August 4, 2021
The Secret Bride (1934)
Grade: 62/100

Director: William Dieterle
Stars: Warren William, Barbara Stanwyck, Glenda Farrell

What it's about. Obviously set in New York City, though the state is never mentioned. District Attorney Sheldon (Warren William) marries radiant Ruth Vincent (Barbara Stanwyck) in a courthouse ceremony. She is the daughter of Governor Vincent (Arthur Byron), who doesn't yet know that she has eloped.

Before the news can be broken to dear old dad, shocking events unfold. Sheldon's assistant, Breeden (Douglass Dumbrille) detains nervous Willis Martin (Grant Mitchell) at a bank, where he has just made a large cash deposit in the Governor's personal account on behalf of Holdstock (Russell Hicks), a failed businessman recently pardoned by the Governor.

The deposit appears to be a bribe, from Holdstock to Martin. Soon, Holdstock is found dead, an apparent suicide, further incriminating the Governor. Then there's a typewritten (but unsigned) incriminating letter from the Governor to Holdstock, which Sheldon keeps from a legislator committee to impeach the Governor.

Matters become even more bleak when Breeden is shot dead, apparently by Sheldon's sassy secretary, Glenda Farrell. Governor Vincent's advisor Lansdale (Henry O'Neill) tells the Governor he should resign, though the Governor refuses.

But Governor Vincent must be innocent. After all, he has such a lovely daughter. No worries, incredible events unfold that will clear him.

How others will see it. The consensus for The Secret Bride is that director William Dieterle and A-list actress Barbara Stanwyck were dealt a bad hand. They tried to make the best of it, but did not succeed.

A confirmation of this is to watch the film with the sound off, and without closed captions. Then, it looks like a good movie. Stanwyck is a delightful actress, Warren Williams and Glenda Farrell prove reliable, and even the ever-flustered Grant Mitchell is credible.

The problem is not so much the script as the story. Agatha Christie's most famous mysteries are memorable for their implausible endings. In "Murder on the Orient Express", there were more than a dozen suspects, and it turns out that they all did it. The source play for The Secret Bride, by Leonard Ide, concocts an ending nearly as ridiculous. Nervous, stammering milquetoast Martin guns down Holdstock and Breeden under implausible circumstances, then tells all to everyone when he would have gotten away scot-free if he had simply stuck to Breeden's far more believable story.

Today at, the movie has a mere 524 user reviews, and a middling-minus user rating of 6.1 out of 10. Women over 45 are moderately more sympathetic, and award a 6.6 out of 10. Women over 45 seem to enjoy classic Hollywood whodunnits; for example they give The Hound of the Baskervilles a 7.7 user rating.

The user reviews for The Secret Bride are surprisingly positive. Much attention is paid to Stanwyck's outfits: she may not have had that many lines, but at least she got to wear some stylish hats and dresses. But then, she does play a governor's daughter. It is readily admitted that the plot is far fetched. But the director's atmosphere helps.

How I felt about it. It turns out that both murders were committed by Martin, a sixtyish man who breaks out in a flop sweat when he jaywalks. For no reason he confesses all to Barbara Stanwyck, when all he had to do is repeat the story he told to the D.A. to the Senate impeachment panel. Nobody would even suppose he did it.

Why did the Governor pardon Holdstock to begin with? Why would Lansdale commit suicide in the board room over a second-hand allegation (Holdstock and Breeden are dead, leaving unreliable double murderer Martin to talk about a payoff he didn't witness).

Meanwhile, the committee decides in a private hearing to toss out the impeachment case without making any attempt to verify Martin's wild story, and without any inclination to further investigate what Sheldon and Ruth Vincent did to suppress evidence: their marriage went unrevealed, the letter purportedly from the Governor to Holdstock was kept from the committee, and, worst of all, Farrell was left to rot in jail until the jury finished deliberating when Ruth Vincent could testify that she was not the shooter.

The eye-rolling plot resolution damages the movie, but does not crush it completely. After all, the film has a quality cast, and one of the best directors from the 1930s and 1940s. Events unfold briskly, and we can even accept the clichés of reporters rushing from court to the pay phones, and mobbing Ray Vincent as she leaves the courtroom.