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Fury At Furnace Creek is a richly textured Western from 1948 starring
charming second-tier leads Victor Mature and Coleen Gray. The mid to
late 1940's, the Golden Era of Hollywood movies, produced such Western
Classics as Red River (1948), My Darling Clementine (1946), and San
Antonio (1945) (see my review). While not in a league with those
blockbusters, this picture reaps the benefits of a big studio industry
that was at the absolute peak of movie-making artistry. Though a medium
budget picture, it gets the same glossy production values as any
top-dollar 20th Century Fox number.
Mature and second lead Glenn Langan play long-estranged brothers uneasily reunited in a effort to clear their late Army General father of charges he caused an Indian massacre. Ms. Gray, as a pretty, but spunky diner waitress whose enlisted man father died in the massacre, makes a lovely romantic interest for the appealingly laid-back Mature. Formidable villainy is provided by Albert Dekker as a suave crime boss with henchmen Roy Roberts, Fred Clark, and the ever sinister Charles Stevens. Stevens, who claimed to be the grandson of Geronimo, was an asset to any Western. With his beady eyes, his weathered ferret-like face, and his wiry, stooped physique, he seemed the quintessential Western villain. Reginald Gardiner plays a pivotal supporting role as an alcoholic retired Army captain possibly involved in a conspiracy to frame the General.
Though director Bruce Humberstone directed only two other Westerns, he nevertheless shows a nice touch for the genre here, getting fine performances out of a diverse cast and brilliantly setting up the scenes for some dazzling cinematography. He and film editor Robert L. Simpson move along the critically acclaimed Charles Booth/David Garth story with silky smooth scene transitions and nary a wasted camera shot in a lean 88-minute running time. The colorful score, credited in the movie's opening graphics to Alfred Newman, not David Raksin as IMDb indicates, consists mostly of pervasive period honky-tonk music but works quiet effectively. Sets are lavishly detailed and costumes are colorful and authentic looking. All of which along with intelligent, colorful dialog, and Harry Jackson's stylish cinematography creates a rich, layered, ambiance. The style of Jackson's atmospheric cinematography, abounding with night scenes and starkly shadowed, obliquely angled camera shots, shows the influence of the dark, Gothic crime melodrama, now known as film noir, which was all the rage of the late 1940's. Look for some some real knock-out camera work in this modest Western, particularly the following: 1) a lengthy sequence of panicked Garder stalked through, dark streets, boardwalks, and alleys by Stevens -- 2) a shot of Mature descending a stairway viewed between the silhouetted hats of the two villains watching him -- 3) in the final reel horseback chase a pose of villains galloping across the top of a rugged cliff while the two fleeing brothers ride parallel to them at the bottom of the cliff, all in the same frame. And surely the climatic shoot-out scene in the ruins of the old fort accompanied by whistling wind, tumbling tumbleweeds, and screeching gate hinges, has served endless inspiration for a later generation of Spaghetti Western directors.
If you are a Western fan, or just a fan of classic movies, don't miss this one. Fury At Furnace Creek is a skillful blend of drama, intrigue, and action, exciting, atmospheric, and engaging from beginning to end. First-rate Western entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Years.
The Little Nuns is a delightfully funny comedy, one of the best and
brightest from Italy's golden age of comedy, the 1960's. Unfortunately
it seems to be almost unknown now, at least in the English-speaking
The nuns in a rural Italian convent are being driven to distraction by the noisy commercial jet aircraft flying overhead, disrupting the classes in their orphans school. The vibrations are even damaging the ancient fresco of their patron saint. When it is discovered the convent owns a single share of stock in the offending airline, two nuns are dispatched to the airline's next stockholder's meeting in Rome. The naive sisters may not understand the worldly ways of the city, but they have very decided notions about the way things should be. Their innocent misadventures make life hilariously miserable for the sophisticated CEO of the airline (Amedeo Nazzari) just as effectively as if they had really intended it. International beauty Catherine Spaak, uncharacteristically well covered in a traditional nun's habit, shines as the formidable Sister Celeste. Nazzari, who seems to have been in every other Italian movie of this period, though in his fifties, was still a robust, handsome man with a remarkable resemblance to Errol Flynn. His suave, urbane demeanor made him the perfect straight man for this genteel farce.
I caught The Little Nuns a couple of times back in the 1980'a on something like the Late, Late, Late, Desperate Night Owl Theater. There appears to be no DVD of this minor classic, and that's a shame. The Little Nuns is a delightful, lively, charming, little madcap comedy from an Italian cinema industry which was turning out first class entertainment at a time when Hollywood had almost forgotten how.
Back in Jules Verne's steam-powered 19th Century, a trip around the
World in only 80 days was considered astounding. In 1924 two U. S. Army
aviators managed it in a new world record of 15 days, 11 hours. But
that was nothing! In 1937 Warner Brothers second feature Fly-Away Baby,
Glenda Farrell as irrepressible, smart-girl reporter Torchy Blane zips
around the world in less than 30 minutes, using only the final half of
the fast-moving, action-packed one-hour movie. All done with stock
footage of the vehicles used and still pictures or footage of the
various cities Torchy passes through, the mood for each locale set with
appropriate regional music. All the while, a bold line meanders across
a map of the Pacific Ocean, Asia, and Europe with the shadow of an
airplane following along, motors humming. Lengthy scenes in Honolulu
and Stuttgart are economically but artfully dispatched with small sets
and back-projection. You may be so swept away by this Old Hollywood
magic, and so absorbed into this engrossing, lightning-paced mystery
pot-boiler, you will feel as if you've actually been to San Francisco,
Hong Kong, and Suttgart with Torchy. And wow! what a window into time!
You get to see file footage of a huge China Clipper taking off from a
choppy sea, a gigantic Zepplin majestically gliding though the clouds,
and a shot of the yet unfinished Golden Gate Bridge -- not to mention
the usual swarms of square-top, spoke-wheel automobiles to be seen
careening about the streets of 1930's motion pictures.
The Torchy Blane series was a chance for reliable Warner supporting players Glenda Farrell and Barton MacLane to strut their stuff in lead roles for a change. And they both shine! He's Torchy's tough cop boy friend Steve McBride, who needs her help to dope out the cases he's not sharp enough for. At least that's the way she tells it. Fly-Away Baby has the crime-solving duo after a diamond thief/murderer. The main suspect (Gordon Oliver), who is a columnist of a newspaper rival to Torchy's, is making an around-the-world promotional trip. Torchy and Steve suspect the crook will try to sell the hot diamonds somewhere along the way, so Torchy convinces her own newspaper publisher (Henry Davenport) to spring for her to follow along in what is promoted as an "around the world race." Hugh O'Connell provides sophisticated comedy relief as another reporter in the so-called race. A dandy with a rich wife, he's always bragging to his no-class cronies about spending her money and playing around on her. Little does he know his suspicious spouse has hired Steve's muddled, philosophical driver Gahagan (Tom Kennedy) to tag along and keep an eye on him. Steve joins Torchy in Stuttgart, where another murder takes place, then they take off aboard the Zepplin for the final leg of the journey and the exciting denouement. The airship scenes are very impressive for a B-movie.
Fly-Away Baby is not quite so good as the first in the Torchy series, Smart Blonde (1937) (see my review). But Smart Blonde was something special, really a tough act to follow, and Fly-Away Baby is still wonderful. Fast-talking, fast-moving, breezy, funny, engaging, exciting, beautifully filmed, and expertly acted, especially by the two charming leads -- a delight from beginning to end. All handsomely wrapped up in polished production values only a slice below what you would expect from one of Warner Brothers' top "A" pictures. Director Frank McDonald, a career B-picture specialist, and film editor Doug Gould pack so much action into sixty minutes of running time, it's like five gallons of slick, smooth Classic Hollywood entertainment concentrated into a half-pint movie!
It's never ceases to amaze how the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out these minor masterpieces while bringing to bear only a fraction of their available resources.
Like the Maltese Falcon, Warner Brothers "B" detective thriller Find
The Blackmailer involves a search for a black bird. Here the
resemblance ends. In this case the black bird, rather than a
jewel-encrusted statuette, is absurdly a talking crow, which can put
the finger on the detective's client for a murder. Honestly! Not as bad
as it sounds, but not Golden Era Hollywood at its best either.
The principle attractions of this picture are the unusual and charming casting of Jerome Cowan in the lead role as the tough if somewhat bumbling detective and some stylish noir cinematography by James Van Trees. Cowan is ably supported by the ever reliable Gene Lockhart as his blackmailed politician client, Margorie Hoshelle as his breezy, underpaid secretary, and second-billed Faye Emerson as a nasty femme fa-tale. The script is muddled, ridiculous, and padded out with a lot of meandering, unnecessary action. It looks as if director D. Ross Lederman was struggling to squeeze out the required 55-minute running time. If his picture had been tightly edited, it could have easily run only 40 minutes without losing anything. Dialog is cliché-ridden, but fun. Just about every wise-crack and every colorful slang term from every detective, mystery, cops-and-robbers picture from the previous decade as been gathered for recycling in Find The Blackmailer. Surly this picture was meant to be a spoof. Big hint -- the detective's name is Trees, same as the cinematographer. Or does that just mean they were making up the script as they went along? This suspicion will creep in from time to time as you watch the strange proceedings. Never mind, just relax and enjoy. You can't be expected to figure it out if it doesn't make sense. And it most assuredly does not. Cowan's character is more humorous that tough. Cowan didn't have a muscle in his body, but he still manages to get tough when needed by keeping his hand on the .32 automatic in his coat pocket. But mostly he just cracks wise and grins through his trademark pencil-line mustache.
But not so bad for all that. As yours truly has stated elsewhere about other, better second features, the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out good-looking, entertaining pictures while only half-way trying. In Find The Blackmailer it looks as if they didn't try much at all, yet it still turned out a watchable, even enjoyable picture -- if you're in the right mood.
Dynamite comes in small packages. Which describes both short "B" second
feature Smart Blonde and its cute, perky star Glenda Farrel as Torchy
Blane. Initial entry in the highly successful Torchy Blane series,
Smart Blonde runs on open throttle for its entire 59 minutes. It is
smart, tough, breezy, lightning paced, with funny, snappy dialog
delivered incredibly fast. This picture is nothing if not fast-talking.
Glenda Farrell reportedly could speak 390 words per minute, and she
demonstrates it throughout. But co-star Barton MacLane, who plays her
tough cop boy friend Steve McBride, may actually have surpassed her in
the motor mouth department in a couple of scenes. Most of the other
Runyonesque characters in this entertaining mystery do likewise. If all
the dialog in this movie had been delivered at a normal cadence, the
running time would have been at least twenty minutes longer. This
picture along with other Warner Brothers gangster movies of the 1930's
makes you wonder if the studio had a course in fast talking for its
Stock players were exactly what Farrell and MacLane were. Usually in supporting parts, she the hard-boiled broad, he the burly, loud-mouthed gangster or cop. But the Torchy series gave both a chance to use their special talents in leading rolls, and both made the best of it. The pair had crackling chemistry together, with cozy affectionate interludes only occasionally breaking their constant rat-a-tat wise-cracking. Torchy is a smart girl reporter who solves the cases Steve isn't sharp enough to dope out on his own. At least that's the way she sees it.
Farrell and MacLane get solid support from a crew of other Warner Brothers stock players, especially Addison Richards as a shady, but on-the-level night club/race track operator around whom the murder mystery swirls, Wini Shaw as the beautiful singer who loves him, and Charlotte Wynters as the high class dame he loves. This role as a tough, but likable borderline hoodlum was a real change of pace for Richards. In 400 movie and television appearances from the 1930' to the 1960's the tall, lanky actor rarely played other than judges, district attorneys, doctors, high ranking army officers, and other dignified types. MacLane may have showed good chemistry with the pretty, vivacious Farrell, but it was Charlotte Wynters who became Mrs. Barton MacLane about a year after Smart Blonde's release.
Smart Blonde is a delightful, stimulating little mystery potboiler, full of plot twists, intrigues, and explosive bursts of action. Characterization is colorful and well developed. As a big studio "B" picture, the sets and cinematography are nearly as good as in one of Warner Brothers' top productions. Director Frank McDonald, a life-long "B" picture specialist, keeps all on target throughout. To compress all that happens in the story into less than an hour running time, even considering the machine gun dialog delivery, should rate as a masterpiece of film editing for Frank MaGee. Acting was first rate all around but especially from the two likable leads.
An enduring example of how the big studios of Old Hollywood could turn out good looking, entertaining pictures when only half-way trying.
It may be that women will like The Bad Man Of Brimstone markedly better
than men, as indicated by the IMDb user ratings. Not the least because
the plot is so sudsy a contemporary New York Times review called it
"the Madame X of horse operas." That doesn't mean that old tough guys,
such as yours truly, will not like it as well. One of the few Class-A
westerns of the 1930's, this handsomely turned out Wallace Berry
vehicle is an action-packed, gritty, authentic, adult oater with
top-notch production values.
Ruthless outlaw Trigger Bill (Beery) is just getting set to ventilate young itinerant prize fighter/tax collector Dennis O'Keefe for having the unmitigated gall of standing up to him, when he discovers by one of those unlikely but charming Hollywood coincidences that the young man is the son he abandoned many years ago. From here on the tough outlaw leader goes out of his way and very much out of character to protect his son both from the bullets of his own gang and from finding out his father is such a bad man. Many plot complications and much gun smoke ensue before the inevitable resolution.
Beery gets expert support from top MGM character player Lewis Stone as a formerly upright lawyer who falls in with the outlaws; gorgeous and talented Virginia Bruce as Stone's feisty daughter and O'Keefe's love interest; Joseph Calleia as Beery's loyal, easy-going sidekick Portuguese Ben; Guy Kibbe as O'Keefe's manager; and the ubiquitous Bruce Cabot in one of his stock cold-blooded gunman portrayals. Director J. Walter Ruben, who also had a hand in the intelligent, engrossing story, guides all with a sure hand. Dialog is crisp and colorful. The black and white cinematography by Clyde DeVinna is straight-forward but aesthetically pleasing. Editing is smooth with a couple of stylish montage sequences. The all important pacing provides a well-timed rhythm of action and melodrama, both driven along at the appropriate speed by Dr. William Axt's flavorful original score. Production values are first rate with authentic, colorful sets and costumes and outdoor scenes filmed on several scenic locations in Utah, Arizona, and California. The climatic shoot-out is big enough and violent enough to do credit to a later Italian Western, but more realistic and artistically staged than one of theirs.
But Beery, as always, is the main attraction here. And he is at his absolute menacing, snarling, mugging, smarmy, conniving, crude, gross, horrible yet fascinating, likable scoundrel best. Like any of his vehicles, this picture is at times corny, sentimental, and generally overdone, but nevertheless tremendously enjoyable all the way though. Leonard Maltin's condescending review says it's only for Beery fans, but yours truly and the grouchy old wife say, how could anyone not be one!
The Bad Man Of Brimstone is exciting, dramatically engaging, amusing, charming, beautifully filmed, top-notch Old Hollywood Western entertainment.
Denver & Rio Grande is one of those entertaining 1950's "B-plus"
Westerns -- that is a "B" picture cast but top-notch "A" production
values. This Technicolor oater about a right-away shooting war between
rival railway companies actually qualifies as a minor classic of the
genre. Not for the dramatic acting or Frank Guber's average screen
play, but because of high powered action sequences in, on, and around
authentic 19th Century railroad rolling stock, all enveloped in
gloriously scenic Colorado Rocky Mountain locations.
Unlikely leading man Edmond O'Brien is one of yours truly's favorite actors, whether he is in a lead or a supporting role. But Eddy looks somewhat uncomfortable in his Western togs, even a little peaked at times, as if all that Rocky Mountain sunshine and fresh air disagreed with his constitution. Could be he was wishing to be back in one of those dimly lighted, smoke-filled, noir bars which were his more typical cinema habitat. A much more familiar face to the celluloid Western environment, tall, stiff actor Sterling Hayden is cast against type here as the ruthless leader of the bad guys. You may have thought Hayden was stiff in his more typical heroic roles, but as a villain in Denver & Rio Grande, he's so wooden it's difficult to distinguish him from one of the telegraph poles. Dean Jagger, as real-life railroad builder General William J. Palmer, adds a touch of class to the cast, but doesn't have much to do. He looks like he's about to go to sleep through most of the picture, but as always, he has his moments. On the other hand leading lady Laura Elliot (aka Kasey Rogers), best known for her role in popular TV sitcom Bewitched, shows a little spark as the General's pretty secretary with a grudge against O'Brien. The ever reliable J. Carrol Naish, often seen as a gangster or a cynical cop, refreshingly gets a sympathetic, clean-cut role as the nattily attired railroad construction engineer. But never mind, the real stars of this picture are gorgeous Rocky Mountain scenery and the thrilling, nostalgic steam locomotives.
If the dramatic acting of the fine cast did not seem up to par, you can blame flabby direction by director Byron Haskin, who was more of a special effects technician than a director anyway. But once the action sequences start, Haskin is in his element. Denver & Rio Grande is nothing if not action-packed, and isn't that what we all love in Westerns? When the two railroad companies get serious about going after each other, they employ military tactics along with prolific volleys of (mostly inaccurate) gunfire from railroad cars to take and re-take miles of track and telegraph stations. One of the top action scenes is the actual "head-on collision of two bull locomotives", as it was heavily advertised at the time of the picture's 1952 release. The result is not disappointing, though Haskin cheated a bit with a dynamite explosion at the point of impact to make the shock of collision more spectacular. He really had to. Those old locomotives were such solidly constructed masses of steel, they could have just bounced apart without showing much apparent damage or the desired boiler explosions. By the way, as a minor point, this much ballyhooed train wreck does not happen at the climax of the movie, as stated by Leonard Maltin and others. It is one of the events building toward the climax, and it occurs quite some time before the end of the picture.
Denver & Rio Grande is a nicely turned out Western. The sets are very good, though most of the scenes are filmed in the great outdoors. Costumes are true to the time, place, and occupation of the characters. Particularly impressive were the authentic looking six-gun leather and the colorful variety of hats. The chubby O'Brien liked to foster an everyman image, and he did little to improve his unglamorous looks. Here his rough working man outfit includes a floppy black hat which looks as if it has been roundly stomped on by a couple of overweight saloon floozies. But it is the trains steaming around the mountains, the water tanks, stations, piles of cross-ties, telegraphs, and other supporting railroad equipment that really grab the eye. The excellent train sound effects made all of this as stimulating to hear as to see.
For all its flaws this is a highly entertaining picture. If you are a fan of exciting, flavorful Western action with chugging, puffing, hissing, clanging, whistling, steaming, smoke-belching, greasy, sooty, oil-dripping, jerking, screeching, cinder-flinging Nineteenth Century trains -- and how could anyone not be -- Denver & Rio Grande will take you where you can find it!
We could even say sixteen going on twenty-six, but the ever gorgeous
Linda Darnell, does look achingly sweet and innocent in minor 20th
Century Fox comedy Day-Time Wife. Nevertheless she convincingly plays
the sophisticated wife of well-off businessman Tyrone Power, married
long enough for the cad to be already fooling around with his no-class
floozy of a secretary (Wendy Barrie). Only the second picture for the
teenage actress, young Linda gives a remarkable performance, especially
since she has to more or less carry the movie, being on screen in
practically every scene. She holds her own with great poise and verve
in the presence of veteran actresses Barrie, Binnie Barns, Joan Davis,
and Joan Valerie. Nor does she seem the least bit overawed by the
formidable screen presences of dashing leading man Power and old
smoothie Warren William. William, always fun to watch, has a field day
as a lecherous architect whose secretary Linda becomes in hope of
learning what makes men so attracted to their curvaceous dictation
takers. But once you have seen Day-Time Wife, you will not be likely to
remember any of the cast better than pretty, perky Miss Darnell.
This picture is not a screwball comedy, as some others have labeled it. Just isn't screwy enough, and lacks most of the typical elements of that type. See my review of Go West, Young Man (1936) for a definition of screwball comedy. Day Time-Wife is a species of a genre known as bedroom farce. Hopefully this term will not lead crude types out there to expect naked men and women chasing each other around beds. Bedroom farce is simply the Hollywood trade name for a comedy which involves married people having problems staying married. Day-Time Wife also falls into a category known in the trade as "white telephone movies". Back in those days only the most affluent had a telephones any color or style other than utilitarian black. Thus a white telephone movie is about rich guys and rich dolls hanging out in their plush apartments or palatial mansions, going out to swanky night clubs, sailing on their swell yachts, and gabbing on their white telephones.
Day-Time Wife is ably directed by Gregory Ratoff, who also directed Miss Darnell in her first picture Hotel For Women (1939), with the glossy black and white cinematography, plush sets, and swank costumes for which 20th Century Fox was famous during the halcyon days of the big studios. Editing is silky smooth, as in any big studio picture form this era. The story offers little in the way of originality, but no matter, there hasn't been a new story since 33 A. D. The script by Art Arthur and Robert Harari is reasonably subtle and intelligent for one of this genre, the dialog crisp, engaging, and witty. Day-Time Wife is an amusing little comedy, very funny, especially in the climatic segment. It is a pleasure to watch if only for the knockout production values and the charming cast, led by the very young, very beautiful and very talented Miss Linda Darnell.
A load of slick, smooth entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era packed into an hour and twelve minutes.
Ambush is a gripping, authentic, action-packed, dramatically compelling
picture of the United States Cavalry in the 1870's Arizona territory.
It was producer/director Sam Wood's final movie, filmed shortly before
his sudden death in September 1949 and released in January 1950. For
top star Robert Taylor, now in his early forties, weathered but
gracefully aged, it was an auspicious beginning to what would be a
close association with the Western genre for the rest of his career.
While there is plenty of action in Ambush, its intense, nuanced character studies are what sets this dynamic Western apart from the crowd. Taylor plays a tough, savvy civilian scout at odds with by the book Army captain John Hodiack, both over campaign strategy and the affections of gorgeous Arlene Dahl, a late general's daughter hoping the cavalry can rescue her sister from Apache captivity. As if one love triangle were not enough for a dusty, little Army post, the first lieutenant Don Taylor is madly and hopelessly in love with the beautiful Irish laundress (Jean Hagen), the loyal Catholic wife to a drunken lout of an enlisted man (Bruce Cowling), who frequently socks her around. When a disabling injury to the major in command of the post (Leon Ames) puts the spit-and-polish captain temporarily in charge, everything comes to a boil. Not as soapy as it sounds but sensitively directed by Wood and perfectly acted by all concerned. The scenes of poignant longing tinged with guilt between Don Taylor and Ms. Hagen (in her first movie role) nearly steal the show. The rich supporting cast includes, as well as Ames and Cowling, John McIntire as an older scout, Pat Moriarity as the top sergeant, and also Charles Stevens, who claimed descent from Geronimo, as the vicious, resourceful Apache leader Diablito.
The script by Marguerite Roberts from a Luke Short story is intelligent and engaging with clever, brisk, colorful dialog. Harold Lipstein's moody black and white cinematography and Rudolph G. Kopp's textured score enhance the gritty, realistic, yet slightly nostalgic ambiance. Editing is silky smooth, as in almost any big studio picture of this era. The all important pacing is perfect. The compact 89-minute running time moves along at a brisk pace, building suspense, never dragging, but taking enough breathers to build character and create atmosphere. Costumes and sets are first-rate and authentic. Real-life western Army forts during the Indian War era did not have palisade walls, and, refreshingly, neither does the one in this handsomely turned out Western. More importantly, the characters act like nineteenth century people, with the social attitudes of the time, yet without seeming stiff.
With apologies to John Ford fans, which includes yours truly, Ambush is the best of its type. Whereas Ford, who liked to portray everything bigger than life, tended to make the cavalry too grand and romantic, Wood gives us the real Old West Army -- long-service soldiers serving loyally but thanklessly at dusty, out of the way posts neither finding nor expecting much in the way of comfort or glory.
Ambush is a thrilling, dramatic, atmospheric, authentic adult Western, engaging, charming, and entertaining from beginning to end. The opening and closing scenes of this picture are both real knockouts! This is an unappreciated classic. Top-notch entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
Having a popular, first-rate actor like Boris Karloff in the title role
of its Mr. Wong mystery series added an unaccustomed touch of class to
poverty row studio Monogram's usual low-budget lineup of
undistinguished programmers. The portrayal of the genteel Chinese
detective must have likewise been a nice change of pace for the refined
Englishman from the run of monsters and other sinister types he had
been typically cast. Okay, so Karloff looked about as much like a
Percheron ice wagon horse as a Chinaman. Let's just assume he was one
of a those half-British Hong Kong Wongs. In any case he manages to
project a convincing Oriental ambiance with only a minimum of makeup,
while showing the maximum of sophisticated acting talent his fans have
come to expect. Monogram seems to have responded by giving the Mr. Wong
series the best staff and the biggest budget the financially
disadvantaged studio could scrape together to support Karloff, who was
a bigger name than they were used to having around.
The Mystery Of Mr. Wong, second in the series, is immeasurably better produced than the first entry. Nice sets, both interior and exterior, smart, well-lighted cinematography and tight editing complement William Nigh's sharp direction. A full-bodied, original score by Edward J. Kay enhances the drama, action, and suspense while setting the just-right mysterious, exotic, and sometimes spooky atmosphere. The Scott Darling screenplay is complex and intelligent with engaging, at times even snappy, dialog. It presents a classic drawing room style mystery. The principle murder victim is a cad hated by all, which makes practically every character a suspect. Clues appear and disappear, sometimes even falling out of pictures on the wall. Karloff gets a competent supporting cast including elegant, if not so well-known leading lady Dorothy Tree, polished, oft-seen character actor Holmes Herbert, and stalwart Grant Withers in his reoccurring role as tough cop Captain Street. The police in this one are portrayed as less overbearing and bumbling than in the previous entry -- perhaps there were complaints from the policemen's benevolent associations. It's a mixed blessing. While the cops here are more efficient and less disruptive to the cagey Mr. Wong's efforts to solve the case, they are inevitably and sadly less humorous. While those of the politically correct persuasion may complain about an Occidental playing the Chinese detective, these little movies nevertheless gave good employment to a number of Oriental supporting actors, notably in this one Lotus Long, as a maid who knows more than she should about the mystery, Chester Gan as the no-nonsense butler who tries to help the police, and Lee Tung Foo in a reoccurring role as Mr. Wong's efficient manservant. The producers of the series gave pretty Ms. Long parts in two other Mr. Wong numbers, including the leading lady role in Phantom Of Chinatown (1940).
The Mystery of Mr. Wong nimbly belies its cheap origins all the way through -- so well put together, intriguing, smoothly paced, and entertaining, it seems almost like an "A" picture, or at least a big studio a "B" production. Karloff is a delight. Viewing the first two movies in the set, has made the fifteen bucks I sprang for VCI's well restored two-disk album of all six Mr. Wong movies look like the shopping coup of the season. If you like off-beat little mystery potboilers that pack a load of entertainment into a short running time, then Mr. Wong is wight for you! Sorry, I couldn't resist.
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