If you’ve seen more than a handful of Warren William’s Lone Wolf entries then you’ll probably agree with me that it’s only with The Lone Wolf Strikes, his second go-around as Michael Lanyard, that we can sit back and say, “Now, we’re getting there!”
Gone are to too wacky Ida Lupino and the overbearing Virginia Weidler. If you did like what Lupino did in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939) then consider your reward in The Lone Wolf Strikes to be a toned down version in Joan Perry’s Delia Jordan. Weidler, as Lanyard’s daughter, has been wiped from history, a footnote to the series never to be mentioned again.
While Leonard Carey and Tom Dugan were much less annoying in Spy Hunt than were Lupino and Weidler, The Lone Wolf Strikes brings notable upgrades who are going to be with us for most of the rest of the way.
Carey’s Jameson with an E is now all energy, plus eye bulges and sarcasm, courtesy of the wonderful character actor Eric Blore. Blore, best known for his recurring appearances in RKO’s Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, will play the part in each of William’s remaining turns as The Lone Wolf plus three more times opposite Gerald Mohr’s Lanyard later in the decade. Jamison is still Lanyard’s long-time gentleman’s gentleman, but if you’ve got a good eye you’ll see that that’s now Jamison with an I rather than E.
Dugan as non-entity sidekick to Don Beddoe’s Inspector Thomas has been replaced by one of the busiest bit actors out there, Fred Kelsey, in his first go as Detective Dickens, opposite one Inspector Conroy still played by Beddoe.
That will change next time around when Thurston Hall arrives to put a little more oomph into the Inspector character. I actually enjoyed Beddoe more this time in The Lone Wolf Strikes than I had in Spy Hunt as his character seems to have a little more of a rough edge about him and, in what I imagine is a credit to Kelsey, has better interplay with his underling in Strikes than he had in Spy Hunt.
Kelsey’s Dickens, who evolves into a bit of a goofball to put it mildly, is pretty dopey in The Lone Wolf Strikes but at least it’s an intense dopiness. Time is limited for Dickens in The Lone Wolf Strikes, but it’s hard not to enjoy his practically drooling like a mad puppy alongside his master, the Inspector, while chasing down Jamison. He also gets to mug nicely between Lanyard and Jamison after the case his been solved.
Perhaps it’s addition by subtraction, but Warren William as bachelor Lanyard steps it up a bit in The Lone Wolf Strikes as well. He has one of highlights of the series with his over the top impersonation of the European accented jewelry fence Emil Gorlick. Keep in mind that I’m just watching all the Lone Wolf movies again one by one for the first time in a couple of years, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I came back when I reached the end to stress that William’s Gorlick impersonation was the highlight of the series.
The scene played with his old friendly nemesis Gorlick (Montagu Love) is great in it’s own right. I’m not familiar with either Louis Joseph Vance’s original Lone Wolf novels and memories of the pre-Warren William Lone Wolf entries are hazy, but I have a feeling we have never encountered Emil Gorlick before in any form. But upon their meeting at the Madison Hotel we have the two experienced crooks reminiscing over past times in Paris and Budapest.
Past times which saw the Lone Wolf get the best of Gorlick each time. So it’s with reservation that Gorlick listens to Lanyard’s pitch about a rare pin, but given the opportunity to purchase the valuable bit of jewelry at discount of $1,000 from it’s $5,000 value, Gorlick carefully pounces. “You don’t think I’d cheat an old friend,” Lanyard says to him as Gorlick tucks the pin safely away. “I know you would,” Gorlick responds causing both men to chuckle at their tenuous business relationship.
By the end of the scene Lanyard has worked out that the crooks Gorlick is in town to meet with have never actually seen him before, so he leaves Gorlick tied to a chair and is on his way. Not before rescuing the $5,000 pin from the helpless Gorlick. “Again, you do this me,” Gorlick says. “You should know better than to believe me,” Lanyard matter-of-factly tells him before gagging him and taking off to keep Gorlick’s appointment.
Meeting his busy body client, Delia Jordan (Perry), in the hotel lobby he responds to her calling out his name by turning on his Gorlick accent and saying, “Lanyard? Lanyard? You have made a mistake.” Perry’s reaction (“What?”) is priceless as she’s responding to Lanyard’s bizarre impersonation pretty much as the audience does.
In The Lone Wolf Strikes we also get to see how Lanyard relaxes through one of what will be a few of the Lone Wolf’s various hobbies. He’s now a aquarist, much to Jamison’s disappointment.
When we first meet Lanyard in The Lone Wolf Strikes he has his face near one of many of his tanks whispering sweet nothings to one of his fish: “My darling, you’re the most glamorous, the most colorful female I’ve ever known.” When he adds, “Such grace, such savoir faire,” Jamison’s had enough and interrupts saying, “I think you’re laying it on a bit thick, sir.” He soon adds, “I’m fed up with being a gentleman’s gentleman to a bunch of sardines.”
When old friend Stanley Young (Addison Richards) arrives Lanyard goes on about his fish rattling off names of some great works of ichthyological literature including, my favorite, Confessions of a Shrimp, before Stanley cuts him off with more serious matters. The set-up to our story.
More on that in a moment, but first, those fish. Lanyard, who considers himself fully retired and no longer The Lone Wolf, takes to them like an addict looking to kick a habit by distraction. Jamison’s disgust with the fish always comes with mention of the good old days, but Lanyard is doing his darnedest to reform. If spending all of his spare hours taking care of fish keeps him from straying then he’s going to do so. The funny part is that Lanyard doesn’t just have a tank or two, he’s got an entire wall lined with tanks from top to bottom. Just enough to keep him busy and out of trouble.
So Stanley shows up because Lanyard’s an old friend who owes him a favor. He tells Lanyard the story of what we’ve just seen in the first few minutes of The Lone Wolf Strikes. Spies are put aside this time for a more traditional caper.
At the open we meet Phillip Jordan (Roy Gordon), who we’ll eventually know as Delia’s father, but we haven’t met her yet. He’s with his girlfriend Binnie Weldon (Astrid Allwyn), who’s admiring the widower Jordan’s late wife’s pearls in a painting. Phillip offers to let Binnie wear the pearls that night and when she gives them back at the end of the evening her comment, “I’m almost tempted to steal them,” alerts us to the fact that she just has.
Binnie returns home where her real boyfriend, Jim Ryder (Alan Baxter), is waiting to receive the good news about the pearls. Binnie had pulled a switch, substituting some fake pearls in exchange for the real ones and the pair are quite satisfied that they have a long head start on being discovered because Jordan had told Binnie that he didn’t expect to take the pearls out of storage again until daughter Delia was married.
Problem is that their cheap imitations catch on Jordan’s shirt pocket when he removes them to put back in the safe that night. He brings them to the jewelers for repair and the jeweler returns them with the bad news. Jordan quickly realizes what’s happened and puts in a call to Binnie demanding the return of the real pearls. After Binnie hangs up to discuss the situation with Ryder ominous music plays while Ryder gives Binnie a pretty nasty look on his way out the door.
Headlines the next day trumpet that Phillip Jordan has been killed in a mysterious car accident.
Lanyard’s old pal Stanley Young was Jordan’s business partner. After he fills Lanyard in about the pearls he remarks that Jordan’s daughter is waiting downstairs. Lanyard calls the front desk and has them send Delia up to his room.
She quickly proves to be trouble by pushing Lanyard hard for details and telling him some of her own ideas about the case. When she suggests that Lanyard hire five or six detectives to watch over Binnie and Ryder, Lanyard replies, “I’ve always agreed with the adage he travels fastest who travels alone.”
“Oh yes, you’re the Lone Wolf,” says Delia.
“Precisely, Miss Jordan,” replies Lanyard in William’s most deadly serious tone.
As it turns out the murder and intrigue of The Lone Wolf Strikes extends far above Binnie Weldon and Jim Ryder, who Lanyard has a relatively easy time taking care of. There are other crooks, another murder, car chases and more all coming. In fact we don’t even meet the Inspector and Dickens until we’re about 48 minutes into the 67 minute movie.
The Lone Wolf Strikes would be the first of four Warren William Lone Wolf entries directed by Sidney Salkow. Salkow, whose obituary remembers him best by his work on the Lone Wolf, also provided the scripts for the other three he worked on. The Lone Wolf Strikes, however, was adapted to the screen by Harry Segall and Albert Duffy from a story by the talented and soon famously blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.
Joan Perry, who gets a lot of face time in The Lone Wolf Strikes as Delia Jordan, is most famous for being Mrs. Harry Cohn.
Cohn, Columbia’s head of production, had spotted Perry when she was modeling in New York in the early 1930’s. He brought her out to Hollywood in 1935 and society columns had him squiring her about town as early as 1938. In an interesting aside, Rita Hayworth, who appeared in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt, signed with Columbia at the same time as Perry. According to Perry’s 1996 obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Cohn prophetically told her at the time that, “Hayworth will be a star, and you’ll be my wife.”
Her film career came to abrupt halt after she married Cohn, July 13, 1941. Despite Cohn’s terrible reputation with the starlets they remained married through his death in 1958 at which time Perry inherited half of his estate valued between $4-$5 million dollars including 38% of Columbia’s stock. After Cohn’s death there was some talk of Perry making a power play to take over Columbia herself, but that idea seems to have fizzled out.
The Lone Wolf Strikes is Warren William’s second of nine turns as the former jewel thief Michael Lanyard. With his blundered stay at MGM behind him, William’s career is most definitely on the down slope, yet at the same time he seems at last back on the right track. As John Stangeland writes in his Warren William biography, Magnificent Scoundrel of Pre-Code Hollywood, William is now on a non-exclusive contract with Columbia to do two Lone Wolf movies per year with the freedom to work on whatever freelance projects he liked in between.
Stangeland writes, “It was a very happy arrangement for Warren … He could work when he wanted, on the films he wanted, and be the arbiter of his own fate” (181).
William would be the lead in Columbia’s Lone Wolf series through 1943 and play support in other titles which, barring The Wolf Man (1941) in which his role was quite small, seemed to drop in quality throughout his time as Lanyard.
Note: I’m going to try and cover The Lone Wolf series as TCM airs them the next several Saturday mornings. Since, for some reason, they’re airing The Lone Wolf Strikes and The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady out of order I should be back with a new article very soon.
I do have one problem though. You’ve probably noticed this article is illustrated by still photos rather than my usual screen captures. This is because my Lone Wolf disc won’t play on my computer (it’s fine on my TV though). It worked out this time because I had several stills from The Lone Wolf Strikes, but my selection becomes much more limited going forward. I am going to re-record these as TCM airs them, but that means I can’t grab screen captures until after articles are posted.
So if you happen to have any still photos for any of the seven Lone Wolf titles I have left to cover here I’d love to acquire scans from you for use on the site. You can go as wide as 510 pixels on the scans and anything larger I can edit down to that size. If you feel like making an image donation just let me know.
I’ll be posting The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady within the next few days so there’s a priority on those images. Thanks for helping out!