Spring is looming and you know what that means: wedding season. There is something beautiful about the optimism and joy of a wedding, and movies on the topic are usually light as well. Let's explore some films of the golden age with weddings as a central theme.
SAMANTHA GLASSER: The Secret Bride opens on a wedding, the quick elopement of the district attorney (Warren William) and the governor's daughter (Barbara Stanwyck). They don't even get to seal their nuptials with a kiss. Although they intend to spread their happy news across telephone wires far and wide, business gets in the way. It seems the secretary of a man the governor recently pardoned was caught at the bank depositing $10,000 into the governor's account, evidence of bribery. Before the matter can be investigated thoroughly, the pardoned man is dead by suicide. Now the DA is on the trail of the governor, but his public marriage to his daughter would be a conflict of interest and cause him to be removed from the case, and he doesn't want that because he needs to find proof that the governor is innocent for his wife's sake.
RODNEY BOWCOCK: That’s a lot of plot to squeeze into an hour, but being a 30’s Warners film, they knew how to do it. In many ways, this film plays like a pre-code film, just without the lingerie and legs. There’s no filler at all. As soon as the credits end, we’re plunged into a plot.
SG: Although the story is complicated and moves at a steady clip, it is easy to follow if you're paying attention thanks to distinctive performances by the supporting cast. Grant Mitchell is jumpier than I've ever seen him as the secretary who fears the investigation. Glenda Farrell is more vulnerable than her usual wisecracking persona as an accused murderess.
RB: I’ve been slowly working my way through the Lone Wolf films that Warren William did several years after this film for Columbia, and I’ve grown to really enjoy him, and he’s also very good in this film made in the midst of his run as Perry Mason. And of course, there’s Barbara Stanwyck in a role that isn’t necessarily remarkable, but is pretty much par for the course around this time period for her.
SG: The amount of guns casually owned or wielded in this movie disturbed me. Some of the carriers worked in a government office. Elements like these show how much times have changed. I walk through a metal detector every day to get into my job.
RB: I think we had a target shooting team in school, unless I’m misremembering.
SG: At the time The Secret Bride was made, Barbara Stanwyck was feeling claustrophobic in her contract with Warner Brothers. She turned down proposed script after script, so when the studio selected an unproduced play by Leonard Idle, producer Hal Wallis said, "Sell this to her and make clear to her that we are changing the play so much it would not do for her to read it. Don't under any consideration give her the play." Indeed writers Tom Buckingham and F. Hugh Herbert were working on an adaptation of Concealment (the original title) when Buckingham was rushed to Queen of Angels Hospital. He underwent an emergency operation but died after waking from the anesthetic at age 39. Mary McCall Jr. helped finish the script. Although the end result wasn't perfect, Stanwyck was close to being put on suspension by the studio, so she accepted the project, and was paid $50,000 for her work on the film. Director William Dieterle was in a similar position and didn't like the film.
RB: It’s hard to call much of Stanwyck’s lengthy catalog as “forgettable” but I’d consider her 1934 films, Gambling Lady and A Lost Lady to be exceptions to that rule. Based on those titles and their reputation (I confess I haven’t seen either of them), she definitely had reason to balk at some of the casting choices. Later in 1935, she’d get a part worth sinking her teeth into when she was assigned to make Annie Oakley.
SG: Still, the personalities on screen make this worthwhile viewing. Author Dan Callahan noted Stanwyck's reliably good acting, saying, "When Ruth find out that her father is mixed up in a scandal, Stanwyck finds a credulous mask; this most wised up of actresses is playing a bit of a fool, and doing it well."
The Motion Picture Bureau of the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae condemned the film due to the element of suicide.
B.R. Johnson of the Orpheum Theater in Kerrobert, Canada called it an, "Excellent program picture. Strong story, capable acting, plenty of suspense, no sex and mush."
Hollywood magazine's reviewer said, "Barbara Stanwyck's emotions never look routine, no matter how routine a plot might be."
The Motion Picture Reviews writer said, "Interest is sustained through restrained direction and excellent portrayals of sinister types."
RB: Motion Picture Review also felt that this film was too mature in tone for children under sixteen, which I suppose gives this film an R rating, albeit 1935 style. In Cincinnati, the film flopped. It was booked for a week at the Keith’s but was ended early after three days, replaced by Paul Muni’s Bordertown. “How do you think you can make a dollar for your theatre on a picture like this?” questioned Walter Odom Sr. of the Dixie Theatre in Durant, MS. It really isn’t as bad as all that though.
SG: Three stars. Not bad, but not great.
RB: I tend to agree that this is a three star film, and that’s mainly because it moves at such a brisk pace with a cast of notable favorites. If you like any of the familiar faces that pop up, you could do a lot worse with an hour than The Secret Bride.