Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Special Agent (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SPECIAL AGENT (1935) is an entertaining "G men vs. gangster" film just released by the Warner Archive.

I first saw this Warner Bros. film back in 2008, and on this viewing I found it was even more fun than I remembered.

Perhaps some of my greater enjoyment was having become so much more familiar with the supporting cast over the last few years -- this is a great flick for anyone who loves the "faces" of the era. It's a zippy, fast-moving yarn which provides an entertaining 76 minutes.

Seemingly mild-mannered newspaperman Bill Bradford (George Brent) has a secret identity. No, he's not Superman, but close -- he's a federal agent who's been undercover for half a decade. Bill is out to get mob kingpin Alexander Carston (Ricardo Cortez), and Bill thinks Carston's bookkeeper, Julie Gardner (Bette Davis), is the person to help put Carston behind bars for tax evasion.

Bill loves Julie, and in fact it's interesting he doesn't seem overly concerned that she's spent years working for a mobster. Sure, Carston might kill her if she quits, but I was struck on this viewing that Julie seems to be a less reluctant employee than I'd remembered, though she cooperates with the feds readily enough.

It's no secret to my regular readers George Brent is a real favorite of mine. This is the kind of role in which I really enjoy him, as the upbeat, can-do, and rather funny agent who rather enjoys going toe-to-toe with the mob -- and winning.

I also enjoy watching Davis in films like this, before she became a big star. This is a fairly straightforward leading lady role, but Davis's screen presence still brings the part a little extra something.

Cortez is delicious as Bill's adversary, an odd duck who wears gloves at all times -- even when playing solitaire! And take a good look at the heavy door to his office, which is basically a "safe room."

The supporting cast is just terrific, starting with scary-looking Jack La Rue as another gangster, Henry O'Neill as the upright district attorney, and Paul Guilfoyle as a weasel in the D.A.'s office who's a stooge for Carston. Actor-director Irving Pichel plays the U.S. District Attorney, Robert Barrat is the head of the IRS, and Joe Sawyer is a henchman. The cast also includes J. Carrol Naish, Robert Strange, Joseph Crehan, Joe King, and Charles Middleton.

SPECIAL AGENT was directed by William Keighley and filmed by Sid Hickox.

The DVD is a good print which includes the trailer.

Fans of '30s gangster films or the lead actors should enjoy this one. I sure did!

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's some cast! Must see this one as I am a George Brent fan too.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Let me know when you see it! I think you'll like it. :)

Best wishes,

7:00 PM  
Blogger ajk said...

just watched it on TCM. Very enjoyable! Maybe not the best gangster film, but has lots going for it...especially the rich and diverse cast. Brent and Davis are both good, but the roles are a little too straightforward for my taste. Cortez meanwhile is absolutely delicious. I must confess that the early scene with him confronting casino manager Armitage sent chills up my spine. Maybe the lighting had something to do with it, but he looked absolutely sinister.

7:32 PM  

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