You’re not dealing with jewels this time but with human lives, including your own.” – Inspector Crane to Lanyard.
There’s no hint of the civilities from the previous Secrets of the Lone Wolf (1941) in Counter-Espionage.
The Inspector (Thurston Hall) and Dickens (Fred Kelsey) are visiting Inspector Stephens (Matthew Boulton) at Scotland Yard after having completed their duties as personal bodyguards to the President’s production consultants. While they are there word comes through to Stephens that the secretive beam detector plans have been stolen from Sir Stafford Hart’s (Stanley Logan) safe.
Upon discovering a cufflink emblazoned with the letter L, Dickens mentions that the last he’d heard of Lanyard he had been vacationing in Scotland. But Inspector Stephens informs Crane and Dickens that Lanyard, formerly the Lone Wolf, had recently checked in at his Scotland Yard office to notify him that he’d be staying in London. “Completely disarming and as fascinating as ever,” says Stephens.
Dickens is convinced Lanyard has taken the plans and what’s more so too is the Inspector.
But here’s the early twist. So are we!
Sir Stafford concludes his affairs for the day and sends his secretary, Harvey Leeds (Leslie Denison), off to meet with his daughter, Pamela (Hillary Brooke), at a nearby shelter. Once Harvey departs, not without difficulties, Sir Stafford’s assistant, Kent Wells (Morton Lowry), hears a curious noise from the library. There we find the Lone Wolf up to his very old tricks. He cracks Sir Stafford’s safe and makes off unseen by the two men with the coveted beam detector plans.
Lanyard then meets up with Jamison (Eric Blore) and, after saving the life of one George Barrow (Billy Bevan) during a German blitz, they take refuge in the very shelter where Pamela Hart works. Not knowing her relation to Sir Stafford, Lanyard and Jamison each let out a little moan as they watch her prepare food for those seeking cover.
“I wonder if we’re both ahhing at the same thing, sir.”
“If you’re half a man, Jamison, we should be.”
“I do find it pretty tasty, sir,” says Jamison with typical twisted face.
“Jamison! I’m surprised at you.”
“They tell me the food in these air raid shelters is very good, sir.”
“The food?” Lanyard asks.
“Jamison, I am surprised at you,” says disgusted Lanyard before going off to be rebuffed by Pamela.
In an entry whose only real weaknesses seem to be the coincidental very small world of London the Inspectors and Dickens soon arrive at the same shelter and spot Lanyard.
Pam is revealed as Sir Stafford’s daughter as she inquires about her boyfriend, Harvey, who was supposed to meet her. She doesn’t believe it when she’s told that Harvey is under suspicion for being involved with the Lone Wolf. Crane himself is surprised and points out that Lanyard, the Lone Wolf after all, typically works on his own.
Lanyard replies, “Very well put, Inspector, thank you.” And then Dickens nearly causes a riot when he says a little too loud, “He used to be the slickest international jewel thief the police ever knew. Now he’s a spy.”
After a daring escape from Scotland Yard, Lanyard bolts outside and is met by Anton Schugg (Forrest Tucker), whom we’ve previously seen taking a wrench to Harvey’s skull. After some entertaining back and forth chatter Schugg blindfolds Lanyard and escorts him to the hidden offices of his boss, Gustav Soessel (Kurt Katch). Unlike the husky All-American Tucker, Katch actually resembles Eric Blore crossed with a good portion of Erich von Stroheim. There’s no guesswork involved, this Soessel fellow is one hundred percent Nazi villain right down to his Heil Hitlers.
Unlike the previous Secrets of the Lone Wolf, where the entire story centered upon our four main characters to the detriment of all others, Counter-Espionage puts every one of those numerous characters I’ve named to good use. The main characters, barring Warren William as the Lone Wolf, are each scaled back some to make room for all of the others.
Inspector Stephens is as important to the story as Crane and Dickens, however Crane and Dickens are de-emphasized as much as they have been in several episodes now. Even Jamison has a somewhat smaller role with Lanyard at one point sending him off to the movies to keep him out of his way.
The London setting of Counter-Espionage not only puts Nazis on the ground but gives it an excuse to have the British blitzed from above on a few occasions. In fact, air raid sirens blare over the opening scene and images of German destruction are somewhat instrumental in the putting over the climax of the movie as well.
Fans just getting into the series will be made more comfortable by early screen appearances of three later favorites including Forrest Tucker as Nazi Schugg; Hillary Brooke, later Lou Costello tease on The Abbott and Costello Show, in one of her earliest credited roles as the very British daughter of Sir Stafford; and the return of Lloyd Bridges, who’d previously appeared as the inventor in The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance (1941), going unbilled this time in a brief bit as a Nazi waiter with a mustache.
Counter-Espionage was filmed in the Spring of 1942 and released later that year, so not only is the humor toned down but Lanyard’s old foils are repulsed by the possibility that he may actually be a spy. Inspector Stephens practically spits at Lanyard late in the picture when he tells him, “I hope you realize what a cursed memory you’ll always be to English people”
Even Jamison has his doubts about his master at one point. He asks his boss what he expects to do with the stolen plans and Lanyard tells him that he’s going to hand them over to the Nazi Stoessel. Jamison is momentarily appalled and in one of the oddest bits of dialog in the series actually scolds his boss, saying, “Mr. Lanyard, this is no time for persiflage.”
Warren William does get to have a little fun in a brief scene with the old silent clown Clyde Cook, who’s selling chestnuts on the streets of London in Counter-Espionage. Likewise he has a pretty good time when Jamison leads him through the streets blindfolded attempting to recreate the path Schugg had taken him along earlier.
Counter-Espionage packs more action than any of the Warren William Lone Wolf entries to date. While there is some mystery and intrigue, most of that is cleared up rather quick and the film instead stands as more of an Action-Adventure thriller than anything else. A pretty good one at that.
There’s a thrill in this, Jamison. The chance to strike a blow for Democracy.” – Michael Lanyard aka The Lone Wolf