Passport To Suez is another Michael Lanyard/Lone Wolf picture, and it's another one made during the Second World War, meaning once again the retired jewel thief Lanyard (Warren William) and sidekick Jamison (Eric Blore) are overseas, this time around the Suez Canal.
At the hotel Lanyard is getting free gifts tossed his way, but also mysterious phone calls who keep claiming it was the ``wrong number'' when Jamison answers. Anyway, we get into hushed conversations in moving cars and underground garages soon enough.
Evil figures in the darkness abduct Jamison and demand Lanyard steal plans. But the evildoers are a little genre-aware: they know Lanyard will tell the authorities exactly what he's blackmailed into doing, and the authorities' distraction will let them steal the defense plans for the Suez Canal. And this launches things into several rounds of talks in nightclubs and sneaking into secret offices within the nightclubs and on. Some of the gimmicks are getting interesting and maybe even plausible, like a secret message being sent on a screen of fabric, visible only under ultraviolet light. Even if that didn't happen, it's certainly part of normal Second World War-era spy movie antics.
It's probably hypocritical of me to say this, but I think the trouble is this story isn't sticking enough to the Lone Wolf formula: he's not wanted for murder, or even a high-profile theft. And it's attempting to do a story of spies chasing spies chasing spies, which is getting away from the mystery-adventure stuff that really makes the series. I can see how in the midst of the war it'd be hard to do stories about accidentally stolen stamp collections when there's exciting thoughts of Nazis bombing the Suez Canal to imagine, and the appeal of having your series' hero speaking to the camera about the need to serve one's country would be hard for any studio publicity department to resist. But, well, the Lone Wolf isn't a secret agent and it's going against his strengths to have him playing at one. OK, you have a trio of spies named Rembrandt, Cezanne, and The Whistler (because ``he was a better painter than Rembrandt''), or Jamieson wondering where they keep getting all the rope he gets tied up with (``don't they have rationing here?'') but it takes more than a few flashes of life to make the whole work.
The casting in this one really interests me since it's got a lot of voices very familiar to me from old-time radio. Just about everybody strikes these ``hey, it's that guy'' responses even if I can't quite pin down which ones they are. Mostly the spies or spy-organization-members are the people who play gangsters or gangster-related-people in mysteries, so it all sounds appropriate even if I can't pin down who anybody is or what they exactly sound like. Mostly they're Sheldon Leonard. (Also Lloyd Bridges, Jay Novello, and Gavin Muir, the latter names of which trust me I hear all over the place, and Louis Merrill, who I not only hear all over the place but who turns out to look like Conan O'Brien's trumpet player La Bamba.)
Southern California stands in for Somewhere Around The Suez Canal in a late-film car-and-plane chase, and is less convincing at this than it was as Mongolia in the Ace Drummond serial.
Trivia: In 1883 the British Foreign Office offered Ferdinand de Lesseps £8 million to build a second, all-British, Suez Canal. Source: The Story of P&O, David Howarth, Stephen Howarth.
Currently Reading: In The Country Of Brooklyn: Inspiration To the World, Peter Golenbock.