© 1942 Columbia Pictures Corporation

Counter-Espionage (1942)

Counter-Espionage is yet another movie I have watched without knowing anything whatsoever about it before hand. This one was chosen purely by its year of release, 70 years ago. I had no idea that this was only one film in a series of films with Warren William playing the detective “the Lone Wolf” or that other actors had played the same character before and since William.

Michael Lanyard, a.k.a. The Lone Wolf, first appeared in series of pulp detective novels by Louis Joseph Vance (1879–1933), with the first film adaptation being a silent short in 1914. It is hard to imagine Alfred Hitchcock wasting his time to read any of the novels or to watch any of the films, but Lanyard, as a reformed jewel thief who works undercover as a detective, has parallels to Cary Grant’s character in To Catch a Thief. In an early performance, Melvyn Douglas played the character in one film, before Warren William took over the role for nine films. Eric Blore, who played plotting butlers and waiters in several Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, took the role of Jamison, Lanyard’s British valet, for 11 films, spanning three different actors in the lead role.

Although I’ve yet to see any of the other films, but this one seems to be unique in that is set in Jamison’s home turf of London. The whole city is constantly under the threat of German air raids, and taking advantage of the darkness of the blackouts, the Lone Wolf prowls into the home of a prominent British diplomat and steals the “beam detector plans” without which London is doomed to certain destruction. Although he appears to be selling out to a faction of German spies, it is actually a front as he works for the British. By coincidence, the American president happens to be in town (but not on screen), meaning Lanyard has to duck both the American Secret Service and the much more competent Scotland Yard. Although the film manages to express the on-edge atmosphere of London during the air raids, it is obviously shot in Hollywood and the mishmash of American and British actors and their respective accents gets distracting. Lloyd Bridges makes a brief, uncredited appearance as a waiter in a restaurant that serves as a front for the spy ring, and Forrest Tucker, who would later be known for TV’s “F-Troup,” is inexplicably cast as a British air raid warden.

This was by no means a great film, but the butler snobbery of Eric Blore makes it entertaining enough. It’s probably not worthwhile to watch the whole series, but I would love to track down the one film in which Melvyn Douglas makes an appearance, as well as the one with Columbia contract player Rita Hayworth.

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