Phantom of Chinatown (1940)

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“My name is Wong. James Lee Wong.”
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US / 62 minutes / bw / Monarch Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Paul Malvern Scr: Joseph West Story: Ralph Bettinson Based on: characters created by Hugh Wiley in 12 stories published 1934–38 in Collier’s Magazine Cine: Fred Jackman Jr Cast: Keye Luke, Lotus Long, Grant Withers, Charles Miller, Huntley Gordon, Virginia Carpenter, John H. Dilson, Paul McVey, John Holland, Dick Terry, Robert Kellard, William Castello, Lee Tung Foo.

Not long after his return from a field trip to Mongolia, Dr. John Benton (Miller)—clearly labeled “Cyrus Benton” in a newspaper that we see—is giving a lecture at San Francisco’s Southern University about his expedition and the discovery he made in the Gobi Desert of the long-lost tomb of a powerful Ming emperor. He illustrates the lecture with the movie footage taken during the trip by photographer Charlie Frasier (Dilson), the very same guy as who’s now operating the projector for the lecture. Sitting in the front row are two further members of the expedition, Benton’s daughter Louise (Carpenter) and the pilot Tommy Dean (Kellard); the two are evidently sweet on each other. Helping the archaeologist is his secretary, Win Len (Long).

Tommy (Robert Kellard) and Louise (Virginia Carpenter), so much in love.

But one member of the expedition didn’t return, Benton explains to his audience. The backup pilot, Mason (Holland), was lost during a wild dust-storm and, although the party hunted for him, in the end they had to abandon the search.

Frasier (John H. Dilson) films everything.

Suddenly Benton grabs his throat and collapses. Soon the homicide cop Captain Sam Street (Withers) and his sidekick Detective Grady (McVey) are on the scene, but it looks as if Continue reading

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Before Dawn (1933)

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Is a psychic beauty a criminal fraud . . . or for real?
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US / 62 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Irving Pichel Pr: Merian C. Cooper Scr: Garrett Fort Story: “The Death Watch” (1932; in Sergeant Sir Peter) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Lucien Andriot Cast: Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Wilson, Warner Oland, Dudley Digges, Gertrude W. Hoffman, Oscar Apfel, Frank Reicher, Jane Darwell.

Before Dawn - 0 opener

This movie was reportedly made as a follow-up to cash in on the huge success of King Kong (1933), reuniting as it did Merian C. Cooper and (at least in spirit) Edgar Wallace. Yet it’s a claim that’s hard to believe: King Kong was a big-budget epic, a full 100 minutes long on its release (and nearly half an hour longer in what we’d today call the director’s cut), while Before Dawn is under half the length of the longer of the two versions and decidedly modest aspirations. It reads like a low-budget filler, in other words, and it’s hard to believe it was ever intended to be anything else.

NYPD-affiliated Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Erwin) is conducting a roundup of phony spirit mediums in the area, and the first he pulls in is the supremely lovely Mlle. Mystera, aka Patricia Merrick (Wilson), plus her father, Horace (Digges). We know, and Wilson soon finds out, that Patricia is in fact a genuine medium; while Horace is in the office of Chief of Detectives John F. O’Hara (Apfel), trying to sell him on the idea of employing Patricia as a psychic detective, Wilson finds a tearful Patricia waiting in the antechamber. Telling him that he cheated in order to entrap her—he never had an Aunty Minnie, so no wonder Patricia couldn’t locate her in the afterlife—she demonstrates her genuine psychic powers. Wilson’s immediately convinced:

“Say, baby, I’m for ya. My face hasn’t been so red since I went to my first burlesque show. . . . I’ll get ya out of this, so help me.”

Before Dawn - 4 Wilson tricks Paricia at her seance

Special Investigator Dwight Wilson (Stuart Erwin) tricks Patricia (Dorothy Wilson) at her seance.

Patricia, given her chance to demonstrate her powers to Chief O’Hara, does not disappoint. Stunned by her first success, he Continue reading

Passport to Hell, A (1932)

vt Burnt Offering
US / 76 minutes / bw / Fox Dir: Frank Lloyd Scr: Bradley King, Leon Gordon Story: “Burnt Offering” (seemingly unpublished) by Harry Hervey Cine: John Seitz Cast: Elissa Landi, Paul Lukas, Warner Oland, Alexander Kirkland, Donald Crisp, Yola d’Avril, Ivan Simpson, Eva Dennison, Anders Van Hayden, John Lester Johnson, Vera Morrison.

Passport to Hell - 0 opener

On the eve of WWI, Myra Carson (Landi) is deported from Akkra/Accra, in British West Africa, to Duala/Douala, in the Kamerun/Cameroon—part of German West Africa. A gambling-addicted UK national has apparently committed suicide over her, the last straw for the straitlaced UK military authorities, who’ve been itching for an excuse to expel her—after all, was she not named as co-respondent in a London scandal, and has she not been bouncing from one country to another ever since, giving her occupation always as “oh, just traveling”? The officer (uncredited) in charge of kicking her out clearly relishes his task; the young man who supervises her departure, Lieutenant Enright (uncredited), equally clearly reckons she’s been given a bum deal—although it’s hard for us to work out quite what he means by a remark to the effect that she’s been kind to a lot of the lads.

Once Myra’s ship arrives off Duala, there’s passport authorization to go through. Baron von Sydow (Oland), Commander of the German Colonial Military Police, has decreed that Continue reading