Ronald Reagan reprises his role as Secret Service Lieutenant Brass Bancroft in these pulpy adventure films, the last two installments in a four-part series (preceded by Secret Service of the Air and Code of the Secret Service). In Smashing the Money Ring, Bancroft poses as a tough convict to bust up a counterfeiting racket run by prison inmates who dare to print money right inside the prison. In Murder in the Air, he impersonates a deceased spy to track down a secret weapon – the inertia projector – that can disable any electrical current at its source.

Smashing the Money Ring by Terry Morse (USA, 1939, 57 min.).
Murder in the Air by Lewis Seiler (USA, 1940, 55 min.).

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The Brass Bancroft series was part of a late 1930’s effort by Warner Brothers to produce films depicting law enforcement in a heroic light. The studio was under pressure from Will Hays (of the Hays censorship code) to make amends for several films produced earlier in that decade glamorizing gangsters. Created at the outset of Reagan’s career, the character of Brass Bancroft established an affable and courageous persona for the actor that would shape his public image.

According to American Movie Classics, while Warner Brothers’ more polished films were required to steer clear of political content that might stir up global unrest, their B-movie unit was allowed to “boldly accuse Axis powers of perpetrating acts of global terrorism” – like unleashing the fictitious “inertia projector” on the world. Presumably, this is because matinee pulp like the Brass Bancroft series reached a smaller domestic audience and was widely understood to be fantasy.