Once again, I find myself watching a movie that is made up from a serial film. The difference between this one and some of the others I have watched is that this one has a rather famous actor in it, one Mr. Bela Lugosi. Now, I have to admit that I never heard of this movie and when I first saw the title, I honestly thought I was getting a martial arts movie. While I am a little disappointed that it wasn’t that type of movie, a nice little crime drama could still be fun to watch. So let’s see if this is worth watching as I watch today’s movie, Shadow Of Chinatown.
The plot: In 1930’s San Francisco, manufactured goods from all over the world are arriving at the port and distributed to stores across the city, as well as the rest of the Western US. A Russian businesswoman named Sonya Rokoff receives a letter stating that the sale of goods from Russia has declined sharply due to Chinese imports and that something must be done immediately. She contacts a man named Victor Poten and tells him she needs to see him to discuss the matter. When she arrives at his home, she says she will pay him $10,000 to find a way to shut down the merchants in Chinatown, and he accepts the job. Victor hires some men to disguise themselves, then the men all head into various shops and restaurants in Chinatown and begin using smoke bombs and firing pistols into the air to scare everyone out of the buildings. Joan Whiting, a society beat reporter, heads to the home of Martin Andrews, her boyfriend and novelist, and tells him what happened. Joan tries to get him to go with her to find out what is going on but Martin refuses. When Martin’s butler, Willy Fu, tells her that if the trade in Chinatown goes bad, it will mean profits for their rivals so Martin tells her to run with that story. Joan heads down to try and get more information but the mayor and police chief refuse to speak with her. As she is about to leave, Joan sees a Chinese businessman being grabbed by some men and taken into a building and she quietly follows after them. The businessman is taken into a room and when he backs up into a statue, the statue grabs him and pivots around before dropping him down a trap door. Joan sees this happen and attempts to escape but she ends up falling through another secret door and is captured by Victor’s men. Some time later, Joan’s editor contacts Police Captain Waters and tells him about Joan disappearing in Chinatown and asks that he try to find her. Waters goes to see Martin and accuses him of knowing something about Joan’s disappearance, as the events in Chinatown are similar to the subject of one of his books. Martin claims he is innocent and accompanies Waters to Chinatown to try and look for Joan. Meanwhile, Joan writes on a mirror and tries to use the reflection to send out a message for help. As Waters goes to check with his men, Martin sees the message and climbs a telephone pole and uses the wire to try and make it to the window. When the wire snaps, Martin crashes through a lower window, then ends up fighting with the thug guarding Joan. After knocking him out, they go to escape but hear someone moving outside the door . Martin has Joan open the door and Martin attacks the man but stops when he realizes it is Waters. Waters is angry about being attacked and when he finds the room empty, as the thug had recovered and snuck away, he takes both Joan and Martin to the station to answer some questions. Later, Martin and Joan return to Joan’s editor’s office and Martin tells Joan to stay away from him. Elsewhere, Victor, Sonya, and the rest of Victor’s men escape the building and Victor and Sonya make some new plans to stop the Chinese shops. When Victor leaves, one of his men, Grogan, assaults Sonya but Victor stops him using hypnosis. Some time later, Martin and Joan are both on a ship, as is Victor, who is busy disguising himself. When Martin goes to see the captain about Grogan, who had caused a disturbance on board but as they go to question him, Victor secretly shoots him with a dart to paralyze him. Victor has Grogan’s body taken out of the room and he quickly disguises him, telling Sonya what he had done. Shocked at what happened, Sonya takes Grogan off the ship and takes him back to her apartment. Martin sees them leave and they follow her and when Martin, Joan, Willy, and Waters confront her about what is going on, she admits her part and tells them Grogan is the other room. The four go in to see Grogan, but while they are in the other room, Victor sneaks in and hypnotizes Sonya and her assistant. When Martin and the others head back into the room, they discover Sonya sitting unresponsive and her assistant is missing. Meanwhile, Victor sneaks around and takes control of Gorgan, then hands him a grenade to use in killing the others. When Martin goes in the room, Grogan throws the grenade but Martin catches it and throws it out the window. They then take Grogan and Sonya with them to try and get them some help. When Sonya comes out of her trance, she tells them about how she contacted Victor to help her but his hatred of the Chinese has driven him mad. She tells them that Victor is able to observe the happenings of all of the shops and offers to take them to Victor’s lab. When they get there, they find no sign of Victor but a trap he left causes Joan to faint. Martin takes her out of the room and tends to her, saying he couldn’t live without her and Joan reveals that she is ok and tells Martin she plans on holding him to his word. Waters gives orders to not allow anyone to leave Chinatown and gives passes to Joan and the others so they can leave. Martin asks Sonya for the keys to her apartment, thinking that there might be a clue to Victor’s whereabouts there. Meanwhile, Victor, along with Healy and a still hypnotized Grogan, are in the apartment and when they see Martin and Willy Fu arrive, they sneak out the window but leave Grogan there to attack them. Meanwhile, Joan and Sonya go to the police station, and Sonya gives a description of Victor to their sketch artist, but Joan gets worried and feels like Martin is in trouble so they head off to the apartment. When they get there, they see Martin and Grogan fighting on the roof, as Martin manages to throw Grogan off the roof to the ground below. Heading inside, Joan tends to Martin’s injuries as Waters arrives, and Martin says he has some ideas where Victor might be heading and goes with Waters, while Willy takes Joan and Sonya to Martin’s house. Meanwhile, Victor and Healy are heading to Martin’s house, figuring nobody would be there, but get in a car crash. The injured pair get inside and Victor tends to Healy’s wounds when Joan and the others arrive. Sonya lays down on the couch to rest and Willy goes to make some tea but notices a strange smell and he and Joan proceed to search the house. They are soon captured by Victor and Healy, who then sets a trap for Martin but Sonya wakes up and, noticing the trap, pushes Martin out of the way and is killed instead. Victor escapes, leaving Healy behind and Martin manages to capture him, then tells Joan to call the police while he goes after Victor. Victor avoids a police motorcycle, who chases after him with Martin, and ends up driving off a pier but as everyone looks out into the water, nobody notices Victor moving around underneath the dock. Some time later, Martin is talking with Willy about a new idea when Joan comes in and tells him about her front page article featuring him. Martin grabs her and tells her he got her fired from the newspaper and when she protests, he tells her he didn’t want his wife to be working for the paper, causing Joan to smile and kiss him.
Whenever I watch a movie made from serials, I am usually curious to watch the entire serial but I don’t necessarily feel that way with this one. The movie was pretty decent but nothing too impressive. The acting was ok, with Bela Lugosi doing a great job as Victor, while Luana Walters (Sonya) and Bruce Bennett (Martin) were also good, but Joan Barclay (Joan) just came across as whiny while Maurice Liu (Willy) was just a painfully bad stereotype. The story was pretty interesting but I felt like it could have had a little more depth to it. In all fairness, they material cut from the serials could have added that missing depth. The camera work was ok, with the usual jumpiness that you would expect considering how it was made. It is ok to watch once but not necessarily something to hunt down.
Rating: 2 out of 5