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Thursday 15 November 2007

Arsène Lupin Returns (1938) George Fitzmaurice

After Perry Mason and before the Lone Wolf, Warren William was Steve Emerson, G-Man supreme, for a single but memorable film. He can't fail, it seems, and thus ends up on the front page so frequently that every crook in the country knows what he looks like. He's thus out of a job and starts with the Tyrone Insurance Underwriters who have him straight to work on the de Grissac emerald case. Someone has stolen the fake substitute emerald and tied up the beautiful Lorraine de Grissac and the rest of her party. However the real emerald is apparently safe in the hotel safe.

As if in preparation for his long run as a reformed international jewel thief, Michael Lanyard, William plays an investigator fighting one here and he's no bungling cop. However certain clues lead him to conclude that the job was done by no other than Arsène Lupin, one of the most notorious reformed gentleman thieves of them all. Lupin is apparently dead, though no body was ever found, and he's really hiding under the name of Rene Farrand, pig farmer, played by Melvyn Douglas (who had played the Lone Wolf already). He's also very much interested in Lorraine, which is hardly surprising given that she looks precisely like Virginia Bruce, and that leads to a joyous battle for her affections between William and Douglas.

What happy star was shining over the MGM lot in 1938 I don't know but this is a peach of a cast strutting their stuff in a cleverly constructed plot. Third billed Warren William gets plenty of screen time, some excellent dialogue and lots to do. He plays superbly off Melvyn Douglas, which is a good thing because Emerson suspects Farrand and Farrand (and the French police) suspect him. Bruce is underused, as most women weew in the Hollywood of 1938 but she's a pleasant background to Douglas and William.

The film has far more than just three leads with first names for both their first and last. Lupin's former collaborators are played by E E Clive and Nat Pendleton, who are always worth watching, the Prefect of Police is George Zucco and there's Monty Woolley, John Halliday, Ian Wolfe, Tully Marshall, Jonathan Hale and more. All of them do exactly what they need to, but the true joy here is in watching the battle of wits between Warren William and Melvyn Douglas. There's no word for that but 'treat'. I just wish that this wasn't just a one off. Bravo!

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