A nun is giving a tour of Arlington Cemetery when a child asks her why Lt. Richard Perry (Robert Taylor), whose headstone they pass, is not listed in the guidebook. The nun gives a generic response about how surely he performed some “unusual service” for the country.
The child may never know the answer, but we (the audience) have an advantage. We get tossed back to 1901 in a flashback, and Perry’s story begins.
President McKinley, knowing Perry’s reputation for getting out of tough situations unscathed, calls upon Perry to investigate a string of bank robberies the Secret Service has been unable to solve. The mission will be completely confidential, known of only by Perry and McKinley, their correspondence marked with a secret code.
Perry heads to the Capitol Cafe in St. Paul, where cafe owner Batiste (Brian Donlevy) and his partner Jock Ramsay (Victor McLaglen) have committed several robberies. Perry aims to gain their confidence and find out who the higher-ups of the operation are in order to crack the entire crime ring.
Ever the professional, Perry carries out his mission stealthily, even romancing Batiste’s stepsister Lil (Barbara Stanwyck) to get in the gang’s good graces. But what will happen if he truly falls in love with Lil? And will his mission be successful?
This Is My Affair was directed by William A. Seiter.
What we have here is basically a costumed gangster film. Set in 1901, the consistently-entertaining plot has Robert Taylor going undercover and busting up a crime ring. There’s plenty of tension and excitement, plus a few moments of humor and romance.
Stanwyck and Taylor share nice chemistry and banter, unsurprisingly. This was one of several films in which they co-starred, and they were married in 1939, having first met on the set of 1936’s His Brother’s Wife.
Individually, Stanwyck’s role isn’t the film’s most significant, but it’s a good entry into her filmography. And she sings! Her first appearance on screen is on the stage, performing “I Hum a Waltz.” Her lack of vocal training is pretty obvious, but her deep voice is just what you’d expect based on her speaking voice, and the tune itself is an earworm. (She gets a couple of other songs, too, though not as memorable as her introductory number.)
The supporting cast also delivers a few intense and memorable scenes, such as Victor McLaglen’s jailhouse outburst.
And of course, being set in 1901, the film must incorporate one of the year’s biggest news stories: the assassination of President McKinley. This serves as a twist to the film, since Taylor’s character was working directly with McKinley on the undercover operation, and no one else knew of it. A ton of tension is built in the final scenes as the viewer hopes Taylor’s character can be saved from wrongful execution somehow, without McKinley’s help.
This Is My Affair is an energetic crime drama with no trouble gripping the viewer. Tune in for another strong Stanwyck performance, but you’ll stick around for the well-conceived plot.