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Sunday 4 November 2007

The Notorious Lone Wolf (1946) D Ross Lederman

It's only been four years, says the Lone Wolf, Michael Lanyard, to his ever faithful gentleman's gentleman, Jamison, as he arrives back in New York after his work abroad during the war. It had actually been three years since the last Lone Wolf movie and Warren William had moved onto other things, so the role passed on to Gerald Mohr for three films and finally to Ron Randell for the last thus far (not that I expect another one half a century on but with Hollywood today, who knows).

Warren William certainly had the longest crack at the part, playing the Lone Wolf nine times, but he wasn't the first and he wasn't the last. In fact he didn't even join the series until film number eleven, the original Lone Wolf being Bert Lytell in 1917. William may or may not have been the best, but more importantly right now he's the only one I know, having taken the lead in all six that I've seen. Mohr does bring a charm to the role but he can't match his predecessor in my eyes. He looks more like William Powell than Warren William, merely a less sophisticated one with less composure and less years. Even when William Powell was young he didn't look it, but Mohr looks like a young Powell with Desi Arnaz's eyes.

Then again it sometimes takes time to pick up on nuances. I'm a huge Warren William fan today but I didn't even notice him first time out in The Wolf Man, as I didn't even know who he was and I had other people to watch anyway. It took time to recognise his talent and presence and realise just how great an actor he was; still longer to find him in his real element, the precodes. In 1941 and 1946 he simply wasn't allowed to demonstrate what he could do, because of that pesky old Production Code.

There is a story here beyond my yammering. The world famous and incredibly valuable Shalimar Sapphire is stolen. Lanyard's long time nemesis, Inspector Crane, believes that naturally Lanyard had something to do with it, even though he's only been back in the country for less than a day and is trying to find some time with Carla Winter, played by the delightful Janis Carter. However Carla and her friend Rita send him off to a club to talk with Rita's errant husband who has fallen for the club's bellydancer Lili. Needless to say the club also contains Inspector Crane, the stolen sapphire, the thief who stole it and the royals it was stolen from.

The plot is pretty bad even as B movie detective stories go, especially as it relies on us buying into everyone in it believing that Mohr and series regular Eric Blore can play the Prince of Rapur and his equerry, and that's complete nonsense. There's also the need for no end of coincidences and plot holes that aren't explained in the slightest. Where does the mouse come from? Where did the extra costumes come from? Who hired this scriptwriter? The comedy does begin reasonably well and there are even some funny jokes for a while but it doesn't last. In fact it soon falls into truly scary levels of groan inducing idiocy. Oh dear.

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