fast-moving spy drama involving code-breaking naval officers
Films released by Grand National tend to be slow-moving and talky, but this 1938 spy drama set in the world of Navy code-breakers (produced by Fine Arts Films for Grand National--in the studio's final months, most of their releases were pick-ups by other production companies) moves quickly, has a few interesting subplots, and gives a lot of nuts-and-bolts details about the world of cryptography (much like the serial THE SECRET CODE, although that was aimed at kids and this is aimed at adults). Director Charles Lamont had directed some fine mysteries at Chesterfield (another outfit that tended toward talky, set-bound productions but had a higher batting average than Grand National)in the early and mid-30s, and he was a good choice to helm this project. Also, star Leon Ames--whose credits range from playing Doris Day's father to playing the neighbor on the Mr. Ed. TV show to playing a crusading doctor in the classic exploitation hygiene drama NO GREATER SIN--is a reliable actor who pulls in the audience so we are as "into" the details of code analysis almost as much as he is, and we feel his anxiety, his impatience, and his excitement. The manner is which the code will be transmitted in the climactic scene is telegraphed early in the film (I'll let YOU figure that out for yourself--any fan of murder mysteries will spot the detail), but that shouldn't spoil the excitement. Don Dillaway plays Major Waring's (Ames) little brother, Lt. Waring, and gives a Dean Benton-like performance as the immature, impulsive young man who gets involved with German spy Joan Woodbury(!!!). All in all, the film is a solid piece of work and should appeal to fans of pre-WWII spy films. Incidentally, about six months after this, Grand National released a SECOND film starring Ames and his assistant (Charlotte Wynters) playing the same roles, entitled PANAMA PATROL, Grand National went under soon after, so the series never went beyond two entires. I haven't seen PANAMA PATROL in years, but if I stumble across my copy, I will review it.
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