crime, drama, movie, movie review, thriller

July 27th, 2017 Movie – Shadow Of Chinatown

shadow of chinatown

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

Standard
movie, movie review, thriller

July 9th, 2017 Movie – Scared To Death (1947)

scared to death 1947

Now this is interesting. Today I have an old Bela Lugosi movie but instead of being in the Legends Of Horror box set, it is actually in the Pure Terror box set. Now I find this a little interesting because while the majority of Lugosi’s work was in the horror genre, I don’t know if I would necessarily say it was really that terrifying. Then again, it could be a generational thing, as horror movies today, and real life for that matter, tend to be a lot scarier than those in the past. So let’s see how good of a movie I have here as I watch Scared To Death (1947).

The plot: At the city morgue, two pathologists are preparing to do an autopsy on a woman, who shows no physical signs as to her cause of death. In flashback, it is shown that the woman, Laura Van Ee, is the wife of Ward Van Ee and is being examined by Ward’s father, Dr. Joseph Van Ee, but she is frightened. Joseph asks her why she won’t give Ward the divorce that he wants but she refuses to do so. When Ward enters the office, Laura leaves and the two talk about Ward’s situation and Joseph says he has an idea on what to do but refuses to tell Ward. Later, Joseph receives a visitor from a woman named Mrs. Williams, who appears to have information about Joseph’s past and asks him to do something for her but Joseph refuses, feeling like she is trying to blackmail him. At Joseph’s house, his maid Lilybeth is talking with Bill Raymond, a cop that works as Joseph’s security guard who is sweet on her, when the doorbell rings. Elizabeth answers the door and finds Professor Leonide and his midget assistant Indigo, who promptly both come in and after Leonide introduces themselves, he heads into Joseph’s office. Joseph reluctantly greets Leonide and reveals to Bill that they are cousins and while there was something in their past that made Joseph distance himself from Leonide, he allows Leonide to stay in the house for a few days. Later that night, Ward talks with Leonide about a photo he found of an act that appears to feature Laura, though the name on the photo says it is Laurette. As they are talking, they are unaware of a man in a green mask watching them through the window. After Ward leaves, Indigo gets Leonide’s attention and the two head through a secret passage in the wall. The next day, Laura receives a package in the mail that was addressed with a warning and when she opens it, she sees a dummy’s head that is made to look like her. Laura questions Lilybeth about the package, accusing her of trying to scare her off, and the end up arguing before Lilybeth leaves the room. Laura throws the head at her but ends up hitting Bill with it, who promptly shows it to Joseph. When Joseph sees it, he recognizes it as belonging in a supply cabinet that is locked in the basement and wonders how it got out, as he lost the only key. Later, Bill and Joseph are talking about Leonide and Joseph says that Leonide was once committed in the house back when it was an asylum, and managed to get out and made his way to England. After Bill leaves, Joseph grabs the phone and starts to call the police but someone hits him over the head, then rips the phone cord from the wall. Bill is talking to Lilybeth when the door rings and Lilybeth opens it to reveal Terry Lee, a reporter for the Times, and Jane Cornell, a telephone switchboard operator. Jane had called Terry Lee about Joseph’s call being disconnected and they decided to see what is going on. Bill, Terry, and Jane head into Joseph’s office and find the busted phone and Joseph laid out but he refuses to say someone attacked him, claiming that it was an accident. Terry and Jane are allowed to stay the night and Terry talks to Bill about Laura and her marriage to Ward. Terry also seems to recognize Leonide when he shows up, claiming to have seen him in Albany. When Laura appears, Laura talks with Terry and tells her she is a prisoner there and that Ward and Joseph are trying to make it seem like she is crazy. As Ward and Joseph show up and they all start arguing, Lilybeth suddenly walks in carrying a green cloth and as she approaches Laura, she says, “He said to put the blindfold on and you will know the truth.” As Laura grabs the blindfold from her, Lilybeth collapses and Jospeh says she is dead, prompting Laura to scream and faint. As they tend to Laura, everyone is wandering what is going on and Ward and Terry are suspicious of Leonide when he shows up in the room. Suddenly, shots are heard coming from upstairs and when Terry and Ward rush upstairs, they find Bill bound and gagged to a chair while Jane is in the next room with a green mask on her face, but no sign of Laura. As Terry asks Jane and Bill what happened to them, Leonide grabs Lilybeth’s body and takes it into the hidden passage. Later, Terry and Bill are trying to find an entrance to the hidden passages when they notice Leonide wandering around outside. Terry tells Bill to go outside and follow him but when he opens the door, he finds Lilybeth lying against it. As he picks up her body, Joseph shows up and tells him to take her in her office, then tells Bill and Terry that she is not dead but just in a deep hypnotic trance. When Terry pressures him to explain why he said she was dead and Joseph says he has his reasons just as Leonide shows up. Leonide eventually wakes Lilybeth and she starts to tell Terry what happened. Jane enters the room and asks if it is Halloween, wondering why there is someone with a green mask outside. Jane then starts to tell Terry what happened earlier, as Ward enters the room, when the lights suddenly go out. They hear Laura screaming out “No” and they all head towards the den, where they find Laura in a trance. Suddenly, a voice calls out tells Laura to explain what happened in her past. Laura explains that she was married to Rene, her co-star in her act, but she turned him in to the Nazi’s, then fled to America. The voice then says he will have his revenge and Laura ends up screaming once before collapsing in a chair, and Joseph declares her to be dead. Bill heads outside and catches Mrs. Williams trying to leave through the bushes and brings her inside, where she is revealed to actually be a man. Leonide identifies the man as Rene, Laura’s husband, and Bill decides to hold Rene on a count of possible murder, and holds Leonide as well for knowing too much about what was going on. Back in the present, Bill, Terry, and Jane head to the morgue to ask the pathologist about the cause of death and he tells them that she had lived in mortal terror for years and was literally scared to death.

Scared To Death (1947) met with mixed to positive reviews from modern critics, holding a 63% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, most of the critics felt that while it was good, it seemed to be more comedic than an actual thriller. Production for the movie was finished in April of 1946 but it was not released until February 1997. Although he has appeared in color films before, this is the only color film in which Lugosi has the starring role, making it somewhat historically important. Production for the movie was finished in April of 1946 but it was not released until February 1997.

Ok, I am honestly confused about what all was going on in this movie. The acting was ok, with Bela Lugosi doing a good job as Leonide but I personally liked Nat Pendleton (Bill), who was some great comedic relief, and Douglas Fowley (Terry), whose interactions with Bill was fantastic. The story was weird, basically being told all in flashback but during several of the scene changes, they would go back to Laura’s body, where she would say what was going to happen, then flashback to the next scene. The plot itself was also confusing and you didn’t really know what was going on until the end. This movie really wasn’t that scary or even dramatic, except for the end, as it really felt like more of a comedy. I can give it a nod as a comedy with some slight drama, and for the historic aspect, but as far as a horror movie goes, this is lacking.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

Standard