Watching 1939: Smashing the Money Ring (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

smashing21939 film:
Smashing the Money Ring (1939)

Release date:
Oct. 21, 1939

Ronald Reagan, Margot Stevenson, Eddie Foy, Joe Downing, Charles D. Brown, Joe King, William B. Davidson, John Ridgely (uncredited)

Warner Bros.

Terry O. Morse

A mob printing counterfeit money are connected to a gambling ship. When the leader, Dice Matthews (Downing), lands in jail, a Secret Service agent, Lt. Brass Bancroft (Reagan), goes undercover as an inmate. While in jail, Bancroft investigates how and where the counterfeit money is printed and distributed.

1939 Notes:
• First feature-length film of Margot Stevenson
• By the numbers:
– Ronald Reagan was in seven films released in 1939
– Margot Stevenson was in two films released in 1939.
– Eddie Foy, Jr. was in six films released in 1939.
– Joe Downing was in 10 films released in 1939.
– Charles D. Brown was in 10 films released in 1939.
– William B. Davis was in 19 films released in 1939.


Other trivia:
• Working title was “Queer Money.”
• Two of the vaudeville Foy family members were involved with this film. Eddie Foy Jr. co-starred and Bryan Foy was an associate producer.
• The films in the four-part Warner Bros. film series were based on the unpublished memoirs of William H. Moran, who was the head of the Secret Service from 1917 until 1936.
• “Smashing the Money Ring” was part of a four-film series to aid in the overall goal to “restore the dignity and public confidence” in police and government officials. After Warner Brothers crime movies of the early 1930s, like “Public Enemy” (1931), Will Hays (who tried to keep Hollywood’s morality in check) pressured Harry Warner to make positive crime films. To help with accuracy, Warner Brothers hired former chief of the Secret Service, William Moran, and ex-FBI special agent William L. Guthrie as consultants, according to Ronald Reagan in Hollywood: Movies and Politics by Stephen Vaughn.
• The other films in the series include: Secret Service of the Air (1939), Code of the Secret Service (1939) and Murder in the Air (1940). In each film, Ronald Reagan plays the character of Lieutenant “Brass” Bancroft.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
For some — like Lana Turner or Greer Garson — the year 1939 was when an actor found stardom. For others — like Humphrey Bogart — they were still building their career and finding their footing.

Another would be Ronald Reagan. As he approached his big break in 1940 with “Knute Rockne, All American,” Reagan was cast alongside the Dead End kids and in Warner Bros. B-films like, “Smashing the Money Ring.”

The film was part of a four-part Warner Bros. film series when the production code office wanted films to instill more pride and confidence in the government, rather than making crime and mob films, like “Public Enemy” (1931) eight years earlier. In each film, Reagan played Lt. Brass Bancroft of the Secret Service.

Running at just 57 minutes, “the title comes right to the point,” wrote New York Times critic Frank S. Nugent wrote in his brief New York Times Nov. 17, 1939, review.

“It is cheap action melodrama, compounded of the usual prison-picture theatrics, and might—by a liberal estimate—have some appeal for the Junior G-Man trade,” Nugent wrote.

In reference to the “Junior G-Men,” a publicity campaign for the films was to have “Junior Secret Service Club” with cards passed out at movie theaters.

The film is brief and fairly enjoyable. It was also the first feature film of it’s leading lady, Margot Stevenson. While the first half is a bit cumbersome, the end includes an interesting twist about who is behind the crime. That perhaps makes it worth watching.

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1 thought on “Watching 1939: Smashing the Money Ring (1939)

  1. I was just telling someone the other day that I thought Ronald Reagan’s best role was in Kings Row — and I later realized that I really haven’t seen him in much else! Maybe this one will add to my Reagan list! At least it’s short — and I’m always down for a twist ending!
    — Karen


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