You almost need a scorecard to keep all of the characters straight in One Dangerous Night. One scene near the end gathers practically every actor together in a single shot and there are so many that, while possibly the fault of my grainy copy, they practically blur into a sea of black and white. One Dangerous Night seems to be winding down towards its conclusion at this point with a gathering of the suspects reminiscent in ways to the first of The Thin Man movies, but Lanyard is foiled by the Inspector’s interjections which cause all of the loose lips to clamp shut. The gathering is then broken up by the unlikely, though still hilarious, image of Blore’s Jamison firing a Tommy Gun in the air and sending everyone scrambling before he and Lanyard make their escape.
One Dangerous Night centers around the murder of a slimy fellow called Harry Cooper. Incidentally, Cooper is played by William’s eventual successor as The Lone Wolf, Gerald Mohr. When we first see Cooper he is sending his manservant Arthur (Louis Jean Heydt) ahead to the airport with his luggage. Arthur is to call at 10 p.m. to let Cooper know if a certain party has left to meet him at the plane. We follow Arthur to a clandestine meeting with a couple of suspicious looking fellows he’s in cahoots with. Back home, Cooper has invited the several women he’s involved with to his home to return valuable pieces of jewelry to him and be put on notice that they’re now subject to further blackmail at his whim.
First to arrive is Eve Andrews (Marguerite Chapman), though not without a detour. Eve’s car breaks down on her drive to Cooper’s but she has the good luck to be picked up by The Lone Wolf and Jamison, the latter clutching a large crate of fireworks which will play a part in a moment so contrived that you can see it coming from our first glimpse of him. But even with the distracting crate on his lap Jamison, always one to recall the splendor of the good old days, manages to steal Eve’s purse before they send her on her way to Cooper’s.
The Lone Wolf is not amused: “You idiot. You petty birdbrain. Did you dare–”
“I did indeed, sir. The young lady never even missed it,” Jamison replies.
Fed up and practically speechless, Lanyard manages to spit out, “Jamison, you’re fired.” He turns the car around to head back to Cooper’s.
Cooper has excused himself from Eve for a moment to answer the call of his doorbell. Arriving next is Sonia (Tala Birell) with Jane (Mona Barrie) right behind her. Cooper leaves the two ladies with Eve so he can answer his phone and speak with that certain someone with whom he’s planning the airport rendezvous.
Each of the three women stand to lose a lot if they don’t submit to Cooper’s blackmailing: Eve Andrews is on her way that very evening to a party at which she expects to announce her engagement to Johnny Sheldon (Roger Clark). A scandal would likely torpedo the relationship. Sonia Budenny is the unhappily married wife to a very respectable Doctor (Gregory Gaye), who’s guilty of a wandering eye himself. She wants to protect the meal ticket thought. And Jane Merrick is a rising performer whose growing success could grind to a halt with a spate of scandalous press.
Each of the women has reason to be weary of the press, especially when an aggressive gossip columnist by the name of Sidney Shannon (Warren Ashe) appears on the scene as yet another character on the One Dangerous Night scorecard.
When Lanyard and Jamison arrive at Cooper’s with intentions of returning Eve’s purse, the girls are gone and Cooper’s body is on the floor with it a bullet through it. Wouldn’t you know a neighborhood police officer spots Lanyard’s car parked on the wrong side of the road next to a fire hydrant and comes to the door. Lanyard sends Jamison out of site to act out the part of several people enjoying themselves at a party, but when Jamison drops a stack of phonographs the ruckus brings the policeman into the room and into sight of Cooper’s body. Lanyard later tells Jamison he believe he dropped the records on purpose just to cause some excitement.
Guess who answers the call when the policeman reports the murder to headquarters?
Inspector Crane (Thurston Hall) and Dickens (Fred Kelsey) were just settling in at Crane’s desk for lunch when the phone rings. Crane springs from his chair, but Dickens is reluctant to leave the food.
“It’s murder, Dickens, murder!” Crane cries.
“It certainly is,” replies dejected Dickens, enjoying just a single bite before being forced to leave lunch behind.
Arriving at Cooper’s house Lanyard is implicated, Jamison’s crate of fireworks come into play, and the Lone Wolf is on the run once more accused of a murder he did not commit. His only clue is Eve’s handbag but even that doesn’t give away her identity. They discover who she is when they find her name on a tag inside the hood of her car and from there Lanyard and Jamison are off to solve the murder and clear their names.
Working a lead secured by Jamison, who listened in on a phone conversation of Eve’s, Lanyard and Jamison, with gossip hound Sidney in tow by this point, head to a tourist nightspot where Sonia is spotted eating dinner with her husband, the Doctor. Lanyard sends Jamison off with Sidney with orders to ham up an illness, which Jamison does with hilarious effect, in order to get the Doctor’s attention. With the entire club distracted by Jamison’s piercing moans, Sonia sits back down to find Lanyard sidled up beside her questioning her about the murder.
Sonia’s reaction is loud and is leading towards Lanyard’s being ejected from the club, when along comes an old friend, Vivian (Ann Savage), to save Lanyard’s skin. Apparently it’s not the first time she’s bailed him out of trouble, “Remember Monte Carlo?” she asks, but it’s out of the fire and into the frying pan for Lanyard as Vivian leads him out to a car with Arthur’s (Cooper’s manservant) two henchman waiting. Lanyard calls Vivian a “Viper,” to which she casually replies, “Sorry, Mike.”
Back inside the club the Doctor is well aware that Jamison is playing him and snaps him out of his illness by mentioning the long cut he’s going to make to get started. Jamison with eyes bulging speaks of his recovery while the Doctor notes that “… I’m deeply concerned by the peculiar look in your eye. It is not normal,” before suggesting he put Jamison in the hands of a “competent brain specialist.” We’ve been waiting half a dozen movies for someone to figure that out!
The next time we see Warren William he’s tied to a chair with Ann Savage tormenting him. Savage’s biographer, Lisa Morton, notes William’s experience in the industry and says “that for a young actress to fondle him quite the way Ann does shows a fearless performer of tremendous potential” (82). But it’s more than the physical fondling, Savage lights up the room with Vivian’s banter alternating between talk of the good old days, obviously romantic, and the fact that, “I’d just as soon plug you as not” if Lanyard tries to make a break. Morton adds, “Ann registered so strongly in the scene that it quickly became the buzz of the Columbia lot, drawing an audience at the dailies screening” (82).
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the scene steals the movie, I will say it is a very impressive debut and one of my favorite scenes in One Dangerous Night. Of course, most of my other favorites involve Eric Blore going completely over the top so take that for what it’s worth. The next we see him he’s practically drooling as he chats up the hostess at the nightclub: “My name’s Jamison, but you can call me Jamey.”
Savage would have a busy year appearing in several additional titles including an entry in each the Boston Blackie series with Chester Morris and one of the Penny Singleton-Arthur Lake Blondie movies. And, of course, later that year our next Lone Wolf entry, Passport to Suez, where she plays an entirely different character and not Vivian of One Dangerous Night.
While Savage and Gerald Mohr had connections to the Lone Wolf’s future, another cast member had a link to the past. And I don’t mean Lloyd Bridges, who I didn’t spot myself but according to the IMDb plays the Airline Gate Attendant. Tala Birell, who had worked under Max Reinhardt in Vienna and came to the U.S. as a Garbo-type for Universal had appeared in 1935’s The Lone Wolf Returns. That entry starred Melvyn Douglas as Lanyard and also included Thurston Hall in the cast playing Inspector Crane for the first time.
“You have the most amazing knack of doing the right thing at the wrong time,” Lanyard says to Jamison at the time of the gun play I mentioned earlier. William seems to give One Dangerous Night over to Blore, playing it straight throughout with most of his own dialog either outrage at Jamison’s actions or scolding him after the fact. Maybe this one was a bit of a present for Blore after being mostly invisible in Counter-Espionage. In his scenes with the other actors William seems calmer and cooler than ever before, pressing each of the women with the question, Who killed Harry Cooper?, and barely breaking a sweat even when tied up at Ann Savage’s mercy.
Take away Jamison’s crate of fireworks and One Dangerous Night is all around solid. If you think I’m harping on the fireworks please realize that the crate takes up almost as much screen as Blore himself and is ever present until it’s put to use. It’s obvious from the first time we see them that they’re going to explode in order to get Lanyard out of a tight spot and the only blessing is that it comes at his first tight spot. Surely something more creative could have been done.
We’ll give the final word, appropriately, to Jamison this time around. He’s having more fun than ever before in One Dangerous Night and seems to be getting a special kick out of putting his boss’ reformation to the test at every turn. After another Lanyard scolding, or perhaps firing, I don’t recall which, Jamison turns to the Lone Wolf and says, “Come now, sir, we always win out in the end, don’t we, sir?” Of course.
Morton, Lisa and Kent Adamson. Savage Detours: The Life and Work of Ann Savage. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2010