Special Agent (1935): Keighley’s Tax Evasion Crime Drama, Starring Bette Davis and George Brent

William Keighley directed Special Agent, a typically fast-moving Warner crime drama, starring Bette Davis and George Brent.

It was one of three films in 1935 starring Bette Davis and George Brent, who would appear on-screen together for 13 times.

The screenplay by Laird Doyle and Abem Finkel is based on a story by Martin Mooney. The story of reporter Mooney also served as basis of the 1940 Warner film “Gambling on the High Seas.” Mooney also penned the story for “Bullets or Ballots” and “Exclusive Story.”

The Federal Government seeks to imprison gangsters due to their crimes of tax evasion and violations of Internal Revenue Service regulations. Newspaper reporter Bill Bradford is deputized as a treasury agent by the Internal Revenue Bureau and assigned to find evidence to charge gangster Alexander Carston (same initials as Al Capone) with tax evasion.

He learns that Carston’s ledgers are kept in a code known only to his secretary, Julie Gardner. When she witnesses the murder of a man who double-crossed her boss, Bill begs her to quit her job, but Julie realizes she knows too much for Carston to let her go.

District Attorney Roger Quinn pressures the murdered man’s partner into testifying, but Carston learns of the plan and the witness is murdered and Carston is acquitted. Julie is arrested as a material witness and decodes the books, but is kidnapped by Carston’s henchmen before she can testify. Bill tricks Carston into taking him where Julie is being held, and the police trail them. A shootout follows and Julie is rescued. Her testimony sends Carston to Alcatraz, and she accepts Bill’s marriage proposal.

The film was made right after the Hays Office began enforcing the Production Code. They demanded changes, especially of one scene that had “offensive dialogue.” As a result, Ricardo Cortez’ lips can be seen moving but no sound is heard.

The Oscar-winning song “Lullaby of Broadway” by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, is heard in the background in a Casino scene. The tune was introduced by Wini Shaw in the Warner musical “Gold Diggers of 1935,”

Bette Davis as Julie Gardner
George Brent as Bill Bradford
Ricardo Cortez as Alexander Carston
Jack La Rue as Jake Andrews (as Jack LaRue)
Henry O’Neill as District Attorney Roger Quinn
Robert Strange as Waxey Armitage
Joseph Crehan as Commissioner of Police
J. Carrol Naish as Joe Durell
Joe Sawyer as Rich (as Joseph Sauers)
William B. Davidson as Charlie Young
Robert Barrat as Chief of Internal Revenue Service


TCM showed the movie on July 21, 2020.