I can only hope that the movies Warren William made as “The Lone Wolf” improved with each subsequent release because the first movie he made as the reformed thief was no less than disappointing. Like several detective/crime novel series of the time, The Lone Wolf character inspired two dozen movies or so between 1917 and 1949. William made about six of those but failed in The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt to convince me I would not be better served watching the Gay Falcon or Saint movies.
Also tragically cast here as the pining and obnoxious love interest is Ida Lupino, who goes blonde to show us just how dumb she can play. The star really made her mark in other darker roles and merely wastes her talent in poorly named The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt.
The picture opens on a promising note as our hero Michael Lanyard (William) is cornered on the street by two thugs who whisk him away to the home of Spiro (Ralph Morgan), a criminal who asks the ex-thief to help him open a safe. Lanyard refuses, but Spiro has searched his possessions and holds onto two of the cigarettes that are specially made for the now-upstanding citizen. When a safe in the War Department is robbed of partial plans for an anti-aircraft gun and Lanyard’s cigarette is found on the scene, detectives naturally suspect the man.
Lanyard offers an alibi and is not arrested, but he is soon lured by the luscious Rita Hayworth as Karen back into the clutches of this spy group. They take him to the lab of the scientist who developed the weapon plans and hope to force him to crack open the safe there and retrieve the remainder of the plans. Lanyard fools the goons, however, and when they go searching the building for him, he cracks the safe, takes the plans for himself and puts a dummy note in the envelope the men seek. When the criminals “find” Lanyard, they have him open the safe and give them the now-worthless envelope.
Rather than give the stolen plans to the police, Lanyard stores them with a goofy senator friend (Brandon Tynan), whose daughter Val (Lupino) is infatuated with/sort of dating the Lone Wolf. The remainder of the plot focuses on the various extraneous parties that are now mixed up in Lanyard’s trouble and the back-and-forth of stolen plans among characters. Widower Lanyard’s daughter (Virginia Weidler) also becomes entangled.
William lacks all the charm most ex-criminal/detective characters tend to offer. He has some residual criminal instincts to impress us but not enough to make the audience say, wow. The story is similar, as I mentioned to movies like the Gay Falcon and the Saint and also The Thin Man stories, all of which take a non-police person and have him act as detective all the while trying to clear his own name. The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt pales by comparison to these others in the appeal of the star, the complexity of the plot, and the desirableness of the women side-kicks.
As I mentioned, Lupino essentially disgraces herself by playing the clingy and snooping girlfriend of Lanyard, who has no intention of truly dating the woman until the last quarter of the film when it seems they might actually get married. Weidler as the daughter, however, adds a lot of fun to the plot. This tom-boy loves playing mafiosa and handcuffs her father’s valet until he agrees to “die” three times the next day when she shoots him with her pretend gun that makes real noises. Weidler is not enough, however, to make The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt worth watching. Catch her in The Philadelphia Story instead.