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The Lone Wolf Strikes

The Lone Wolf Strikes(1940)

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teaser The Lone Wolf Strikes (1940)

In his second film as Louis Joseph Vance's gentleman detective, Warren William took on one of Hollywood's most acclaimed hostesses and an inveterate scene-stealer. A rarity among Hollywood's low-budget detective series, the low-budget thriller, The Lone Wolf Strikes (1940), scored well with critics and often proved more popular than the big budget films with which it was paired. The tale of a jewel theft and murder William has to solve to clear himself of suspicion led the New York Times critic to praise "the niftiest jools-and-robbers picture since goodness knows when," even suggesting that the film's cross-double-cross plot possessed "a state of technical richness similar to that of a Bach fugue."

Vance had introduced the Lone Wolf, Michael Lanyard, as a criminal with a heart of gold in his 1914 novel The Lone Wolf. The character jumped to the silver screen in 1917, with Bert Lytell playing the role. By the time talking films came around, Vance had written four more novels (there would be eight in all). The character's cinematic adventures would resume in 1930 with Henry B. Walthall starring in False Faces. He would be followed by Lytell, Melvyn Douglas and Frances Lederer, all for one film each, before William made the role his own.

Stage veteran William had come to Hollywood with the arrival of talking films and quickly captured a berth at Warner Bros., where he specialized in hypocritical, often villainous businessmen and society mavens. His patrician profile and stage diction made him an ideal villain for early Depression audiences. But when Franklin Roosevelt swept into office in 1932, the type quickly became outdated. Series films (Williams played dapper sleuth Philo Vance twice and defense attorney Perry Mason four times) offered his salvation, albeit in less prestigious productions. He took over the Lone Wolf series at Columbia in 1939 with The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt, and stayed with the character for six films, twice as long as the role's next most prolific interpreter.

For his second outing in the role, The Lone Wolf Strikes, the studio upped the comedy relief by casting veteran character actor Eric Blore as William's valet, Jamieson. Blore had established a reputation as a scene stealer by offering comic highlights in some of the best Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, including Top Hat (1935) and Shall We Dance (1937), usually playing eccentric British servants. He would continue with the Lone Wolf series through the rest of William's reign while also appearing in such A-films as Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels (both 1941).

Director Sidney Salkow would also stick with the series for several films, co-writing two of them. A Hollywood veteran with credits in almost every genre, he would finish his career with low-budget films, most notably the Vincent Price vehicles Twice-Told Tales (1963) and The Last Man on Earth (1964), and television work. Journeyman writer Dalton Trumbo, who wrote the story, would not stay with the series. Instead, he scored a major hit the same year with Kitty Foyle (1940), the film that brought Ginger Rogers an Oscar® and gave Trumbo his first Oscar® nomination. It also marked his move into the ranks of Hollywood's top writers, a position he would hold until his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee would lead to his blacklisting and a prison term as a member of the Hollywood Ten.

One of the most interesting careers associated with The Lone Wolf Strikes was leading lady Joan Perry's. As the energetic heiress whose personal investigation of the jewelry theft keeps getting in William's way, she was finishing up her contract with Columbia, but the film hardly marked the end of her association with the studio. After a few more films under a new contract at Warner Bros., she finally accepted a marriage proposal from Columbia head Harry Cohn, who had begun courting her during her contract years there. As Joan Cohn, she quickly became one of the most powerful hostesses in Hollywood.

Producer: Fred Kohlmar
Director: Sidney Salkow
Screenplay: Harry Segall, Albert Duffy
Based on a story by Dalton Trumbo, based on the characters created by Louis Joseph Vance
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Score: Sidney Cutner
Cast: Warren William (Michael Lanyard), Joan Perry (Delia Jordan), Eric Blore (Jamison), Alan Baxter (Jim Ryder), Astrid Allwyn (Binnie Weldon), Montagu Love (Emil Gorlick).BW-57m.

by Frank Miller

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