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.