Combustible Celluloid
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With: Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, Keye Luke, Lotus Long, Marjorie Reynolds, Wilbur Mack, Lee Tung Foo, Hooper Atchley, I. Stanford Jolley, Jack Kennedy, Richard Loo
Written by: Scott Darling, Ralph Gilbert Bettison, George Waggner, Houston Branch, Michael Jacoby, based on stories by Hugh Wiley
Directed by: William Witney, Phil Rosen
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 400
Date: 03/19/2013

Mr. Wong, Detective: The Complete Collection (1939)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Wong Turns

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

All six of the Mr. Wong films are in the public domain and widely available, but VCI Entertainment has collected them in this low-priced, two-disc set with bright, fairly clean picture and sound quality. Produced at poverty-row studio Monogram, these were obvious knockoffs of the successful Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films, but they have the benefit of some strong mystery stories and Boris Karloff in the lead role. Karloff doesn't exactly pull off being Chinese, but his cool, lanky elegance more than makes up for it (in the backstory Wong spent a great deal of time in England). Karloff stars in the first five films: Mr. Wong, Detective (1938), The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939), Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939), The Fatal Hour (1940) and Doomed to Die (1940). Then, for the sixth and final film, Phantom of Chinatown (1940), the series tried something audacious. They replaced Karloff with an actual Chinese-born actor, Keye Luke (who had been in some of the Charlie Chan films and is best known for his later role in the Gremlins films). Luke plays a younger version of Mr. Wong, without his prominence and respect, but unfortunately the film is so clunky and Luke is so awkward, that any attempt at cultural correctness is thwarted. Each film runs between 60 and 70 minutes and, for the most part, they're harmless fun. Hugh Wiley's original stories were published in Collier's Magazine. Series writer George Waggner went on to direct The Wolf Man (1941).

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