Based on characters
created by Louis Joseph Vance
Some of the comic mysteries of the Thirties and Forties seem closer to screwball comedies with just a dab of crime and mystery content mixed in for good effect. Such is the case with The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt, which is among the silliest of the installments of this series that I've seen thus far and which also marks the first appearance of Warren William in the title role.
William came to the role with some pretty decent credentials in the field of mystery cinema, having already played the role of Philo Vance (as did William Powell) and Perry Mason. The Lone Wolf got his start about a quarter of a century earlier in a series of books by Louis Joseph Vance and hit the big screen for the first time just three years later. I've only seen three of the many actors who played the role over the years but it's hard to imagine any of the others being more suited for it than William.
The plot of The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt is a fairly typical one, by Lone Wolf standards. A gang of spies want to get their hands on aircraft plans and make it look like former jewel thief, the Lone Wolf (Michael Lanyard), is the one who did it. The next time around they actually kidnap Lanyard and make him crack a safe, again framing him for the crime.
But Lanyard has a few tricks up his sleeve and before it's all said and done justice does prevail. With plenty of zany antics to lighten things up along the way. One notable omission this time around was in the character of Jameson, Lanyard's butler. He is actually here but this time out he's played by Leonard Carey, who played an incredible number of butlers and valets in his career and who was apparently Hollywood's go-to guy when it came to this kind of role.
Which is all well and good but his Jameson is really just Lanyard's butler, for the most part, unlike the next incarnation of the character, who served as much as a sidekick as a butler. That Jameson was played by Eric Blore, who took over the role and played it pretty much all the way through until the last installment, with perhaps one or two movies off. I didn't like Blore at first but I came to over time and he and William actually make quite a good pair.
Other points of interest here are Lanyard's pre-teen daughter, which was an odd twist, so much so that she doesn't appear in any of the later installments that I've seen. Also of note is the screwball comedy battle of the sexes subplot concerning Lanyard and his steady girlfriend, played (and perhaps a bit overplayed) by Ida Lupino. Much is made of a number of misunderstandings between the two, usually having to do with other women, which means that the beleaguered Mr. Lanyard is getting it from three sides at once - bad guys, police and significant other.
A pretty good installment, this one, if I do say so myself. For my other reviews of Lone Wolf movies, as well an overview I wrote for the Criminal Element blog, look here. For another perspective on the movie as well as a very in-depth look at its star, check out Cliff Aliperti's Warren William site.