Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ronald Reagan, Part 2

Ronald Reagan's likeableness and eternal optimism made him an obvious choice to be the leading man in several of Warner Bros.' B movies of the late 1930s other than the action movies in which he played Brass Bancroft. The one which most clearly shows this is Accidents Will Happen, airing overnight, at 4:30 AM ET March 5 on TCM. Here, Reagan is the leading man, playing an insurance investigator who has to face a fraud ring: a group of criminals are staging fake accidents, and then claiming the insurance money. It's Reagan's job to prove that they are in fact committing fraud. Along the way, he has to deal with his wife, who wants the better things in life that the fraudsters are getting, and that Reagan can't because he's just too gosh-darn honest. Despite a completely different plot, it shares a lot of foundation as the Brass Bancroft movies: it's breezy and full of activity, and always fast-paced at a short 62 minutes. Is it a great movie? Not by any means. But as I've mentioned a lot with the B movies that Hollywood was making back in the 1930s, the studios needed a lot of product to put on their screens as part of the double feature with the big movie, and Accidents Will Happen is a fine example of that. You could find a lot worse ways to spend those 62 minutes than to watch Accidents Will Happen. Heck, just try watching some of the musicals that Hollywood put out before 42nd Street if you want to see some bad movie-making.

A much more interesting movie than Accidents Will Happen with Reagan in the cast is Girls On Probation, airing at 2:00 AM ET on March 5. Here, Reagan is only in a supporting role; the star is Jane Bryan. She plays a "good girl" working at a dry-cleaners, who falls afoul of the law when her bad-girl friend (Sheila Bromley) working there borrows two of the dresses for them to wear to a party. Instead of being sent to jail, however, she's shown pity by insurance adjuster Reagan who, having fallen for her, gets her probation and a job in another town. In that other town, Bryan meets Bromley again, and decides to give her a piece of her mind, climbing into Bromley's car to do it. Unfortunately for Bryan, Bromley's driving the getaway car for her bank-robber boyfriend, and Bryan's being there for it has some pretty serious legal ramifications! The plot twist is ludicrous at best, but typical for the late-30s B movie; in fact, it's one of the things that makes some of these B movies so much fun. Reagan is adequate here, but he doesn't have much to do.

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