Secret Bride

Dullsville

The Secret Bride (1934)

The Secret Bride (1934)

Barbara Stanwyck is a good example of an actor who is remembered by history as being a real standout performer with many phenomenal movies and roles to her name while still having a list of disappointments on her resume. The same can be said of many stars that eventually rise to a position where they can be choosy with their parts, but everyone has to make a living to start with.

Like Ladies They Talk About and The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Secret Bride is an easy film on Stanwyck’s list to ignore. At just over an hour in runtime, the movie is horribly rushed, eliminating any chance for a natural ebb and flow of action.

Stanwyck is Ruth Vincent, daughter of the state’s governor. She marries in a town hall the state’s Attorney General Robert Sheldon (Warren William), but before the couple can announce to her father the exciting news, Sheldon is informed that the governor is implicated in a bribery scheme.

Governor Vincent (Arthur Byron) had pardoned John Holdstock, and the latter’s secretary, Willis Martin (Grant Mitchell), is caught by Robert’s investigator depositing $10,000 into Vincent’s personal account. A short while later Holdstock is found to have killed himself. Both Robert and Ruth believe in the governor’s innocence, but they want to prove it before a legislative investigatory committee can impeach him. In order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, the couple commit to keeping their marriage secret.

Keeping the nuptials under wraps does not become a problem until Ruth witnesses the shooting of Robert’s investigator Bredeen (Douglas Dumbrille) from Robert’s apartment window. She did not see the shooter but she knows the direction of the shot clears Bredeen’s girlfriend and Robert’s secretary Hazel (Glenda Farrell) of the crime. Ruth insists on staying out of the investigation because it would raise questions as to why she was in Robert’s apartment late at night. At last, however, she must come forward and admit their marriage in court, potentially ruining her husband’s career.

Stanwyck give the performance we would expect of her but does not blow anyone away. William is equally satisfactory in his part, but the story is difficult to appreciate. It is impossible to unweave the crime oneself, and as the action rushes along, we conclude with one character confessing every detail of the convoluted crime. Ruth and Robert seem to be genuinely in love, an accomplishment for the actors, but that has nearly nothing to do with the story, which is essentially a crime mystery. Perhaps the plot would have been more compelling it had analysed the effect on the newlyweds of the investigation. The emotional trauma and rift it could cause would be more dramatic than a complex crime story.

  • The Secret Bride is set for 2 p.m. ET Dec. 13 on TCM.

Lone Wolf Spy Hunt

Dullsville

The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939)

      I can only hope that the movies Warren William made as “The Lone Wolf” improved with each subsequent release because the first movie he made as the reformed thief was no less than disappointing. Like several detective/crime novel series of the time, The Lone Wolf character inspired two dozen movies or so between 1917 and 1949. William made about six of those but failed in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt to convince me I would not be better served watching the Gay Falcon or Saint movies.

     Also tragically cast here as the pining and obnoxious love interest is Ida Lupino, who goes blonde to show us just how dumb she can play. The star really made her mark in other darker roles and merely wastes her talent in poorly named The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt.

     The picture opens on a promising note as our hero Michael Lanyard (William) is cornered on the street by two thugs who whisk him away to the home of Spiro (Ralph Morgan), a criminal who asks the ex-thief to help him open a safe. Lanyard refuses, but Spiro has searched his possessions and holds onto two of the cigarettes that are specially made for the now-upstanding citizen. When a safe in the War Department is robbed of partial plans for an anti-aircraft gun and Lanyard’s cigarette is found on the scene, detectives naturally suspect the man.

     Lanyard offers an alibi and is not arrested, but he is soon lured by the luscious Rita Hayworth as Karen back into the clutches of this spy group. They take him to the lab of the scientist who developed the weapon plans and hope to force him to crack open the safe there and retrieve the remainder of the plans. Lanyard fools the goons, however, and when they go searching the building for him, he cracks the safe, takes the plans for himself and puts a dummy note in the envelope the men seek. When the criminals “find” Lanyard, they have him open the safe and give them the now-worthless envelope.

     Rather than give the stolen plans to the police, Lanyard stores them with a goofy senator friend (Brandon Tynan), whose daughter Val (Lupino) is infatuated with/sort of dating the Lone Wolf. The remainder of the plot focuses on the various extraneous parties that are now mixed up in Lanyard’s trouble and the back-and-forth of stolen plans among characters. Widower Lanyard’s daughter (Virginia Weidler) also becomes entangled.

     William lacks all the charm most ex-criminal/detective characters tend to offer. He has some residual criminal instincts to impress us but not enough to make the audience say, wow. The story is similar, as I mentioned to movies like the Gay Falcon and the Saint and also The Thin Man stories, all of which take a non-police person and have him act as detective all the while trying to clear his own name. The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt pales by comparison to these others in the appeal of the star, the complexity of the plot, and the desirableness of the women side-kicks.

     As I mentioned, Lupino essentially disgraces herself by playing the clingy and snooping girlfriend of Lanyard, who has no intention of truly dating the woman until the last quarter of the film when it seems they might actually get married. Weidler as the daughter, however, adds a lot of fun to the plot. This tom-boy loves playing mafiosa and handcuffs her father’s valet until he agrees to “die” three times the next day when she shoots him with her pretend gun that makes real noises. Weidler is not enough, however, to make The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt worth watching. Catch her in The Philadelphia Story instead.

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