In the back room of a seedy, small town bar, a group of men pronounce someone guilty of an unknown crime. A “lost” film noir, Open Secret teeters between gritty murder mystery and exposé of social injustice. John Ireland and his new bride, Jane Randolph, arrive as houseguests of an old army buddy only to have him turn up missing. As the newlyweds investigate their friend’s disappearance they realize that he and his town are hiding deep-rooted prejudices. Discovering hate literature calling for “100% white Americans to organize,” Ireland comments, “Some people believe this stuff.” A neighborhood woman advises them not to patronize Strauss’ camera shop. “Let him move somewhere else with his own sort,” she sneers.
Unlike Gentleman’s Agreement and Crossfire (both released one year earlier), the “open secret” is never mentioned except in a brief shot of the word “Jew” scribbled on a storefront. When their friend is found dead, Ireland and Randolph are themselves thrust in harm’s way by accidental possession of evidence that can convict leading townspeople of, not only discrimination, but murder. Speaking of the thwarted ringleader, heroic cop Sheldon Leonard (in a change of pace from his usual gangster roles) observes, “He was playing Hitler—but in the wrong precinct.”
Though he had left Europe in the 1920s to work in the film factories of Hollywood and Mexico, it is not surprising that Austrian-born director John Reinhardt (Chicago Calling, High Tide) would have embraced the subject of anti-Semitism, as did other anti-Nazi émigré directors arriving in America after the Anschluss. Herschel Burke Gilbert’s brooding original score would continue to fight for truth and justice as the music track for the first season of TV’s The Adventures of Superman (1952).—Miki Shannon
Production: Harry Brandt Productions, Marathon Pictures. Distribution: Eagle Lion. Producer: Frank Satenstein. Screenwriter: Henry Blankfort, Max Wilk. Cinematographer: George Robinson. Art Direction: George Van Marter. Editor: Jason H. Bernie. Music: Herschel Burke Gilbert. Cast: John Ireland, Jane Randolph, Roman Bohnen, Sheldon Leonard, George Tyne.
Preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the Packard Humanities Institute. Preserved from 35mm nitrate dupe picture and track negatives. Laboratory services by the Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound, DJ Audio, Inc.