Open Secret (1948)
Directed by John Reinhardt
The years following World War II gave us a number of films that explored anti-Semitism in America. On the top of the heap were Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), a thoughtful, Oscar-winning drama, and Edward Dmytryk’s Crossfire (1947), a taut, Oscar-nominated thriller.
On the bottom of the bill, so to speak, were movies like the Monogram cheapie Violence (1947), which was about a cabal of American fascists who were dedicated to preserving “America for Americans,” although the film never really got into specifics about who they intended to preserve it from.
John Reinhardt’s Open Secret, on the other hand, is just as cheap as Violence (possibly even cheaper), but it’s very specific about who its anti-Semitic antagonists hate.
Open Secret grabs viewers right from the beginning with a pre-credits sequence. (A rare occurrence in movies made in the ’40s.) A man walks into the back room of a bar, where a group of men sit around a poker table, and stands in the shadows, his face hidden. The camera pans across the men’s faces until one of the men finally speaks. “He’s guilty,” he says. “Well, get going,” says the man in the shadows. The men get going, and walk by Marathon Pictures Presents painted on the side of a fence like “Kilroy Was Here.”
The following 66 minutes of Open Secret don’t always live up to to the exciting promise of the first 2, but it’s briskly paced and features a good lead performance by the always-dependable John Ireland. He’s reunited with Jane Randolph, his co-star from Railroaded (1947). They play a newlywed couple, Paul and Nancy Lester, who are the polar opposites of the boozy thugs they played in Railroaded.
Faced with a hotel shortage on their honeymoon, Paul and Nancy stay with Paul’s old friend Ed Stevens (Charles Waldron Jr.), and are shocked when they find pamphlets in his apartment with titles like “The White Knight” and “Were the Nuremberg Trials Fair?”
“Somebody probably stuffed them in his mailbox. Must be. Ed isn’t like that,” Paul says to his wife.
Open Secret has all the hallmarks of a B picture. Like similar offerings from Monogram Pictures and P.R.C., the sets look like they’d fall over if one of the actors sneezed, the music is obtrusive, and the supporting players’ acting is more wooden than a Louisville Slugger. But on the plus side it has an interesting premise, a decent script, and the “star” players are all convincing. I always enjoy seeing Sheldon Leonard (he plays a detective in Open Secret), and George Tyne, who plays Harry Strauss, the proprietor of a camera shop, is also good.
Strauss is targeted by his prejudiced neighbors, not only because he’s Jewish, but because he’s in possession of some damning photographic evidence.
Open Secret is also interesting because it’s the earliest film I’ve seen in which a television is present. There’s a scene in Strauss’s shop that shows him and another man watching a baseball game on the television behind his counter. Full-scale commercial television broadcasting began in 1947, and televisions started showing up in large numbers in bars, hotels, and private homes, but Open Secret is the first film in which I’ve seen characters watching television.
Excluding science-fiction films, does anyone know of an earlier film that showed people watching television? If you do, please comment.
There is a movie from 1941 that features people not only watching television but a Television Broadcasting station. I hesitate to mention the title because I’m afraid you won’t like it, lol. just kidding, i am a grown-up, supposedly. It;s called THE HIT PARADE OF 1941 (later renamed ROMANCE AND RHYTHM for showing on television) It stars my heart throb Frances Langford, with Kenny Baker, Patsy Kelly,Hugh Herbert, Phil Silvers,Sterling Holloway, and in her first film Ann Miller. It’s not available on commercial DVD that I know of but bootleg copies do show up. It’s a delightful movie with a fledgling TV station wooing a rich sponsor but the sponsor wants her daughter to sing on the program and she’s awful, so Kenny Baker and Phil SIlvers have Frances Langford sing the song and Ann Miller lip synch. They’re found out but then discover Ann Miller can dance instead of sing and Frances becomes a star. Fluff, but I love fluff! This is the movie that SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN was based on, supposedly, so I’ve heard. Frances’ big number, WHO AM I was nominated for an Academy Award. There are clips of it on youtube including Ann Miller lip synching to Frances Langford. One of my absolute favorites!
“Who Am I.” Nice. Very nice! I searched YouTube, and found this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOvweRxZL0c Amazing … Frances Langford is even watching the TV monitor so she can lip synch properly.
You’ve also reminded me that in the 1946 film “Ziegfeld Follies,” one of the segments is called “When Television Comes.” It features Red Skelton doing a “television” advertisement for “Guzzler’s Gin.” But it doesn’t really have anything to do with the actual day-to-day activity of watching television.
Television technology was around for a long time before it became widespread in the late ’40s and early ’50s, but the war effort put the kibosh on developing non-essential technology like television for home use.
When I mused about films featuring people watching television, I was thinking more of it being represented as something in a saloon or a home that people were watching in a matter-of-fact way. My personal theory is that no big studio pictures in 1947 wanted to show television, partly because it’s not that cinematic to have people watching TV, but also because the big studios felt threatened by television and chose to pretend it wasn’t going to become very popular and threaten box office grosses. In 1947 I think Darryl F. Zanuck said something about how people were quickly going to grow tired of “staring at a plywood box.”
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