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The aphorism, "It takes a thief to catch a thief" has been the basis for many detective novels, films, and radio and television series. One of the most appealing was Michael Lanyard, the Lone Wolf, a dashing jewel thief turned private eye. He was the invention of Louis Joseph Vance, who wrote the first of eight novels, The Lone Wolf, in 1914. Columbia bought the film rights, and made all the Lone Wolf movies. In the first film version, The Lone Wolf (1917), and in subsequent silent and sound films, the character was played by several different actors, including Bert Lytell, Henry B. Walthall and Melvyn Douglas. In all of them, Lanyard remained on the wrong side of the law, but was a charming rogue nevertheless. It wasn't until 1939, when the suave Warren William took over the part in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt, that the character became a reformed thief. William would play Lanyard in six Lone Wolf films, and would be the actor most identified with the character.
In The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady (1940), the second one starring William, Lanyard literally runs into a socialite accused of murder, and tracks down the real killer. The film also introduces a sidekick for Lanyard, his bumbling valet Jamison, played perfectly by the incomparable Eric Blore. Blore would play Jamison in seven more films. The New York Times had this to say about the film: "Never taking itself too seriously, the Lone Wolf's latest escapade merges as a better than average example of the prefabricated mystery thrillers."
Michael Lanyard was not William's first time playing a sleuth - he was the first onscreen Perry Mason, playing the crime-solving lawyer in four films based on Erle Stanley Gardner's novels; and he succeeded William Powell as Philo Vance, playing the dapper detective in two films. Tall and patrician looking, with a wonderful speaking voice and a theatrical background, William was one of Hollywood's busiest leading men in the early 1930s. He played predatory cads, amoral seducers, and shyster lawyers in the pre-code era under contract at Warner Bros. When William did play an occasional straight leading man, it was often on loanout to other studios, including twice opposite Claudette Colbert, in Imitation of Life (1934), and as Julius Caesar to Colbert's Cleopatra (1934), directed Cecil B. DeMille. After the Production Code went into effect, William's cads went out of style, and he left Warner Bros. in 1936. William worked less frequently, but steadily, until his death from cancer in 1948.
Jean Muir, who plays the "lady" of the title in The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady was also a former Warner Bros. contract player. She was signed by the studio in 1933, after a Broadway triumph, but never had a breakthrough role, although she appeared in an occasional prestige production like A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). Disappointed, she returned to the stage in the late 1930s, and made only an occasional film thereafter. The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady was her next-to-last film. She worked in theater and television in New York, and in 1950 was blacklisted as a suspected communist. In the late 1960s, Muir turned to teaching acting at a college in the Midwest. She died in 1996.
William's final Lone Wolf film was Passport to Suez (1943). Gerald Mohr played the character in three more films, all with Eric Blore as Jamison. Mohr also played Lanyard on radio, and Louis Hayward played him on television.
Director: Sidney Salkow
Producer: Ralph Cohn
Screenplay: John Larkin, based on the story by Larkin and Wolfe Kaufman, based on the character by Joseph Louis Vance
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Editor: Al Clark
Cast: Warren William (Michael Lanyard), Jean Muir (Joan Bradley), Eric Blore (Jamison), Victor Jory (Clay Beaudine), Warren Hull (Bob Penyon), Roger Pryor (Pete Renick), Thurston Hall (Inspector Crane), Fred Kelsey (Dickens), Robert Emmett Keane (Peter Van Wyck).
by Margarita Landazuri