Sun 27 Feb 2011
SPY HUNT. Universal International, 1950. Howard Duff, Märta Torén, Philip Friend, Philip Dorn, Robert Douglas, Walter Slezak, Kurt Kreuger. Based on the novel Panthers’ Moon by Victor Canning. Director: George Sherman.
When a young woman (Märta Torén) posing as a journalist slips some vital information on microfilm into the collar of one of two rare black panthers that Steve Quain (Howard Duff) is taking from Milan to the United States – they are in fact his ticket back home, as he is otherwise flat broke – it’s the beginning of a fine tale of not so much espionage but high adventure in the heart of postwar Europe.
When the railroad car that Quain and the panthers are in is separated (intentionally) from the rest of the train, it crashes somewhere in the Swiss Alps. When Quain awakes, he is in bed in a ski area hotel, and the panthers are loose.
On the scene are a small but significant number of suspicious characters: a newspaperman, a big game hunter, and an artist, and the hunt is on. But who’s the one who’s after not the panthers but what’s in the male panther’s collar?
So hunting the down the spy is where the title comes from, but if you were to ask me, I think that they wasted a perfectly good one in Panthers’ Moon, the book by Victor Canning this movie is based on. The panthers play their part very well [FOOTNOTE], but so does Howard Duff, even though his voice and slightly perplexed speech patterns sound exactly like that fellow on the radio. Sam Spade – that’s the one.
Equally effective as essentially the only female character in this movie is the dark-haired and very pretty Swedish actress Märta Torén, whose several other American movies I am in the process of tracking down, many of them in the same noir or near noir category that this one’s in — that’s how great an impression she made on me. (Other the other hand there is a long list of female movie stars I say the same thing about. Fickle, I am.)
Märta Torén married writer-director Leonardo Bercovici in 1952 and the final few films in which she appeared were made in Italy. She died in 1957, only 31 years old.
FOOTNOTE. The black panthers were played by a pair of mountain lions who were dyed black for the film.