Ever since I started spending my days at home, I’ve been exploring television options (when I’m not listening to talk radio). There were a couple different choices on free broadcast TV for old westerns, but I’ve begun to exhaust those over the past year. Now, having recently acquired a new Blu-Ray player (the old one died; they seem to have the life expectancy of goldfish), I’ve begun exploring the possibilities of that device. One thing I can do with it is stream Amazon Prime video. Last night I tried out an old movie in a series I knew mostly by reputation – Passport to Suez, a Lone Wolf movie starring Warren William.
Warren William had an intriguing career. He looks and sounds like an Englishman, but was actually born in the small town of Aitkin, Minnesota. One’s immediate impression when he comes on screen is, “This can’t be the hero. He’s too old.” He does indeed look old, but nevertheless he is the star. Like Basil Rathbone, he was known as a screen villain, but had a successful run as a movie detective – Michael Lanyard, “The Lone Wolf.” (This 1943 movie would be his last appearance in the role. He would die in 1948, aged 53.) The Lone Wolf character was similar to the Saint – a reformed thief now operating as a private detective. The character was created by American writer Louis Joseph Vance in 1914. Though English, Michael Lanyard (it is clearly explained) is now a patriotic American citizen.
The Lone Wolf does not noticeably live up to his nickname. He is staying in a Cairo hotel with his constant companion, his valet Jamison (Eric Blore), and immediately gets flowers sent by the hotel’s owner, his old buddy Johnny Booth (a young Sheldon Leonard playing a sort of Rick Blaine without the secret sorrow). A driver named Fritz (a youthful Lloyd Bridges showing off a not-bad English accent) comes to take them to visit the head of British intelligence in the city, but Fritz is actually a Nazi agent. He delivers them to a German spymaster, who threatens them to help him but is bluffing – he knows Lanyard will try to double-cross him, and he’s planning on that.
It all gets complicated (and implausible). Actress Ann Savage is there as the Dangerous Dame, and a series of Middle Eastern sinister types worthy of “Algiers” (one of my favorite movies) pop in and out, often through an odd tiled wall in Johnny’s office, equipped with a secret door. (It seems as if anybody can wander in; I’d have it nailed shut if I were him.) But all in all, Passport to Suez was a pleasant entertainment, atmospheric and streaked with interesting shadows. I liked it.
My only real quibble is the final action sequence, which involves Lanyard in a borrowed plane, firing a machine gun at a car driven by fleeing Nazis. This is supposed to be Egypt, but the landscape looks like the American Midwest. I mean, there’s plenty of desert not far from Los Angeles. Couldn’t they have shot there? (I expect the answer is, “We were using stock footage.”)
Still, a fun flick. I think I’ll watch another.