So, picture the scene. You’re an evil genius megalomaniac head of a top secret criminal organisation. You’ve kidnapped the heroine and strapped her down in your diabolical tickling machine. You nestle down in your comfortable rotating armchair, in your giant subterranean HQ, to enjoy a spot of mechanically-assisted torture, and ~


Goddamnit! They spelled “SCORPION” wrong! It’s supposed to be Secret Cult Organisation Ransacking Perniciously In Outer Nagasaki. Everybody knows you can’t have a sentence without a verb! 

The toon in question is TV show Lupin III, from the manga by Monkey Punch (call me cynical, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that’s a nom de plume). I was aware of the character of Arsene Lupin III because of the Hayao Miyazaki movie CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (which Spielberg credits with having the best car chase ever put on film — I wonder if he’ll try something like it in his TINTIN film, his first venture into pure[ish] animation?) and also because my Japanese friend Kiyo, who first introduced me to Miyazaki’s genius, showed me a couple of TV show episodes directed by the master. One featured a giant aeroplane, a sort of sci-fi Spruce Goose, which transformed into a giant robot rather like the ones in LAPUTA/CASTLE IN THE SKY. On his recent visit Kiyo recommended a few earlier episodes made before Miyazaki joined the show, but I’m sorry to say that despite the near-constant action and crazy inventiveness, I didn’t enjoy them as much.

The TV show always had a marked tendency to titillating sexiness which Miyazaki was careful to eradicate from his feature version, but which returns with added strength in later movies. I recall seeing one on the sci-fi channel which ended with a cut from Lupin’s finger touching Fujiko’s nipple, to an atomic bomb detonation…


Shake that disturbing conjunction from your minds, though, because here’s Melvyn Douglas with an armful of puppies! The movie is ARSENE LUPIN’S RETURN, and asides from the fact that the plot set-up — a retired master criminal finds his hideaway threatened when a copycat burglar starts thieving in his name — is identical to that of Hitchcock’s later TO CATCH A THIEF, the main interest here is the absurdly high number of familiar faces crowded into what is essentially a B-movie. Apart from the relaxed, comically-serious and seriously-comic Douglas, there’s Warren William at his most good-humoured, playing the vain cop who’s out to nab Lupin. Adding their support, we have Virginia Bruce, Jon Halliday, Nat Pendleton, Monty Woolley, EE Clive, George Zucco, Vladimir Sokoloff and Tully Marshall. You may not know all their names, but you’d know their faces. An incredible panoply of talent to assemble for what’s essentially an above-average B-caper.

The year was 1938, and Hollywood’s talent pool was not yet depleted by war. In a couple of years, Monty Woolley would be leading the Bearded Battalion to victory in Northern Europe, while Warren William would join the Legion of Celebrated Profiles, striking fear into the Japanese invaders in darkest Burma.

To dispel such grim, martial imagery, here is an image of Melvyn Douglas with an armful of piglets.



29 Responses to “(sp?)”

  1. “I wonder if he’ll try something like it in his TINTIN film”

    Don’t doubt it for a sec! Spielberg is a master at stealing… hum, I mean, paying hommage to the finds of others.

    (If only someone told him that there is more about Miyazaki’s films than car’s chases…)

  2. Two things worth sharing:

    1. If you’re ever in Tokyo, a trip to the Studio Ghibli Museum is well worth your time. It’s absolutely lovely, a small, lovingly designed museum aimed at children but full of stuff to entertain and amuse adults, too. Plus, they show six Miyazaki shorts in rotation that you can’t see anywhere else; one of them (not the one playing the day we were there) has a baby cat bus!

    2. Though Lupin doesn’t show up, because Penguin had already put out a whole volume of stories featuring him, the new Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime is a real pleasure if you’re in the mood for gentlemen thieves.

  3. I remember ages ago watching Old Dark House and Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House almost back to back and being being a little discombobulated by the fact that sixteen years on Melvyn Douglas was still in the back of another couple’s car with his feet on the seat.

  4. There is a cat bus in My Neighbor Totoro as well. My favouirte Miyazaki is Kiki’s Delivery Service.

  5. “Lupin” is of course a rip-off of “Dupin” — the very first detective in literature created by Poe — and explicated by Lacan.

    There’s a lot on the net these days about “Tintin” being gay. SHOCKING!
    Steven won’t touch that with a ten-foot pole, be it literal or metaphorical.

    Meanwhile. . . .I though y’all would enjoy this.

  6. Awesome! And mad. And impressively 80s-tastic.

    Not sure about the Dupin-Lupin connection, since Lupes was a master-thief, not a detective. According to Wikipedia he was originally called Lopin, but a namesake politician objected. Experts also reckon that Sgt Cuff, in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, may be the first literary detective, but Collins’ neglected to make his character quirky, or to use him in a series, both faults which Poe corrected.

    The cat bus sure is a charmer, although I’m not sure I’d want to ride inside something alive. If you know what I mean.

    A trip to Tokyo may actually happen in a year or two, so thanks, Levi!

  7. Arthur S. Says:

    Tintin being gay seems to be clear in the comics. Obviously Chang Chen, his friend from China is the love of his life. The anguish of his journey to find his lost friend in TINTIN IN TIBET is immensely moving. Albert Herge Remi considered that his favourite book.

  8. Simon, the right conclusion should be that Melvyn Douglas didn’t bother in getting a driving license: If Raymond Massey or Cary Grant offer you a lift… Why Worry?

  9. David, if you travel to Japan, it’s advised to buy previously your entrance to the Ghibli Museum online (as my brother did). It seems that it is not possible to get it when you’re there.


  10. Given Cary Grant’s driving skills as showcased in Topper, I’m not sure I could relax like that in his backseat. If you know what I mean.

    Will be sure to pre-book if we make it to the land of the rising cat-bus.

    Tin-Tin being gay would be a nice compensation for some of the controversial racial stuff in the early strips.

  11. Arthur S. Says:

    Herge regretted that, with his later comics especially with THE BLUE LOTUS he diid rigorous research. One exception is TINTIN AND THE PICAROS which is kind of questionable in it’s view on Latin American politics.

    TINTIN IN TIBET won an award from the Dalai Lama.

  12. Have you seen the 1932 film Arsene Lupin, starring John Barrymore as Lupin and Lionel Barrymore as Det. Guerchard? It’s slow, probably because it’s based on the stage play and because of Jack Conway’s undistinguished direction, but the casting is perfect and the film is still enjoyable. John Barrymore may have been the only man to have played Sherlock Holmes, Raffles, and Lupin–had someone ever filmed the Lupin stories where he meets “Herlock Sholmes” Barrymore could have played opposite himself…

  13. If we were promised ‘cattrams’ I might be more pro them…

  14. oh and I think Tintin in Tibet is my fave too

  15. I haven’t read Tintin recently enough to have any clear favourites, alas. I should try and grab a few from the library.

    And I’ve never seen the Barrymore Lupin. Christopher Lee is probably unique in having played Sherlock Holmes, his brother Mycroft, and Henry Baskerville. Unbelievable that he’s never played Moriarty!

  16. To character!

  17. ———————-
    Tintin being gay seems to be clear in the comics
    I don’t think this is necessarily the case. Not all male bonding/friendship is automatically gay. Human relationships are much too complex and varied for such simplifcations.

  18. Plus things are complicated by him being a creation of an earlier era. What to us are clear signifiers might not mean the same to Herge (also depending on how clued-up he was).

  19. Snowy was gay. Tintin was Bi-Curious.

  20. And Captain Haddock?

  21. […] shadowplay david cairns « (sp?) […]

  22. Arthur S. Says:

    Haddock is in love with either Professor Calculus or his Butler Nestor.

    There is no significant woman character in the books. Bianca Castafiore is the only recurring character and she’s an…opera singer(of seemingly debatable quality) and a comic figure.

    Of course Tintin as books are about adventure and conspiracies and the like so sexuality – hetero, bi, and homo – doesn’t play a big deal at all in the books.

  23. “Women just get in the way in action movies,” ~ Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger.

    This is starting to look intriguing, though. What do we know about Herge’s relationships in real life? The Sex Life of the Belgian, as it were.

  24. ————————-
    And Captain Haddock?
    Not forgetting Captain Ahab and his crew in hot pursuit of Moby Dick…

  25. […] had bought David Dodge’s book for Transatlantic — I wrote here of a precursor to the story – to make as an independent movie, but finally made it as part […]

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