Monday, September 22, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Secret Command (1944)

SECRET COMMAND (1944) is a thoroughly enjoyable WWII "homefront thriller" starring Pat O'Brien and Carole Landis.

O'Brien plays Sam Gallagher, who hasn't seen his brother Jeff (Chester Morris) in years. Sam had supposedly been a European foreign correspondent when he dropped all contact with Jeff and one-time sweetheart Lee (Ruth Warrick), not even replying when their mother died.

Unbeknownst to Jeff, Sam works in U.S. intelligence and had spent time in a Nazi prison camp before escaping. He now has a secret assignment at the California shipyard where Jeff is a supervisor, trying to stop the expected sabotage attempt on a U.S. aircraft carrier.

Sam's deep cover as an ordinary shipyard worker includes a home with a pretty wife, Jill (Carole Landis, on loan from Fox), who is actually another agent and not his wife at all, plus a pair of European war orphans (Carol Nugent and Richard Lyon) posing as their children.

Things get pretty exciting at the shipyard and around the Gallagher home, especially after a sabotage attempt lands Jeff in the hospital. Meanwhile, Sam and Jill each find that they love their new lives together as an "instant family." My favorite scenes were O'Brien interacting with his new children; it's immediate love on his part, which is quite charming. He's the ideal daddy, and he wants the kids for keeps.

I found this Columbia movie to be an especially strong film of its type. It didn't have a big budget, but it had a good cast and a well-done script; in addition to the leads, the film features the fine character actors Wallace Ford, Tom Tully, and Barton MacLane. Morris and Warrick don't have a great deal of screen time, especially once his character is injured, but they make impressions at the outset.

The shipyard scenes include much better than average rear projection work; in fact, the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

The only niggling negative thought I had was that the Gallagher "children" don't seem to have been told that their new "family" is a temporary setup. They love having a Daddy and a Mommy, and it seemed rather cruel that the "agency" was just going to find them new homes when the mission was completed. No one will be surprised, however, that that does not end up being an issue. Whew!

Richard Lyon, who plays young Paul, would go on to play Irene Dunne's son Louis in ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1946). He died in Wales last October.

Carol Nugent, who plays little Joan, had a long film career which included playing Lillie Gilbreth in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) and BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952). She was married to Nick Adams before he passed away in 1968 and has since remarried. Her sister Judy, another one-time child actress, was married to the son of actor Dub Taylor and was the mother-in-law of June Lockhart's daughter Anne, so there are many Nugent family connections to the film industry.

That's Dusty Anderson (A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS) as the wisecracking cabbie who drives O'Brien home. The cast also includes Howard Freeman, Frank Sully, Matt McHugh, Frank Fenton, and Mary Gordon.

SECRET COMMAND was directed by Eddie Sutherland and shot by Franz Planer. It runs 82 minutes.

There's an official Carole Landis site created by her niece which has more photos from this film. According to the site, O'Brien was friends with Landis and requested her as his costar; they would also team with director Sutherland in HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME (1945). O'Brien and Landis have very nice chemistry, to the extent that it never crossed my mind while watching that O'Brien was around two decades her senior!

I saw this film thanks to Turner Classic Movies.


Blogger Jerry E said...

This is not a film of which I was aware previously, Laura. Sounds like one I would certainly like though. What a superb cast!

I was additionally interested in your mention of the children in it.
First, Richard Lyon. He became a very familiar voice and later face in Britain in the 1950s via the long-running and very popular family sitcom "LIFE WITH THE LYONS". It starred his adoptive parents (and early Hollywood stars) Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels and half-sister Barbara, starting on BBC radio in 1950 and running for a decade, also on TV (1955-60)
I never knew what happened to Richard and was taken by surprise to learn from you that he stayed here and died in Wales last year.

You also mention the other child's sister, Judy Nugent, who was married for many years to Buck Taylor who co-starred in 174 episodes of "GUNSMOKE" 1967-75.

Love the trivia!

4:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, you are awesome! I should have dug deeper on Richard Lyon, I didn't realize he was the son of Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels. (I have their joint memoir on hand to read but haven't started it!) What great info.

And I knew Buck Taylor was an actor like his father, yet I didn't realize he was a GUNSMOKE regular. (That's a Western series I have yet to catch up with -- it's a bit daunting, so many seasons! LOL.)

Thank you so much for adding all this wonderful information to the post!!

Best wishes,

10:40 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Bless you, Laura, for the "awesome" description - my wife laughed (that's not very nice, is it?).

11:53 AM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

I enjoyed this film too. It's one of those lesser known films that is fun to discover. I have a copy recorded from TCM a while back. Your review has made me want to pull it out and give it another watch. Probably one of Landis's better film roles.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Robby, I was delighted to hear that you liked this one too. It's a great example of one of the things I love about movies, when you start one you just never know if you're about to watch something a little extra-special.

I thought Landis was very good, especially effective in the scene after she's had to kill a Nazi. She did what needed to be done but was repulsed by it.

Best wishes,

10:58 PM  

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