Monday, November 26, 2007

B-movie detectives: Part 1

It's always a pleasure to run across an old black-and-white movie or movie series that I wasn't previously familar with.

In this case, it's a series of movies from the late 1930s & 1940s starring Warren Williams as "The Lone Wolf," a reformed thief who now spends his time as a gentleman of leisure catching criminals.

The detectives of the B-movies of that era present us with some of the most purely entertaining films ever made. They feature likable protagonists and good plots. They were usually short--65 to 75 minutes long--and no time was ever wasted getting to the story and telling it well.

That was it. Plain good storytelling. Some were better than others, but I have yet to run across a B-movie detective with whom I didn't enjoy spending my time. The same is true with many of the B-movie Western characters.

"The Lone Wolf" movies actually go back to the silent days, and continued on to the late 1940s, with the character later being played by Gerald Mohr (who also portrayed him in a short-lived radio series). Recently, Turner Classic Movies ran a bunch of the Warren Williams entries. Since I don't own one of those new-fangled television machines, one of my co-workers recorded three of the movies for me on DVD-R. I watched them over the Thanksgiving break.

All three were great fun (though a major plot hole mars one of them.) The best of the three I saw was The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady, in which he does just that. This lady, though, has just been framed for murder. Being the nice guy he is, the Lone Wolf helps to catch the real killer and thus save the lady. He himself has to go on the run while doing so--because of his neferious past, the police are always pretty quick to presume that he shares in the guilt of any crime committed in his general area.

Warren Willaims played the lead with aplomb. The plot was solid, with a really neat twist near the end and clues that had been fairly planted along the way for us all to see. The supporting characters are colorful and the comic relief was reasonably funny. The plot moves quickly and logically--you have to pay attention, but it all makes sense in the end.

If you ever find yourself on the run from the cops for a crime you didn't commit, be sure to keep the Lone Wolf on your short list of people to go to for help.

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