Monday, April 23, 2012

On DVD: Phantom of Chinatown (1948)

When is a movie both a beginning and an ending?

It happens when it is the last film in a series, but also a prequel to what came before. Such was the case with "Phantom of Chinatown", the last film in the Mr. Wong series produced by Monogram Pictures in the 40's. Horror legend Boris Karloff starred as detective James Lee Wong in the first 5 films, and "Phantom" was also meant to be a vehicle for Karloff as well, but plans changed, and "Phantom" was recast as a prequel to the earlier 5 films.

That opened the door for veteran Keye Luke, better known at the time for his work as Charlie Chan's #1 son, Lee, during the Warner Oland years of that series at 20th Century Fox. In what would be his only starring role, Luke imbues Wong with some energy and wit. The common link in the six films is Grant Withers as Captain Street, who was befuddled by the Chinese proverbs tossed around in this film.

The plot surrounds the poisoning death of a Dr. Benton, who had just returned from Mongolia with a rare find. Wong studied under Benton, giving him a personal reason to locate the killer. As with the rest of the films in the series, the pace is swift, leaving the viewer little time to breathe. Where this clocks in at a tidy 62 minutes, if it were to be remade today, it would be padded out to anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Uploaded by TheVideoCellar to YouTube.

Rating: A.

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