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Once you get past the notion of Boris Karloff as a Chinese detective,
"Doomed to Die" offers a fair amount of fun. The famed James Lee Wong
(Karloff) is hot on the trail of whoever pulled the trigger on shipping
magnate Cyrus P. Wentworth (Melvin Lang). What initially looks like an
open-and-shut case soon proves much more complex as Wong endures
bullets, dead bodies and a constant questioning of his competence to
get to the elusive (and completely unpredictable) truth.
Adding some welcome comic relief are hard-nosed policeman Bill Street (Grant Withers) and the ultimate thorn in his side, eager reporter Bobbie Logan (Marjorie Reynolds). Though they've been copied a hundred times in the more than 65 years since this picture was released, their antics are enjoyable and occasionally quite funny due to the duo's strong chemistry.
Overall, it's a little clichéd, confusing and at times slow, but "Doomed to Die" is perfect for a rainy night. It has a certain old movie/Scooby Doo charm even viewers who don't go for black-and-whiters can appreciate.
As far as mystery B-movies go, you cant go "Wong" with this one.
Karloff returns once again as the famous Chinese detective James Lee
Wong to solve the murder of a shipping tycoon. What seems like an open
and shut case to Capt. Street (Grant Withers) quickly becomes a web of
deceit, lies and murder! I've only seen two Wong films, this and "The
Fatal Hour", but I really enjoyed them both, largely due to Capt.
Street and his "sidekick" reporter Bobbie Logan. The banter between
them is cliché, but often pretty funny anyway. They have great
chemistry together on screen. Karloff is, of course, great as Wong. I
loved his entrances from the most unlikely places, such as windows or
fire escapes. The plot was pretty straight forward, though it was full
of red-herrings and false suspects that made the conclusion a bit hard
to guess. Not that that's a bad thing mind you, I quite enjoyed the
ending. To sum up, I recommend this as well as the slightly better
"Fatal Hour" as two of the best mystery B-movies you'll find out there.
The threesome of Mr. Wong, Det. Street and reporter Barbara Logan all return in this installment of the Mr. Wong series. All are wonderful and work well in this murder mystery. A shooting murder of a father by the unwanted son-in-law because the father has rejected him as his daughter's choice as husband. Both were heard shouting in the same room by two witnesses. Det. Street believes it is an open and shut case but Mr. Wong disagrees as well as reporter Logan. Many suspects with a score to settle make this whodunit a mystery to the end.
The routine plot unfolds in so obvious a manner that one loses interest in the outcome. The production values are on the same level as they were in the other Wong pictures in the...series, and the performances are on a par with the material. Most of the comedy is provoked by the bickering between a detective and a young girl who tires to outwit him.. Boris Karloff saves this picture and makes it into another great classic series.
For the fifth and last time, the great Boris Karloff portrays the oriental super-detective James Lee Wong who effortlessly solves the murder cases for which his police colleague Capt. Street (Grant Withers) always manages to arrest the wrong guy. Cyrus Wentworth, the magnate of a giant shipping company has been shot in his office and the obvious suspect is the young Dick Fleming, who's both the son of Cyrus' biggest business rival AND the forbidden lover of his daughter. The always-meddling reporter Miss Logan asks Wong to investigate the case and he naturally discovers that Wentworth had a lot more enemies who wanted him death, like relatives of victims who were recently killed in a shipping accident or former employees who attempted to blackmail him. The story opens downright terrific, with a great characterization of Cyrus Wentworth and his possible assassins. After about 15 minutes, Boris Karloff walks in and from that moment on he monopolizes all the attention! Of course Wong foresees the killer's every possible move and of course he always is several steps ahead of Capt. Street's investigation. Normally this exaggerated amount of 'cleverness' would annoy me tremendously; but Karloff's performance is so good and the script is so light-headed that you easily forgive all the illogicalness. The dialogues are wit and often humorous (the constant arguments of reporter Logan and police Capt. Street) and the sequences set in Chinatown are atmospheric, as usual. "Doomed to Die" is a very cheap but worthwhile thriller, especially recommended to fans of well-structured detective films and admirers of the almighty Boris Karloff. One more Wong-movie got released after this, made by a different director and not starring Karloff.
Doomed to Die (1940)
Oh boy, poor Boris Karloff. He's the star, and the one great presence, in this cobbled together movie, the last of Karloff's Mr. Wong movies. Someone edited the heck out of this one, and the complex plot gets hard to follow (and hard to believe!) in the hour it takes from start to finish.
That's not to say it's a bad movie. It's kind of fun, actually, and because so much is going on, you really have to pay attention, as the scenes keep changing and changing, and more and more characters appear and reappear. The plot itself is forced on things, with red herrings that are absurd and a huge disaster in the opening scenes that ultimately means little to the rest of it, or so it seems to me. There is deliberate comedy which is sometimes funny, and gives the movie an airiness that works pretty well.
Karloff, amazingly, plays a Chinese detective, and they do something to his eyes to make him more Asian, but otherwise he's very Karloff, which is good. There are some brief scenes in a so-called Chinatown, but nothing so colorful as, say, the end of "Lady from Shanghai." No, this is from a thoroughly B-movie series of six Mr. Wong films, all but one, with Karloff as Wong. There are at least two other series of films with Asian detectives, an interesting sub-genre, for sure. There are eight Mr. Moto films (with Peter Lorre) around the same time (late 1930s), and there are the almost countless Charlie Chan films (first in the earlier 30s with Warner Oland, and then the late 30s into the 40s starring Sidney Toler). All of these stars were not Asian, but that's the way Hollywood compromised its bigotry with its sense of what the mainstream American audiences wanted.
The thing that makes these Karloff films still watchable is their gritty urban settings, and the whodunnit quality that can hold even a mediocre movie together on a Sunday afternoon. "Doomed to Die" has some very dark night scenes (a third of the movie) and if they did that to save money on set design, that's fine with me because it makes them moody and inky. Nice.
Check out this rather nice Mr. Wong site:
Take them for what they are and you might end up watching all of them!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Monogram murder mystery with Boris Karloff starring as Oriental
investigator Mr. Wong, called on by a newspaper reporter, Bobbie
Logan(the unflappable Marjorie Reynolds, representative of the
wisecracking dame known to populate these kinds of films at this time)
to solve the case of the killing of her best friend's father, a
shipping magnate, Cyrus Wentworth(Melvin Lang). Cynthia
Wentworth(Catherine Craig)is in love with her father's business rival's
son, Dick Fleming(William Stelling). Paul Fleming(Guy Usher), also a
shipping magnate, wanted to consolidate companies with Cyrus, who would
have none of it. Wentworth's shipping enterprise was under water in the
stock market due to, among other things, a disaster on the high seas in
regards to a fire on board an illustrious ocean liner which killed 400
people. Cyrus had just finished his will and was embroiled in a
smuggling operation involving Chinese bonds from a group called the
Tongs. When Dick went to Cyrus to ask his permission to marry Cynthia,
the result was a heated argument. Someone shoots Cyrus not long after
his discussion with Dick and Mr. Wong must determine who is
Captain William Street(Grant Withers)believes it's an open and shut case and that Dick is the man behind the murder because he was in the room not long before Cyrus' demise. Other suspects emerge such as a fired chauffeur, Ludlow(Kenneth Harlan), caught a couple times on the fire escape snooping(not to mention he sneaks into Cyrus' office to burn a letter found in the safe for which Wong must use an infrared technique in an attempt to read the contents from its ashes), a Chinese servant, and Matthews(Wilbur Mack), an associate of Wentworth's. Attorney Victor Martin(Henry Brandon)also knew the contents of Cyrus' will, had prior knowledge of the smuggling operation, and the combination to the safe so he can not be ruled out as a suspect either, no matter how kind and innocent he seems.
Boris Karloff incorporates Wong with a sophistication, manners, confidence(in his abilities to get innocents off the hook for a murder they didn't commit), and dependability, you just know that he will catch the criminal(s) and see that justice is served. DOOMED TO DIE is actually my first in the Karloff-Wong Monogram series and I certainly plan to see the previous entries. If you enjoy 60+ minute murder mysteries where you get plenty of red herrings with multiple suspects then you could do a lot worse than DOOMED TO DIE. Reynolds and Withers bounce insults off each other as cop and reporter respectively..Bobbie loves to rub it in that Street's certainty of Dick's guilt is wrong, utilizing Mr. Wong's detective skills to get the better of him. Meanwhile Street tries to keep Bobbie in the dark so she will not report the news before the case is completely solved. There's an attempted murder of Wong, a car chase resulting in a crash, blackmail, and ulterior motives behind Wentworth's murder pointing towards greed. The key to it all is the letter Ludlow almost gets rid of..this evidence could hold the answer which rescues Dick from jail or the death penalty. Decent Asian make-up for Karloff; a direct polar opposite to his Fu-Manchu character, Mr. Wong is polite, trustworthy, and of substantial importance thanks in part to his astute talents at uncovering what the police can not.
I'm working my way through the Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack Collection
and DOOMED TO DIE is one of the movies in the set.
Why DOOMED TO DIE is included in a collection of Horror Classics is a mystery. But having seen THE FATAL HOUR, I have to say that Boris Karloff cast is more convincing in DOOMED TO DIE as the Chinese detective, Mr. Wong. The makeup was certainly better.
Marjorie Reynolds, as the pushy reporter Bobbie Logan is an absolute hoot -- she is brash, bossy, feminine; and, smart. She alone is reason enough for me to run out and buy the whole Wong collection!
Mr. Wong is investigating the murder of a shipping magnate. The son of a rival, who was last seen with the deceased stands accused of the murder. After tracking down leads at the waterfront bar, another murder victim surfaces! With, of course, the ultimate conclusion (which I won't spoil for you.)
The movie was entertaining; and, well-paced. The acting was fine, as I knew all the characters. The plot was plausible; but, a bit convoluted.
Doomed To Die is the last film that Boris Karloff made for Monogram's
Mr. Wong series. One more film was made with an actual person of
Oriental descent playing Wong and that was Keye Luke.
The criticism of Mr. Wong is somewhat interesting. The criticism in fact of Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto was that these two clever detectives were constantly speaking in fortune cookie aphorisms which led to stereotyping of Oriental characters. James Lee Wong was only of partial oriental ancestry and it's made clear that he went to both Oxford and Heidelberg universities. Obviously the Oxford speech pattern is what took and we get the clear diction of Boris Karloff instead.
Wong's every bit as smart as Moto and Chan and he has to be here. It's your typical locked room mystery. Shipping magnate Guy Usher is concerned over both the shipboard fire of his vessel the Wentworth Castle and the romance between his daughter Catherine Craig and the son of rival shipper Melvin Lang. Usher is shot to death after a meeting with William Stelling, the fiancé of Craig and he's the only one in the room with the deceased.
Some Chinese government bonds were stolen during the fire and remember this film is made during the Chinese-Japanese War that predated the beginning of World War II. Those Kuomintang bonds are valuable and they're reason enough for arson and murder. A Tong leader, Richard Loo, is also killed before the case is solved.
Doomed To Die marked the farewell appearance of Marjorie Reynolds as well as Lois Lane snoop and scoop reporter girlfriend of police captain Grant Withers of the San Francisco Homicide Squad. A man never to proud to ask for the help of Mr. Wong. But in this case it turns out that Reynolds is a friend of Craig's and she brings Karloff and his super sleuthing skills to this case.
Doomed To Die is a bit more complex than the usual run of films from Monogram Pictures which didn't exactly invest to many production values in the Wong series. Not that they had much to invest. I do enjoy seeing Karloff in the role though, pity he didn't do more of them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cyrus P. Wentworth(Melvin Lang)is logically despondent after his flagship The Wentworth Castle tragically catches fire causing numerous deaths. The tycoon is also hiding the fact the ship was smuggling a group of Chinese and their small fortune. Following an argument with his daughter's fiancé, Wentworth is murdered in his office. Miss Wentworth(Catherine Craig)calls on the renown Oriental sleuth Mr. Wong(Boris Karloff)to investigate and take suspicion off of her boyfriend(William Sterling). Police Captain Street(Grant Withers) isn't really happy taking a backseat to Mr. Wong, but knows he needs the help. A cub reporter(Marjorie Reynolds)is a thorn in Street's side and provides the film some light comical banter. Mr. Wong is no Charlie Chan, but makes for an interesting crime drama. Other players: Kenneth Harlan, Guy Usher and Wilbur Mack.
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