Mill Creek Musings: The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939)

Welcome to Mill Creek Musings, a segment in which I work my way through the three low-price Mill Creek film sets that I own, reviewing each film for content and quality along the way. The Mystery of Mr. Wong marks my sixth viewing from the 50 Dark Crimes set.

Brendan Edwards (Morgan Wallace) is a wealthy (and kind of smarmy) gem collector who has come into possession of “the eye of the daughter of the moon,” an enormous and cursed sapphire that was stolen from China.

Edwards and his wife, Valerie (Dorothy Tree), are hosting a party at their home. Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff), a detective friend of theirs, shows up at the party. Brendan confesses that he feels his life is in danger – and while he’s putting on a performance with his wife and another party-goer, Brendan is shot and killed.

(Image via Wrong Side of the Art)

Mr. Wong immediately¬† jumps into detective mode to solve the death of his friend, and he soon discovers that the precious gem has been stolen from Brendan’s safe. Mr. Wong must work to solve the murder and find the gem before more people turn up dead.

The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939) is the second in a series of six Monogram “B” features, five of which star Boris Karloff in the title character of Chinese detective James Lee Wong. The film series is based on a serialized story in Collier’s Magazine. William Nigh directs this installment, which was adapted for the screen by Scott Darling.

The¬†Mr. Wong series was Monogram’s answer to the success of the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films, and it works. Boris Karloff is fantastic, and more than capable of carrying the series. He obviously isn’t buyable as a Chinese man, but he plays his detective role well.

This is the first film in the series that I’ve seen, but also a positive is that it stands alone well, much like all of the films in the Thin Man series. Watching them together is great, but you won’t be lost if you skip one or watch them out of order.

The Mystery of Mr. Wong draws the viewer in right away with the mention of suicides in the past, some obnoxious singing, a love triangle (or is it a quadrangle?) and a disgruntled man who is married to a sneaky and beautiful young woman. And then… a MURDER! Absorbing the audience from the beginning, the plot doesn’t let up, especially after the murder occurs.

A string of new deaths and injuries keeps the viewer hooked. On top of that, the intrigue of cursed antiques and thievery adds more complication to the plot. Lots of great mini-mysteries pop up within the larger mystery of finding out who killed Brendan Edwards.

Karloff’s performance carries them film, but aside from him the cast gives pretty good performances all around. In certain moments they teeter on the edge of both over-exaggerated and stiff, but in general they get the job done.

In terms of quality, Mill Creek’s print of the film is pretty solid. There are no huge problems in terms of either audio or visual quality. The dialogue is clear, and the picture is generally high-contrast with not many defects.

Overall, The Mystery of Mr. Wong is a formulaic detective film that’s very fun to watch. It makes me want to watch the rest of the films in the series. The score: 4/5

(The Mystery of Mr. Wong is in the public domain. Watch it for free at the Internet Archive!)

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