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The Mysterious Mr. Wong (DVD)

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Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy - Fantasy / Theatrical Release: 1934 / Director: William Nigh / Actors: Bela Lugosi, Wallace Ford ... / DVD released 22 October, 2002 at Alpha Video / Features of the DVD: Black & White, DVD-Video, NTSC

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      10.05.2008 11:45
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      Intrepid reporter investigates murder in Chinatown

      The Mysterious Mr. Wong is often confused, and said to be part of, the series of Mr. Wong films starring Boris Karloff made in the 30's and 40's by Monogram studios. This film predates the first Mr. Wong (the detective) film by three years and stars another of the major monster/horror stars of the 1940's... Bela Lugosi.

      Made in 1935 The Mysterious Mr. Wong is 60 minutes long and is very typical of many of the B movies of that era.
      B movies were the shorter films put on before the main film during the 'golden' era of cinema. A trip to the cinema back then would consist of a major movie, a b movie, a cartoon and a newsreel as well. No short trip to see one film and then back home again, trips to the cinema took most of the night, especially if you took in a meal as well. B movies were often the proving ground for up and coming stars who were on the studio payroll, to build an audience for them before moving them into the major movies or the last hurrah for aging stars who couldn't command the kind of audience they once did.

      Mr. Wong is a merchant in Chinatown. He is well respected by the people there who have no idea of his true nature. There is a legend about the 12 Coins of Confuscious and how if someone possesses all 12 of them they will gain control of one of the main Chinese provinces. Mr. Wong wants these coins and will stop at nothing to get hold of them, even murder is not beyond him.

      A Spree of murders in Chinatown is thought to be caused by a war between rival Tong families and because of that is pretty much ignored by the papers and the Police.
      Jason Barton, a reporter, though is interested in the deaths and starts to investigate. His smart talking may be good in the newspaper business but it is likely to get him, and his girlfriend Peg, in deep trouble out on the streets of Chinatown, especially if Mr. Wong and his associates find out what he is up to.

      B movies were a different breed of film when compared to the major ones. Not only did they more often than not star up and coming actors and actresses but they were also very very formulaic. Learning from the success of the pulps and from the silent comedy stars who appeared as the same characters in numerous films the studios started churning out numerous movies with the same character (Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes) or with very similar detective style stories. No doubt they were hoping to entice the viewer who liked the character, and/or actor, to come back a few months later when the next instalment appeared in the cinema. These B movies could be said to be the forerunners of episodic TV and the numerous sequels we now get.

      As I said The Mysterious Mr. Wong (TMMW) is not one of these, but being oft mistaken for one it is available and more than likely seen because of that fact.
      TMMW is a very simple murder mystery based on a novel and reduced to 60 minutes of film, and is all the more enjoyable because of its simplicity. There is no wasted time, no moody shots while our hero ponders what to do, no extraneous chase scene or, in fact, anything that we would consider 'normal' in a mystery movie these days. In fact mystery is completely the wrong word to describe this film as there is no mystery there at all, we know what is going on it is just a case of how the intrepid reporter will work it out for himself and then get the proof.

      Wallace Ford as Barton comes across as a fairly useless reporter who couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag, in fact he is pretty much a comic character, especially in his dealing and interactions with Peg.
      Peg is a fun addition to the feisty, take no crap females that really started to appear more and more in the late 30's and 40's. The scenes with Peg and Jason are almost verging on screwball territory.
      Bela Lugosi, while playing the title character and being the main focus of the crime/mystery, is not actually on screen that much. When he does appear I have to admit that he does nothing that would make you imagine that he was going to become the star he did.

      Directed by William Nigh, who went on to direct all 5 of the 'real' Mr Wong films (another reason it is often thought to be part of the series) does a good job considering that in all likelihood this was shot in a matter of days rather than weeks. The pace is snappy and it has a good mix of thrills (for the day) and comedy.

      This will be, no doubt, an acquired taste. It is not a classic movie, its not even one of the top B movies of the era, but it is a lot of fun. A nice enjoyable little mystery that will not challenge you in the slightest but will entertain you for an hour, if you like this kind of stuff. For me I am glad I saw it but doubt I will watch it again when I have loads of others actually involving the same character, films where the character actually makes the film as much as the story.

      The fact that this is available on DVD though shows that there is more than just me in the market for this kind of stuff, in fact going by the amount of traders continually selling these kind of films on Ebay there must be a pretty good market for them.
      If you like mysteries and B&W films then this may be worth a punt for a quid or two but there are much better in this genre around and about.

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