The Mystery of Mr. Wong (MGM MOD)
Directed by William Nigh
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 68 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 19.98
Release Date: May, 2011
Review Date: June 23, 2011
With Twentieth Century Fox successfully mounting an A-mystery series featuring Charlie Chan and a B-mystery series with Mr. Moto in the 1930s, it seemed as if Fox had a lock on Oriental movie detectives. Not to be outdone, however, poverty row studio Monogram decided in 1938 to initiate its own detective series with Mr. Wong, Detective based on the magazine mystery series “James Lee Wong” by Hugh Wiley. The Mr. Wong films were small scale and definitely programmers (barely running over an hour), but in their own inconspicuous way, they told fairly good mysteries and featured a true star at the head of the films: Boris Karloff. The Mystery of Mr. Wong is the second film in the series, and it’s very typical of all six of the films: an unfussy mystery with a small number of suspects who do their best to deflect the investigation until one is unmasked as the instigator. It’s a mystery formula that’s been working for over a century in one kind of media or another.
Millionaire businessman Brendan Edwards (Morgan Wallace) shows his good friend Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff) the exquisite and priceless sapphire Eye of the Daughter of the Moon. He’s certain, however, that his possessing it, an ancient Chinese relic, has put his life in danger, and he shows Chan a letter he’s putting in his safe identifying his thoughts about his killer should his life be taken. Later that evening at an elaborate party, Edwards is shot in the midst of a party game and both the gem and the letter stolen from the safe. Arrested is his wife’s (Dorothy Tree) secretary Peter Harrison (Craig Reynolds) who carries a torch for Mrs. Edwards. But the gun Harrison was carrying is not the murder weapon, so other suspects come into play including opera hopeful Michael Strogonoff (Ivan Lebedeff) who is being sponsored by Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Edwards’ maid Drina (Lotus Long), Professor Ed Janney (Holmes Herbert) who has authenticated the gem and other relics, and the butler Sing (Chester Gan). With the help of police captain Sam Street (Grant Withers), Wong discovers the identity of the guilty party.
The Mystery of Mr. Wong is a perfectly respectable minor mystery film with just enough suspects to keep things interesting (though it’s a pretty easy mystery to solve) and a running time so brief that it’s over almost before it begins. The clues are laid out nicely by screenwriter Scott Darling, and there are enough intrigues among the characters to keep the red herrings constantly in the forefront in order to distract the audience from the murderer’s true identity. Director William Nigh doesn’t demonstrate any special flair behind the camera, but the direction is workmanlike if uninspired. He isn’t able to bring the less talented actors in the company up to the level of several of the other players, so the acting ranges from excellent to awful.
Boris Karloff underplays expertly as Mr. Wong and doesn’t force any kind of hackneyed Oriental accent on his character. Grant Withers as the police captain who’s always one step behind Wong also plays with ease and confidence. Also completely professional is Holmes Herbert as the knowledgeable Professor Janney, and Craig Reynolds’ Peter Harrison certainly does what he can to keep up with his co-stars in appearing natural before the camera. Others aren’t quite so at ease. Dolly Tree seems a bit awkward as Mrs. Edwards, and Ivan Lebedeff is even worse as Strogonoff. Lotus Long also struggles with naturalism as Drina, the maid.
[Reviewer’s Note: Also included among the MGM MODs in this month’s releases was the first entry in the series Mr. Wong, Detective, but the video began breaking up into video stuttering, blockiness, and pixillation less than ten minutes into the disc which made viewing it impossible.]
The film is presented in its 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio. As to be expected in a film of this age and with no care taken with its transfer, the condition of the master is decidedly rough. There are plenty of dust specks, debris, some minor print damage, and scratches along with the reel change markers all in place. And yet, the grayscale is actually not as bad as the few minutes I spent with Mr. Wong, Detective was. While blacks are fairly milky, the image still retains a sharpness that isn’t bad in many of the scenes. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 7 chapters with this disc.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Dialogue is certainly clear and easily discernible even though there is plenty of hiss to be heard. You’ll also hear pops and crackle on the track, but none of it is of sufficient loudness to obscure the dialogue. Music and sound effects are blended evenly even if the fidelity is lacking.
There are no bonus features with this MGM manufacture-on-demand disc.
2.5/5 (not an average)
For those who didn’t purchase the box set of all six of the Mr. Wong movies offered some years ago, the MGM MOD program offers the first two in the series with this made-on-demand program. While there was no way to ascertain the quality of the initial film due to a defective disc, The Mystery of Mr. Wong is a reasonably enjoyable little programmer which mystery buffs may find worthwhile.