Thursday, April 19, 2007


The Lone Wolf, like the Saint and Boston Blackie, wasn't a traditional Sam Spade-type private eye with an office and a secretary. Like the others, he's a man of independent means who helps out folks who happen to cross his path, and though he'll work with the police when he has to, he seems to spend just as much time avoiding them. Michael Lanyard (played here by Warren William) is the Lone Wolf, a former jewel thief, and his character's situation underwent a major change between the first William entry in the Columbia series (SPY HUNT) and the third (LADY). The Lanyard we meet in SPY HUNT has a young daughter (Virginia Weidler) who lives with him, and is therefore always a potential "damsel in distress," and the tone of the film veers uneasily toward screwball comedy. The movie opens with William snatched off the street by thugs in order to crack a safe. He refuses, saying he's reformed, and he's let go but not before the gang boss (Ralph Morgan) has swiped a couple of William's cigarettes, a custom brand made for him. Morgan has a past score to settle with William and when his men break into a safe and steal some plans for a new anti-aircraft gun, they plant one of the cigarettes. The next day, William has to answer not only to the cops but also to his high-strung girlfriend (Ida Lupino) for why he stiffed her on a date. When Morgan discovers that his men only got half the plans, he sends sexy Rita Hayworth after William to coerce him to get the rest. He does, but manages to hide the gun plans and substitute pages of baby carriage plans. There are more chases, more alibis, and both young Weidler and William's droll butler (Leonard Carey) get involved before it all gets resolved. The best scene is at a surrealist party, with guests dressed as Dali clocks, alphabet blocks, and bunches of flowers. William is his usual debonair unruffled self, and I enjoyed watching him pull his little double-crosses against practically everyone, but Lupino is miscast, trying but failing to strike the right comic tone in her jealous rages. The familiar character actor Tom Dugan plays one of the cops.

In MEETS A LADY, William has lost the daughter and gotten a different butler, the priceless Eric Blore, who is much more amusing than his predecessor. Jean Muir, about to marry into the rich Penyon family via the son, Warren Hull, has to wear the family's valuable heirloom diamond necklace at a high society party. We see family member Marla Shelton telephone Victor Jory to tell him the necklace's whereabouts. Later that night, Muir's ex-husband (Roger Pryor), thought dead, shows up at her apartment and demands the necklace, but before he can get it, he is shot and killed by an unseen person. On the streets, the William and Blore almost hit Muir with their car and they're all taken downtown by a traffic cop. When William hears her story, he gives her an alibi, but she gets nervous and bolts anyway. William poses as a cop, gathers all the partygoers, and begins to get the bottom of the case, which involves an imitation copy of the necklace being passed off as the real thing. This film, though definitely not aiming at a screwball tone, manages to be breezier and more fun than the first one, largely due to the interplay between William and Blore. Other Lone Wolf entries might be worth watching just for these two actors. Otherwise, the series doesn't seem all that different from the Falcon or the Saint. Still, fans of the short, light detective thriller will probably enjoy these. [TCM]

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