August 28, 2012 Leave a comment
Here’s the 12th of 16 reviews of the films in TCM’s 24 hour tribute to Warren William, to be aired August 30th, 2012:
LONE WOLF SPY HUNT *** (1939)
Starring: Warren William, Ida Lupino, Ralph Morgan, Virginia Weidler, Leonard Carey
For audiences who first succumbed to the lure of movies in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Warren William will always be remembered as the urbane gentleman thief Michael Lanyard. During that period he appeared in nine films as The Lone Wolf, Lanyard’s larcenous alter ego who was the scourge of society dames across Europe until he gave up his life of crime. The creation of writer Louis Joseph Vance, Lanyard already had a long history, with his first print appearance coming in 1914, followed in 1917 by his inaugural incarnation on film. After nine Lone Wolf movies, Warren William made his first appearance as Lanyardwhen Columbia dumped Francis Lederer following his single turn in 1938’s The Lone Wolf in Paris. The reformed cracksman was a perfect fit for Warren, combining many of the character elements that had been so successful during his career: the handsome, dapper man of action; a strong, authoritative personality, and a playful undercurrent of larceny just beneath the surface. With these elements, Warren embarked on his best remembered work, cementing the final image that the contemporary public would recall of his career.
The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt was prepared with some special attention by Columbia pictures. Solid time and resources were given to this relaunch of the series, and a superb cast was assembled around Warren William, including Ida Lupino, Rita Hayworth, Ralph Morgan and Virginia Weidler. Screenwriter Jonathan Latimer (The Glass Key, The Big Clock) delivered a stylish blend of humor and mystery, with Lanyard drawn into pre-war spy intrigue by a spy ring bent on incriminating him for the theft of some important government documents. At the same time he is fighting off the insistent advances of Val Carson (Lupino), a Senator’s daughter bent on marriage. The chemistry between William and Lupino is surprisingly nimble and effective, as Lanyard tries to stay one step ahead of her man-eating crush. The comedy now and then widens into broad farce (after one particularly contentious episode Val confronts him with rolled up sleeves and a baseball bat), but it still remains enormous fun, mainly through some expert direction, clever dialogue and Ida Lupino’s superbly endearing cartoonishness. Lanyard’s loving nemesis is helped in the cause of romanticus entraptus by his daughter Pat (Virginia Weidler), a character mercifully absent from future films in the series. It isn’t so much that Pat doesn’t contribute to the fun of the action – Weidler is actually quite amusing as the crime-obsessed pre-teen – but rather that Columbia correctly deduced that her presence would restrict the content and locales of any future stories. By the next entry in the series, The Lone Wolf Strikes, all mention of her is gone, which is entirely understandable: considering the troubles she finds herself in here, social work authorities most certainly would have had her removed to a safer environment, perhaps in a travelling circus, or the floor of a meat packing plant. After all the machinations of the various parties in Spy Hunt, the purloined documents are back in the right hands, Lanyard is exonerated and all’s right with the world, which is the finale of practically every entry in the series. In the end, none of it is particularly relevant – in the world of The Lone Wolf, credulity takes a back seat to charm, humor and pure, unadulterated fun – something one should always remember while watching Lanyard crack a safe, banter with criminals or put one over on the local gendarmes.
The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt will be broadcast on Turner Classic Movies at 2:45 AM on August 30th (actually the early morning of August 31st), 2012 as part of their Summer Under the Stars tribute to Warren William.