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After earning the title of "The King of Pre-Code" as a suave yet lusty leading man at Warner Bros. before the motion picture industry's Production Code went into effect, Warren William switched to Paramount, then MGM, in the tamer days of the late 1930s. His star was fading with the new respectability in films, although he did manage to find a good vehicle at MGM with Arsne Lupin Returns (1938), one of many dramatizations featuring the fictional French jewel thief created by Maurice Leblanc in his 1909 novel.
Specifically, this film is a sequel to the 1932 mystery classic Arsne Lupin, starring John Barrymore as Lupin, the "prince of thieves," and his brother Lionel as the detective with whom he matches wits. In the sequel William is an American FBI agent turned insurance investigator on the trail of Lupin (now played by Melvyn Douglas), who is living under an assumed name after being presumed dead.
With his air of smart sophistication and roguish charm, William -- whose resemblance to John Barrymore had often been commented upon -- might just as easily have played the thief. Later he would play The Lone Wolf, a domestic variation on the Lupin character, in a Columbia Pictures series that ran in the late 1930s and '40s. As it happened, Douglas had done time at the same studio as the same character in The Lone Wolf Returns (1935).
Even though William is third-billed after Douglas and leading lady Virginia Bruce, Arsne Lupin Returns gives him one of his better roles of the period. He expertly duels with Douglas in a plot involving the attempted theft of a precious emerald necklace belonging to Bruce as wealthy society woman Lorraine de Grissac. Naturally, both men end up in romantic pursuit of the beautiful Lorraine.
Handsomely produced for the "B" production it is, Arsne Lupin Returns has a solid supporting cast including Monty Woolley, George Zucco, John Halliday, Nat Pendleton, E.E. Clive and Vladimir Sokoloff. The director is George Fitzmaurice, with whom William had shared the experience of being dismissed from the 1934 film Nana after producer Samuel Goldwyn decided to scrap his original production of the Anna Sten vehicle and start over. (The two may have found some satisfaction in the fact that the reworked movie was a huge flop, and Sten never realized Goldwyn's vision of her as the "next Garbo.")
Reviewing Arsne Lupin Returns in The New York Times upon its original release, Frank S. Nugent wrote that, "As a combination whodunit and who-got-the-jools, it is fairer than most in its presentation of clues, and more fortunate than most in its cast... Mr. William, of course, remains Mr. William, with his sideburns, brisk stride and long, equine jaw."
Producer: John W. Considine Jr.
Director: Geo Fitzmaurice
Screenplay: James Kevin McGuinness, Howard Emmett Rogers, George Harmon Coxe (original story and screenplay); Maurice Leblanc (character); Hugo Butler, Walter Wise (contributor to treatment, both uncredited)
Cinematography: George Folsey
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Franz Waxman
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Cast: Melvyn Douglas (Rene Farrand aka Arsene Lupin), Virginia Bruce (Lorraine de Grissac), Warren William (Steve Emerson), John Halliday (Count de Grissac), Nat Pendleton (Joe Doyle), Monty Woolley (Georges Bouchet), E.E. Clive (Alf), George Zucco (Prefect of Police), Rollo Lloyd (Duval), Vladimir Sokoloff (Ivan Pavloff).
by Roger Fristoe