where Code of the Secret Service was showing and the ticket taker recognizing him. The boy just shook his head and told the future President, "you should be ashamed." Critics generally agreed with this assessment. Variety likened Code of the Secret Service to the ridiculous tribulations silent star Pearl White used to endure in her serials.

From today's perspective, however, Code of the Secret Service is an interesting snapshot of its era - an example of the studio machine at work and a barometer of the country's climate in the late '30s. The genre of the law and order film, for example, was a direct response to the gangster films which had been popular earlier in the decade. For its part, Warners' had turned out such crowd-pleasing gangster dramas as Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (both 1931). Some politicians such as Attorney General Homer Cummings did not find these films entertaining – and instead believed they bred disrespect toward law enforcement. Cummings set up the Conference on Crime in 1934, with the aim of improving the image of federal agents, and enlisted the help of Hollywood morality watchman Will Hays.

Hays put pressure on studio head Harry Warner to turn out more "positive" crime pictures and the result was a new trend beginning with G-men (1935) starring James Cagney as a FBI man. The Secret Service series was also an attempt, along these same lines, to highlight the heroism of federal agents. The studio even hired the former chief of the Secret Service, William Moran, and ex-FBI special agent William L. Guthrie as consultants. Guthrie, for one, praised the series, citing the "fear and respect they inspire[d] in the hearts of law-breakers and would-be-law-breakers."

Along with shaping public perception of law enforcement, Warner Bros. was also busy creating a persona for Ronald Reagan in the Secret Service pictures. One frequently repeated story from the set of Code of the Secret Service had Reagan showing up for work and asking his director, "when do I fight and whom?" The studio PR version of the story also found the all-American Reagan with "five skinned knuckles, a bruised knee and a lump half the size of an egg on his head" just an hour later.

Code of the Secret Service was Reagan's fourteenth film appearance in only two years – he had made his film debut in 1937's Love Is on the Air. Two more Brass Bancroft films would follow: Smashing the Money Ring (1939) and Murder in the Air (1940).

Producer: Bryan Foy, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner
Director: Noel Smith
Screenplay: W.H. Moran, Lee Katz, Dean Riesner
Cinematography: Ted D. McCord
Film Editing: Frederick Richards
Art Direction: Charles Novi
Music: Bernhard Kaun, Max Steiner
Cast: Ronald Reagan (Lt. Brass Bancroft), Rosella Towne (Elaine), Eddie Foy, Jr. (Gabby Watters), Moroni Olsen (Parker), Edgar Edwards (Ross), Jack Mower (Decker).
BW-58m.

by Stephanie Thames
Code Of The Secret Service

Code of the Secret Service

Ronald Reagan stars as Treasury Department agent Brass Bancroft in Code of the Secret Service (1939) – the second film in Warner Bros.'s Secret Service series. The saga kicked off with Secret Service of the Air (1939), starring Reagan, Eddie Foy, Jr., and Rosella Towne. All three were back in action for the sequel and so were director Noel Smith and producer Bryan Foy (who was the brother of star Eddie Foy, Jr.). This time the story centered on some stolen U.S. Treasury engraving plates and a counterfeiting ring that Reagan and Foy trace to Mexico. Yet, despite the talented cast and momentum from a successful first outing, Code of the Secret Service failed to live up to the expectations set by Secret Service of the Air. In fact, Reagan disliked the picture so much that he urged the studio not to release it - and he was not the only one who felt that way. Producer Foy, known for saving many a film in the cutting room, deemed Code of the Secret Service beyond repair. Even when director Smith approached him with an idea to fix the movie ($30,000 worth of reshoots), Foy decided it was not worth the expense. As Reagan would later relate, it was often necessary for the main actors and director to rewrite the quickly churned out Secret Service scripts on the set, "plugging [their] more glaring holes." But in this case, producer Foy had urged them to shoot the script as written. The results left Reagan to comment, "never has an egg of such dimensions been laid." Of course Warners was not about to shelve the film, no matter how disappointing it was. The studio did, however, make a concession to rising star Reagan – they would not release the film in Los Angeles. Still, it seems Reagan could not escape the film's shadow. One famous anecdote related how he was walking past a theater in another city where Code of the Secret Service was showing and the ticket taker recognizing him. The boy just shook his head and told the future President, "you should be ashamed." Critics generally agreed with this assessment. Variety likened Code of the Secret Service to the ridiculous tribulations silent star Pearl White used to endure in her serials. From today's perspective, however, Code of the Secret Service is an interesting snapshot of its era - an example of the studio machine at work and a barometer of the country's climate in the late '30s. The genre of the law and order film, for example, was a direct response to the gangster films which had been popular earlier in the decade. For its part, Warners' had turned out such crowd-pleasing gangster dramas as Little Caesar and The Public Enemy (both 1931). Some politicians such as Attorney General Homer Cummings did not find these films entertaining – and instead believed they bred disrespect toward law enforcement. Cummings set up the Conference on Crime in 1934, with the aim of improving the image of federal agents, and enlisted the help of Hollywood morality watchman Will Hays. Hays put pressure on studio head Harry Warner to turn out more "positive" crime pictures and the result was a new trend beginning with G-men (1935) starring James Cagney as a FBI man. The Secret Service series was also an attempt, along these same lines, to highlight the heroism of federal agents. The studio even hired the former chief of the Secret Service, William Moran, and ex-FBI special agent William L. Guthrie as consultants. Guthrie, for one, praised the series, citing the "fear and respect they inspire[d] in the hearts of law-breakers and would-be-law-breakers." Along with shaping public perception of law enforcement, Warner Bros. was also busy creating a persona for Ronald Reagan in the Secret Service pictures. One frequently repeated story from the set of Code of the Secret Service had Reagan showing up for work and asking his director, "when do I fight and whom?" The studio PR version of the story also found the all-American Reagan with "five skinned knuckles, a bruised knee and a lump half the size of an egg on his head" just an hour later. Code of the Secret Service was Reagan's fourteenth film appearance in only two years – he had made his film debut in 1937's Love Is on the Air. Two more Brass Bancroft films would follow: Smashing the Money Ring (1939) and Murder in the Air (1940). Producer: Bryan Foy, Hal B. Wallis, Jack L. Warner Director: Noel Smith Screenplay: W.H. Moran, Lee Katz, Dean Riesner Cinematography: Ted D. McCord Film Editing: Frederick Richards Art Direction: Charles Novi Music: Bernhard Kaun, Max Steiner Cast: Ronald Reagan (Lt. Brass Bancroft), Rosella Towne (Elaine), Eddie Foy, Jr. (Gabby Watters), Moroni Olsen (Parker), Edgar Edwards (Ross), Jack Mower (Decker). BW-58m. by Stephanie Thames

Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004 - TCM Remembers Ronald Reagan


Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)

Ronald Reagan, the actor turned elected official whose fascinating career saw him develop as a contract player for Warner Brothers studios, to a politician who fulfilled his ambitions by becoming the 40th President of the United States, died at his home in Los Angeles on June 5 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93.

He was born Ronald Wilson Reagan on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois to John and Nelle Reagan. When Reagan was nine, his family settled down in the small community of Dixon, about 100 miles west of Chicago. After high school, Reagan enrolled in Eureka College, a small Christian school near Peoria. He graduated in 1932 with a degree in Economics, and pursued a career in broadcasting. His first gig was as a part-time announcer at WOC in Davenport, Iowa. Within a year, WOC had merged with its big-sister station, WHO in Des Moines, and Reagan was hired as a sports announcer.

In the spring of 1937, Reagan drove to Southern California to catch the Chicago Cubs in spring training on Santa Catalina Island. While he was in California, he wrangled a screen test and signed a contract for $200 a week with Warner Brothers. His film debut was rather inauspicious; he portrayed a radio announcer in an innocuous comedy Love is on the Air (1937). He made a few more "B" programmers like Hollywood Hotel (also 1937), and Girls on Probation (1938), before getting his first prominent role opposite Bette Davis in the popular tearjerker, Dark Victory (1939).

Although he seldom got credit for being a good actor, there was no denying that Reagan held his own given the right material: Knute Rockne, All American as the doomed Notre Dame football hero George "The Gipper" Gipp, where he delivered the film's immortal line "Win one for the Gipper!"; Santa Fe Trail in which he ably supports Errol Flynn in one of the boxoffice hits of its era (both 1940); Kings Row (1941), featuring one of his finest performances as a small-town playboy whose legs are amputated by a careless surgeon; and Desperate Journey (1942) where he again supported Flynn in an exciting action picture.

Due to his poor eyesight, Reagan didn't see any action in World War II, so the studio heads assigned him to star in a series of patriotic films produced by the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces in Culver City. Between 1942-45, Reagan starred in over 400 of these films. After the war, Reagan still found some good roles: The Voice of the Turtle (1947) proved he had a deft hand at light comedy opposite Eleanor Parker; The Hasty Heart (1949) offered another underrated performance as he ably portrayed the Yank in John Patrick's much heralded wartime play; and Storm Warning (1950) was a slick melodrama that cast Reagan as a crusading District Attorney determined to bring the KKK in a small southern town, with the help of Doris Day and Ginger Rogers!

It was around this time that Reagan became involved in politics. In 1947, he began a five-year term as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and testified in October of that year before the newly formed House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He identified suspected Communists Larry Parks, Howard Da Silva and Alexander Knox, all of whom were subsequently called to testify, and subsequently blacklisted. Later records showed Reagan was so concerned about the Communist influence in Hollywood, that he became an FBI informer.

As Reagan became steeped in his political career, his parts throughout the '50s became inferior: the notorious Bedtime for Bonzo (1951); the coy "sex" comedy She's Working Her Way Through College (1952) that cast him as a college professor who romances a stripper! (Virginia Mayo); Cattle Queen of Montana (1955), a sluggish Western that even the redoubtable Barbara Stanwyck couldn't save; and finally Hellcats of the Navy (1957), a stodgy war picture that would be his only film that co-starred his wife Nancy (Davis).

Television offered some salvation. For eight years, (1954-62), Reagan served as the host of General Electric Theater, a televised series of dramas. He also found a niche as GE's goodwill ambassador to employees and to civic and business groups around the country, furthering his taste and honing his craft as a public official. By the mid '60s, Reagan would move into politics entirely, save for one last film, the thrilling The Killers (1964), Reagan's only known villainous role, as a murderous gangster. That same year, he actively campaigned for Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, although Goldwater lost to Lyndon B. Johnson.

Reagan whose profile was riding high, had cemented his future as a successful politician. In 1966, he ran against incumbent Governor Pat Brown for the state of California and won, serving successfully for two terms until 1974.

Reagan began an all-out, two-year drive to wrest the 1976 nomination from incumbent Gerald R. Ford, an appointed vice president who became president on the resignation of Nixon. Reagan fell short by a handful of delegates to the Republican national convention. But Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, and Reagan became the front-runner to challenge Carter in 1980. After defeating Carter, Reagan held two terms as President of the United States (1981-89). After his second term was over, he retired quietly in California. In 1994, it was revealed to the media that Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer's disease; he had been kept out of the public eye since then.

He was married briefly to actress Jane Wyman (1940-48), and had two children; a daughter Maureen and an adopted son, Michael. In 1952, he married a budding film starlet, Nancy Davis, who bore him two more children; a daughter, Patty; and a son, Ronald Jr. Ronald Reagan is survived by Nancy, Michael, Patty and Ron Jr. His daughter Maureen died of Melanoma in 2001 at the age of 60.

by Michael T. Toole

Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004 - TCM Remembers Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) Ronald Reagan, the actor turned elected official whose fascinating career saw him develop as a contract player for Warner Brothers studios, to a politician who fulfilled his ambitions by becoming the 40th President of the United States, died at his home in Los Angeles on June 5 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93. He was born Ronald Wilson Reagan on February 6, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois to John and Nelle Reagan. When Reagan was nine, his family settled down in the small community of Dixon, about 100 miles west of Chicago. After high school, Reagan enrolled in Eureka College, a small Christian school near Peoria. He graduated in 1932 with a degree in Economics, and pursued a career in broadcasting. His first gig was as a part-time announcer at WOC in Davenport, Iowa. Within a year, WOC had merged with its big-sister station, WHO in Des Moines, and Reagan was hired as a sports announcer. In the spring of 1937, Reagan drove to Southern California to catch the Chicago Cubs in spring training on Santa Catalina Island. While he was in California, he wrangled a screen test and signed a contract for $200 a week with Warner Brothers. His film debut was rather inauspicious; he portrayed a radio announcer in an innocuous comedy Love is on the Air (1937). He made a few more "B" programmers like Hollywood Hotel (also 1937), and Girls on Probation (1938), before getting his first prominent role opposite Bette Davis in the popular tearjerker, Dark Victory (1939). Although he seldom got credit for being a good actor, there was no denying that Reagan held his own given the right material: Knute Rockne, All American as the doomed Notre Dame football hero George "The Gipper" Gipp, where he delivered the film's immortal line "Win one for the Gipper!"; Santa Fe Trail in which he ably supports Errol Flynn in one of the boxoffice hits of its era (both 1940); Kings Row (1941), featuring one of his finest performances as a small-town playboy whose legs are amputated by a careless surgeon; and Desperate Journey (1942) where he again supported Flynn in an exciting action picture. Due to his poor eyesight, Reagan didn't see any action in World War II, so the studio heads assigned him to star in a series of patriotic films produced by the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces in Culver City. Between 1942-45, Reagan starred in over 400 of these films. After the war, Reagan still found some good roles: The Voice of the Turtle (1947) proved he had a deft hand at light comedy opposite Eleanor Parker; The Hasty Heart (1949) offered another underrated performance as he ably portrayed the Yank in John Patrick's much heralded wartime play; and Storm Warning (1950) was a slick melodrama that cast Reagan as a crusading District Attorney determined to bring the KKK in a small southern town, with the help of Doris Day and Ginger Rogers! It was around this time that Reagan became involved in politics. In 1947, he began a five-year term as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and testified in October of that year before the newly formed House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He identified suspected Communists Larry Parks, Howard Da Silva and Alexander Knox, all of whom were subsequently called to testify, and subsequently blacklisted. Later records showed Reagan was so concerned about the Communist influence in Hollywood, that he became an FBI informer. As Reagan became steeped in his political career, his parts throughout the '50s became inferior: the notorious Bedtime for Bonzo (1951); the coy "sex" comedy She's Working Her Way Through College (1952) that cast him as a college professor who romances a stripper! (Virginia Mayo); Cattle Queen of Montana (1955), a sluggish Western that even the redoubtable Barbara Stanwyck couldn't save; and finally Hellcats of the Navy (1957), a stodgy war picture that would be his only film that co-starred his wife Nancy (Davis). Television offered some salvation. For eight years, (1954-62), Reagan served as the host of General Electric Theater, a televised series of dramas. He also found a niche as GE's goodwill ambassador to employees and to civic and business groups around the country, furthering his taste and honing his craft as a public official. By the mid '60s, Reagan would move into politics entirely, save for one last film, the thrilling The Killers (1964), Reagan's only known villainous role, as a murderous gangster. That same year, he actively campaigned for Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, although Goldwater lost to Lyndon B. Johnson. Reagan whose profile was riding high, had cemented his future as a successful politician. In 1966, he ran against incumbent Governor Pat Brown for the state of California and won, serving successfully for two terms until 1974. Reagan began an all-out, two-year drive to wrest the 1976 nomination from incumbent Gerald R. Ford, an appointed vice president who became president on the resignation of Nixon. Reagan fell short by a handful of delegates to the Republican national convention. But Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, and Reagan became the front-runner to challenge Carter in 1980. After defeating Carter, Reagan held two terms as President of the United States (1981-89). After his second term was over, he retired quietly in California. In 1994, it was revealed to the media that Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer's disease; he had been kept out of the public eye since then. He was married briefly to actress Jane Wyman (1940-48), and had two children; a daughter Maureen and an adopted son, Michael. In 1952, he married a budding film starlet, Nancy Davis, who bore him two more children; a daughter, Patty; and a son, Ronald Jr. Ronald Reagan is survived by Nancy, Michael, Patty and Ron Jr. His daughter Maureen died of Melanoma in 2001 at the age of 60. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

As with other films in Warner Bros.' Secret Service series, this film, the second in the series, was based on authentic records of the U.S. Secret Service. A working title for this film was Smashing the Money Ring, which was later used as the release title for next film in the series. Hollywood Reporter production charts list John Litel, Steffi Duna, and John Gittelson in the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Studio publicity records note that Ronald Reagan, a cavalry lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve and one of Hollywood's best horsemen, insisted on doing all of his own stunts. Reagan, apparently not convinced that a scene in which a book in his breast pocket shields him from a bullet was believable, demanded that the stunt be tested. An ashtray was placed behind the book and when shot, was unbroken. Publicity material notes that some scenes in the film were shot on location in a Mexican village and that Mexican extras were borrowed from the set of Juarez. Publicity items also state that while filming the scene in which he runs down a village street partially nude, Eddie Foy ran as fast as he could because it was cold and Mexican women and children were taunting him. For more information on the Secret Service series, for Secret Service of the Air and consult the Series Index.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer May 27, 1939

Released in United States Summer May 27, 1939