Monday Movies Post: New Deal-Era Policing

The celebration of scientific policing in "The Secret Bride" has a propaganda purpose.
Barbara Stanwyck in the 1942 movie, "The Gay Sisters."

This week, our political movie is "The Secret Bride," a very slight 1934 thriller, most notable because it stars Barbara Stanwyck. She plays a governor's daughter who marries the state attorney general in the opening scene -- they apparently eloped -- but then must keep the marriage secret because the governor gets caught up in a corruption scandal and impeachment proceedings.

It's fast-moving, with plenty of plot to fill up only 64 minutes, so that's fine, But as a movie, it's not all that interesting. Think an episode of Perry Mason (and the attorney general is played by Warren William, who starred in a few Perry Mason movies). There's a conspiracy, and we're shown evidence that seems incriminating but we know it isn't. But we neither get to solve the mystery or see anyone else solve it with cunning or logic or spidey-sense. Stanwyck is good, but it's hardly one of her best performances.

Here at Monday Movie Posts, however, the main concern is the politics. It's vaguely goo goo. The governor/father is a Very Good Man, and he's been betrayed, it turns out, by the rich guy who has financed his career but (we learn at the end) is secretly bitter because the governor vetoed a bill that cost the rich guy a fortune. There's an impeachment scene, and the governor's defenders are accused of covering for their party, which, of course, is a bad thing to do.

Perhaps the most interesting politics in it are a couple of crime lab scenes that glorify the cops and their modern technology. It's a Warner Brothers production, and although it doesn't mention the Depression or the New Deal, the celebration of scientific policing has a propaganda purpose. It's always good to remember that for New Dealers, an active government was to be praised, whether it was intervention in the economy, crime fighting, or a vigorous military once the war starts (a point made by Garry Wills in his Reagan book). So that part is notable, and it sort of jumps out at the viewer, almost as if it were imported from another movie.

So "The Secret Bride" isn't much, and even Stanwyck and the excellent short run time don't make it one I can recommend as a movie. It's a good example, however, of the days when at least for many New Dealers, everything that government could do was worthy of admiration.

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