Red Herrings

Dalton Trumbo is the main writer on THE LONE WOLF STRIKES, and you can tell. At the start of the tale, Michael Lanyard, AKA the Lone Wolf, as inhabited by Warren the starving lion William, having previously given up a life of crime for a life of adventure, has given up a life of adventure for a life aquatic, breeding fish in his Manhattan apartment. It makes a nice image, the stacks of fish tanks filling half the view, the picture window opening onto distant skyscrapers — all glassy grids, you see.

We remember of course that Laurence Olivier has a whole speech about oysters in SPARTACUS, Trumbo’s most famous screen credit, so obviously the man was a keen piscatorian and liked to get his hobby up there on the big screen. He liked to write in the bath, also, like a fish, or Waldo Lydecker or Jean-Paul Marat. The plot of this one is about stolen pearls, so the oceanic note is continued neatly.

Eric Blore gets to say: “I couldn’t help myself, sir. Miss Jordan’s a regular VAMpire, sir, she fairly WORMED it out of me!”

Also: “I LOATHE fish!!!” and “OOOH! I’ve spilled the beans!

It’s not so ridiculous, having a detective story where the shamus is more concerned with scallops than sleuthing. CHINATOWN features a discursion on fish at the Abalone Club, Detective Kinderman in EXORCIST III delivers a monologue on carp held over from the original movie on account of its extreme length and irrelevance, and Raymond Chandler began but did not finish a novel, The Big Swim Bladder, in which Philip Marlowe is distracted from a vicious blackmail-and-homicide case by the undulations of a particularly appetising halibut.

The film tries to winkle comedy out of WW being harried by his client, a slightly spoiled heiress, but as she’s the bereaved daughter of a recent murderee, it’s hard to take her being the butt of a joke.

Interesting that guys like Trumbo, Waldo Salt, and various of the Hollywood Ten mainly made a living with this kind of cheery pablum, but racked up reps for high seriousness during their years of unemployment. Still, the dialogue has a zing, and certainly plays to the stars’ well-established personae. “Why Mr. Lanyard, you’re simply…” “Terrific? Of course I am.”

Sidney Salkow, the Tarkovsky of the flat two-shot, once more directs with his customary… attendance? None of his shots match, is what I’m saying.

THE LONE WOLF STRIKES stars Julius Caesar; Mr. Toad; Phyllis Fowler; Mr. Fenty; Lois Clarke; Professor Schmutz; Bob Wayne / ‘Copperhead’; Walt Spoon; Morony; Crowd Member; and Man in Talking Pictures Demonstration (uncredited).

“It’s only when you’re immersed in your fish that you disappoint ME, sir.”

4 Responses to “Red Herrings”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    And when it comes to fish, don’t forget Welles’ great monologue on sharks in “Lady From Shanghai’

  2. And the aquarium love scene!

    Warren William ends this one by inviting Joan Perry on a date to the aquarium. She’s suitably appreciative.

  3. Think it was “From Russia With Love” where a then-faceless Blofeld would put fighting fish together in a tank, freaking out Lotte Lenya. The loser was kitty food.

  4. ESB has found a way to combine fish-fancying with master-criminality, whereas for ML, sleuthing and ichthyology are somewhat in conflict throughout the picture. If he could only invent sleuchthyology he’d be a regular Pollack Holmes.

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