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Reagan is a playboy in the ensemble surrounding queen bee Bette Davis in 1939's Dark Victory, which is by no stretch of the imagination a Reagan movie but which holds up nicely as a potent Davis weepie, in which she nails the role of a gadabout socialite struck by a serious illness. Reagan himself discovered the value of meeting a tragic fate in Knute Rockne, All-American, the 1940 biopic of Notre Dame's legendary football coach. Pat O'Brien has the title role in this boilerplate Hollywoodization, and although Reagan's part is small it is pivotal--and it would follow him for the rest of his life. He plays ill-fated Notre Dame player George Gipp, whose deathbed plea to Rockne--"Win just one for the Gipper"--became a national catchphrase. It's an efficient, cornball picture, and a fond childhood memory for anybody who encountered it at an early age.
Kings Row (1942) is consensus pick for Reagan's finest screen hour. A big, juicy, and really quite weird melodrama, the film cruises through the creepier side of small-town life, with Reagan in a very appealing groove. He plays the more rascally of the two male leads (Robert Cummings is the sensitive hero), a breezy charmer whose talent with the ladies gets him in trouble. The most lurid twist in the movie leads to Reagan's line "Where's the rest of me?" which became the title of his autobiography. An extremely entertaining movie, with director Sam Wood inestimably aided by James Wong Howe's lush cinematography and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's classic music score.
Raoul Walsh's Desperate Journey (1942) has Errol Flynn as the Aussie leader of a multinational bomber crew that crash-lands in Germany (where the Germans actually speak German) and must make its way across hostile territory to safety--a suspenseful setup that takes on an oddly joshing tone. Ronald Reagan plays a flippant US flyboy, and enjoys one of his best moments onscreen with an engaging scene of double talk.
In 1943's This Is the Army, Reagan is a GI named Johnny Jones, swept up in an all-star patriotic musical revue that serves as a marvelous showcase for a slew of Irving Berlin tunes (Berlin himself appears, singing "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" in World War I garb). The film is no classic, but fans of the American songbook will not be disappointed. It was a huge hit, and has the distinction of featuring a future California senator (George Murphy) and governor (you know who).
Reagan's career cooled after the Second World War, and he plays a second lead in 1949's The Hasty Heart, an adaptation of a hit play. Set in a military hospital in Burma just after the war, the story hinges on a group of patients concealing a fatal prognosis from an ailing Scotsman (Richard Todd). The creaking of the play is all too apparent, although Todd's performance is expert. Patricia Neal, still new to movies, plays the nurse in charge. Reagan gets to display his photographic memory by reeling off the books of the Old Testament by rote. The commentary track for the film has the (possibly unique) feature of having the director, Vincent Sherman, begin weeping as he's talking about it.
Storm Warning (1951) is an effective but strange hybrid: part film noir, part socially conscious picture. Ginger Rogers witnesses a Ku Klux Klan killing as she's stopping off in a small town to visit younger sis Doris Day; Day's hubby Steve Cochran is one of the killers. In one of his best roles, a laid-back Reagan plays the uncompromising local district attorney. The film has some superb noir shots in it, but the exposé of the KKK is truly tame: although the word lynching is used, there's no racial angle to the movie at all. It's more like the Klan is a crime syndicate that needs to be cleaned up. In The Winning Team Reagan plays famed baseball pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, whose struggles with illness and alcoholism form the spine of the tepid plot. Doris Day, now top-billed, costars as Alexander's supportive wife. The movie pays proper tribute to a legendary baseball moment: Alexander's heroic performance in the 1926 World Series. It's another win for the Gipper. --Robert Horton
I was interested in what kind of actor Ronald Reagan was and I have to say he really wasn't too bad. A much better president, though!!Published 11 months ago by Kathryn T. Aguilar
For the centennial of our greatest President, Warner Bros. has put together a collection of eight of Ronald Reagan's finest films, as follows:
1) DARK VICTORY - More of... Read more
All great films with superb prints. Well worth the money. We are now realising that Ronald Reagan was indeed a fine actor in his time.
Ken Barrett Mooroolbark Australia.