Daughter of the Tong (1939)

US / 56 minutes / bw / Metropolitan Dir: Raymond K. Johnson Pr: Lester F. Scott Jr. Story: George H. Plympton Cine: Elmer Dyer Cast: Evelyn Brent, Grant Withers, Dorothy Short, Dave O’Brien, Richard Loo, Harry Harvey, Budd Buster.

It’s the early days of the FBI (“This organization is founded upon courage and faith,” according to the long opening screed, “and in many cases has exacted the lives of those federal agents whose ideals strongly embody liberty and the rights of their fellow men”), and an FBI man has been shot down in Chinatown because getting too close to the operations of the racketeer and people-smuggler Carney, aka The Illustrious One.

Carney has decided to hire recently escaped con Gallagher as resident hitman; the FBI, having recaptured Gallagher, opts to exploit the chance resemblance between him and their agent Ralph Dickson (Withers) to infiltrate the latter into Carney’s gang; what the FBI doesn’t know is that Carney’s not a grizzled male gangster but an attractive young Chinese woman (Brent).

Daughter of the Tong (1939) - Evelyn Brent as Carney, The Illustrious One -- look Real Chinese, yep

               Evelyn Brent as Carney, The Illustrious One — and looking so very Chinese.

En route to Carney’s HQ, Dickson meets Marion Morgan (Short), whose importer/exporter brother Jerry (O’Brien) was working with Carney until he realized Carney was using him as a front for her smuggling and human-trafficking business; Jerry’s in the process of discovering that the only way Carney allows people to resign is feet-first. Luckily for Dickson, whose infiltration attempt is very soon abortive, the organization already has an FBI mole, Lefty Macmillan (Buster, making the most of a small part). After a passel of extraordinarily poorly choreographed fistfights, the good guys prevail and Dickson pairs up with Marion, who heretofore has been primarily cute, spunky and, well, stupid.

This is a very bad but likeable movie. Carney is supposed to be Chinese, but there’s no attempt to make Brent look or seem oriental except to drape her in a wig that’s strongly reminiscent of the one Robert Wagner would later famously wear in Prince Valiant (1954). Among many plot hiccups the most noticeable is probably when Dickson manages to get a gun-toting, suspicious Carney out of the room by telling her that an incoming phonecall is “private business”; how mannerly these gangsters are.

Loo, who here plays Wong, the gang’s frontman in the hotel it uses as HQ and also its specialist torturer, had a long career playing similarly stereotyped parts; he’s perhaps best known as Hai Fat (geddit?) in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Harvey plays Carney’s dimwit goon Harold “Mugsy” Winthrop; there’s a moment of humor at the end when Dickson explains that, for Mugsy, “FBI” means “Free Board Indefinitely”.

On Amazon.com: Daughter Of The Tong

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