Sunday, 20 June 2010

Third Wong's A Charm...

Mr. Wong In Chinatown 1939 US
Directed by William Nigh
Monogram/VCI Home Entertainment
DVD Region 1

Or maybe not. The third of the six movies following the exploits of scientific detective James Lee Wong, again stars Boris Karloff in the lead role (he played the role five out of six times) and Inspector Street, his police chief sidekick is back along for the ride.

Unfortunately the Monogram-pacing is relentlessly slow for the first half an hour of this movie and Mr. Wong, while still shown playing with test tubes and in one scene practicing the science of graphology, really doesn’t use his scientific background to solve any of the murderous shenanigans in this one.

The good news is that they’ve brought back a plucky reporter character, this time played by Marjorie Reynolds, to act as a 30s screwball foil to the hot headed Street and these films really need this kind of character in them. In this one she’s given some key action and plot development time in that she saves Mr. Wong from an exploding car trap and also stumbles onto a big clue in the investigation... a clue which is a really stupid clue by the way. She finds a key and fob from a hotel room which one of the bad guys has dropped. Street phones the hotel and finds that the guy has checked out of the hotel only that afternoon... Good grief! Then why would the guy still have his hotel room key on him to drop as a clue. Use your head Mr. Scriptwriter!

My greatest discovery in this one was an uncredited taxi driver who has a couple of lines. I recognised Donald Kerr straight away! Yes folks, it’s Happy. Good old Happy Hapgood the comic relief reporter from the second of the three Flash Gordon serials, Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars, turns up in this not one year after his big role in the Buster Crabbe serial. How can that be? Why was this guy doomed to taking uncredited bit-parts in Monogram quickies in the thirties and forties... I’ll have to do some research into Donald Kerr when I get some more time. I really like that little guy!

So, Mr. Wong in Chinatown is not as scientifically devilish or clever as the first Wong movie but certainly a little less plodding and dull than the second movie, although the lighting during the first half an hour or so is terrible and since the scenes are mostly shot at night in the early parts of the film, you can barely make out what is going on in some of it.

Not as entertaining as it could have been... but Boris Karloff is always worth watching.

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