Movie night and a lovely evening for another stroll through Poverty Row; the low-budget side of Hollywood.
Asian detectives were plentiful and standard fare for movie-goers in the 30’s and 40’s. They remain so today for me. Charlie Chan (either Warner Oland or Sidney Toler), Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto, and Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong are all welcome to solve my homicidal conundrums. All of those actors are improbable, occasionally silly, and delightful. None of them of course are actually Asian…go figure. But then, the last Pad Thai we ordered was of dubious ethnicity now that I think of it.
The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939) offers us all that foolishness in big servings;
- Our Asian detective is played by an Englishman with a Russian-sounding name. Oh yeah…I’m buyin’ that.
- Thrilling quote #1; “Then it was deliberate murder.” (Is there really any other kind?)
- Thrilling quote #2; “He’s absolutely trustworthy, completely devoted to me.” (I’d be slappin’ the cuffs on him pronto.)
- Boris Karloff’s make-up looks more like it’s from Madame Tussaud’s than Nanking.
- Thrilling quote #3; “You know something, but you hold your tongue in more than one language.” (I know there’s wisdom in there somewhere but it plumb evades me.)
- The clock strikes three a.m. in the film, but when Mr. Wong emerges from his bedroom at the police detective’s summons, he’s wearing his dressing gown and a perfectly knotted tie. Classy. Of questionable sleeping hygiene, but definitely classy.
- The McGuffin in this flick is “The Eye of the Daughter of the Moon” – not quite as catchy as “The Maltese Falcon”.
I loved it.
It’s Movie Night and I’m hooked solid when the flick’s philosophical underpinnings are spelled out in the opening dialogue and are clearly words to live by.
“Dealing with a murderer is not only repugnant, but it can lead to…complications.”
I have always found this to be true.
Doesn’t that line sound like something Charlie Chan might have said? But no, it’s one of the many pearls of wisdom included in the Euro-trash classic; The Hunchback of the Morgue. This is another inexplicably overlooked candidate for adaptation to a Broadway musical.
Check out this snappy exchange;
“Yes. We’ll be using it to dispose of the anatomical parts and other organic things.”
Let’s ponder that for a moment, shall we? …”other organic things”… what could “other organic things” possibly be? And do we really want to know?
This film has so many of the basic elements of great bad film-making;
- A secret cave with jagged rock walls but a perfectly flat floor (only in the movies can such a geo-miracle exist).
- A fully functional mad doctor laboratory (with much gurgling and bubbling equipment) in said secret cave.
- Sporadic electricity (besides most of the acting). This state-of-the-art laboratory (with much gurgling and bubbling equipment) is lit by torches – go figure.
- Whispering. Everyone in the film whispers. Everyone, everywhere, all the time. I’m guessin’ the actors are actually moonlighting golf commentators.
- A hunchback with a foot fetish and the ability to climb tile-roofs like Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief.
- A student nurse whose apartment has dead animals and a Modigliani hanging on her walls. Clearly student nurses make damn good money in Europe and have a remarkable range in taste.
- Grave-robbing, decapitation, artificial life (besides most of the acting).
The only thing missing is Godzilla!
I loved it.