Sunday 30 May 2010

Wong At Heart

Mr. Wong, Detective 1938 US
Directed by William Nigh
Monogram/VCI Home Entertainment
DVD Region 1

So... taking a break from the Mr. Moto series until I can get the second box at a “more reasonable price” (aka cheaper) I am continuing my pet obsession with USA made oriental detectives with the VCI set of the six Mr. Wong films. The first five of whom star Boris Karloff in the title role (with Keye Luke taking over in the sixth one!).

Ok. First things first. I love Boris Karloff. Think he’s an incredible actor and personality but... you have to be warned... at no time in these movies does Boris make any attempt to put on an oriental accent... like Warner Oland, Sydney Toler or Peter Lorre did, for example. He just ploughs through the role in his typical English “I am Boris Karloff” voice with absolutely no vocal concessions to the ancestry of his character. I don’t know how he got away with this. Maybe in the late 30s in Hollywood, English accents sounded unusual enough in a US movie that no extra vocal hijinks were deemed necessary. Who knows?

Rest assured though, the usual gravitas of Karloff’s performance more than makes up for the lack of oriental colouring.

This is very much a slow plod of a film but, refreshingly perhaps, this is a movie which goes out of the way to prove how grounded in science it is. Mr. Wong's scientific skills are pushed to the fore as he solves the riddle of the glass spheres which shatter and release their deadly poison glass at the sound of approaching police sirens. So the film kind of plays out like a typical 1930s Doc Savage pulp, but without the breakneck action pacing that hurtled you through the pulse-pounding prose of Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson). Perhaps then, the film may have better been entitled Mr. Wong, Science Detective.

Lots of fun character actors in this one... including the guy who played Perry White in TVs The Adventures of Superman... and some series regulars, in the form of the blundering chief inspector and his screwball comedy fiance, are nicely set up here too.

Not as good as Chan or Moto but certainly worth a watch if you’re into Karloff!

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