Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ronald Reagan, Part 1

TCM's Star of the Month for March 2009 is Ronald Reagan. Reagan has come in for a lot of criticism as an actor by those who opposed his political career, and I think those criticisms are somewhat misplaced. Sure, Reagan spent the better portion of his career making the "B" movies that Hollywood needed to churn out in the studio era, but so did a lot of the other people. A lot of those Reagan performances are serviceable, even if they're nowhere near as good as what you'd get in a "prestige" movie.

TCM's look at Reagan starts off on Wednesday, March 4, with the four movies he made playing Secret Service agent "Brass" Bancroft. These are all solidly B pictures, and as such they're of varying quality. But when they go wrong, it's not Reagan's fault. They all run about an hour, and Reagan is likeable as the Secret Service agent who maintains his optimism in spite of whatever troubles befall him. In Code of the Secret Service, airing at 9:15 PM ET Wednesday, for example, Reagan's Bancroft has to head to Mexico to figure out what happened to one of his colleagues who was murdered investigating a counterfeiting ring. There, Bancroft meets a priest played by veteran character actor Moroni Olsen, who just happens to be the bad guy. It's no great shakes, but it's enjoyable enough entertainment.

Perhaps the best of the four movies might be Smashing the Money Ring, at 10:30 PM Wednesday. Again, Bancroft has to deal with counterfeiters. (This isn't the fault of the writers; the Secret Service was founded to deal with counterfeiting, not protecting the President. It was originally part of the Treasury Department, but its became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. The writers couldn't possibly have anticipated this.) This time, Bancroft goes undercover in a prison to investigate rumors that money plates are being smuggled through the prison printing press. The plot quickly turns to a gambling ship, though, in a typical example of a B-movie's plot suddenly veering from one thing to another. Still, it's fast-paced, and more than enough fun.

The worst example is probably the last of the movies, Murder in the Air, at 11:30 PM ET Wednesday. This time, Bancroft ends up on a blimp (years after the Hindenburg disaster effectively put a huge crimp in blimp research), and gets involved with a device that can stop engines via remote control. It's far more laughable than the previous Brass Bancroft movies. But the fault is largely that of the script writers. Reagan tries his hardest with impossible material.

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