Author Hugh Wiley created the distinguished, gentlemanly Oriental detective James Lee Wong for a Collier's magazine story in 1935. Three years later, Monogram Pictures brought Mr. Wong to life on the big screen with 6 feature films, 5 of which starred Boris Karloff.

Monogram Pictures, once a film studio that specialized in low budget B movies. Mr. Wong was their answer to Charlie Chan, then well into a successful series of detective films by Twentieth Century Fox. Having been the guest star in Charlie Chan at the Opera, Boris Karloff takes his own turn at being a brilliant Chinese detective in the Mr. Wong series.

Inspired by the success of the similar-themed exploits of Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto (played by Peter Lorre) and based on the writings of Hugh Wiley, Monogram pictures cast horror icon Boris Karloff as resourceful detective Mr. Wong in an exciting series of thrilling mysteries. Mr. Karloff, although not the most convincing Asian character, brings dignity to the role.

A kindhearted and highly cultured gentleman, the Oxford-educated James Lee Wong was probably closer to the real Boris Karloff than any other character he was given to play and certainly closer than the hideous monsters that made his career. With careful and deliberate consideration, Mr. Wong always managed to trap the killer.

These films are perfect for inviting friends over ... a good time for popcorn and sodas. Or make it a "theme night" and order carry-out Chinese food!

 

MR. WONG, DETECTIVE (1938 / 69 min. / B&W)

The first of six Mr. Wong whodunits, Mr. Wong, Detective presented Boris Karloff as pulp writer Hugh Wiley's Oxford-educated Oriental sleuth.

Wong is visited by Simon Dayton (Superman Perry White, John Hamilton), an industrialist fearing for his life. Dayton and his partners Meisle (William Gould) and Wilk (Hooper Atchley) have been selling a poison gas invented by Roemer (John St. Polis), who, feeling cheated out of the deal, shows up in Dayton's office waving a gun. Minutes later, Dayton is found murdered by his secretary, Myra Ross (Maxine Jennings). Police Captain Sam Street (Grant Withers), Myra's boyfriend, immediately puts Roemer under arrest. Wong is not convinced of the man's guilt, especially after discovering a broken piece of glass near the body.

During the ongoing investigation, the two remaining partners are also slain, but who done it? Are the killers foreign-accented Baron Anton Mohl (Lucien Prival) and his beautiful Brooklyn-born associate who calls herself Countess Dubois (Evelyn Brent)? Or did Roemer do the dirty deed? Could the dead man's nosy office manager (Wilbur Mack) have committed the crime and does Mrs. Roemer (Grace Wood) know more than she is telling? As Mr. Wong discovers, the answer is to be found in the origin and purpose of the mysterious pieces of glass found near each victim.

The Mystery of MR. WONG (1939 / 67 min. / B&W)

The second film in the mystery series about a Chinese sleuth, this one concerns the theft of the "Eye of the Daughter of the Moon," the largest star sapphire in the world, which is stolen from China and turns up in the possession of an unscrupulous gem collector, who receives a death threat containing clues to the potential murderer's identity and calls in Mr. Wong.

During a game of charades, the lights mysteriously go out and the collector is shot, and the chase is on.

MR. WONG IN CHINATOWN (1939 / 70 min. / B&W)

A mysterious visitor is found murdered in Mr. Wong's study in this, the third of Monogram's thrillers, featuring Hugh Wiley's Chinese detective.

A startled Wong (Boris Karloff) learns from enterprising girl reporter Bobby Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) that the murder victim is Princess Lin Hwa (Lotus Long), in San Francisco to buy airplanes for her brother's army. Both the princess' traveling companion (Bessie Loo) and a mysterious dwarf (Angelo Rossitto) become victims of a mystery killer, who uses an ancient Chinese dart as his weapon of choice.

The trail leads to a steamer in the San Francisco harbor, whose captain, Jalme (William Royle), is highly suspicious. Also among the would-be murderers are a phony airplane manufacturer (Peter George Lynn) and a local banker (Huntly Gordon). Although kidnapped by Jalme, Mr. Wong manages to unmask the real culprit.

THE FATAL HOUR (1940 / 68 min. / B&W)

The Fatal Hour was the fourth entry in Monogram's "Mr. Wong" series, based on the gentlemanly oriental detective created by Hugh Wiley.

Boris Karloff returns as Wong, supported by Grant Withers as dyspeptic police captain Street and Marjorie Reynolds as brash gal reporter Bobbie Logan.

On this occasion, Mr. Wong investigates the murder of a police officer, nearly ending up murdered himself during a climactic jewelry-store robbery. The principal suspect is Belden (Craig Reynolds), the son of a crooked businessman (John Hamilton) whose perfidy has apparently caused all the trouble in the first place.

DOOMED TO DIE (1940 / 67 min. / B&W)

In his final "Mr. Wong" mystery, Boris Karloff solves the case of who killed shipping magnate Cyrus P. Wentworth (Melvin Lang). Wentworth's flagship "The Wentworth Castle" had tragically caught on fire with a tremendous loss of life. Near suicidal, the shipping tycoon is helped into the next world by persons unknown but dunderhead police captain Bill Street (Grant Withers) points the finger at Dick Fleming (William Stelling), the son of a rival tycoon and in love with Wentworth's daughter Cynthia (Catherine Craig).

Promising to eat his hat if young Fleming isn't the killer, Street can only watch as enterprising cub reporter Bobby Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) assigns Mr. Wong (Karloff) to solve the case. Which the eminent Oriental sleuth does to the point where Bobby can gleefully add salt to Street's less than edible headgear.

The burning of the fictional "Wentworth Castle" was actual footage from the infamous 1934 "Morro Castle" fire, a tragedy that took the lives of 137 passengers.

PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN (1940 / 61 min. / B&W)

In the last of Monogram's "Mr. Wong" whodunits, Keye Luke best known for playing Charlie Chan's "number one son") takes over from Boris Karloff as the Chinese detective Jimmy Lee Wong, more of an amateur sleuth, really, than his eminent predecessor.

The subject for Wong's examination is the poisoning of Dr. Benton (Charles F. Miller), the leader of an expedition to Mongolia and the possessor of a mysterious and seemingly deadly scroll.

With Captain Street (Grant Withers) and the dead man's Chinese secretary (Lotus Long alternately aiding and obstructing the investigation, Wong gets to the bottom of things within the expected 68 minutes or so by using himself as a decoy.

This whodunit is a milestone of sorts as the first Hollywood film to star Asians since the early silent days. Keye Luke and Lotus Long remain the genuine article, no fake-looking "Oriental" spirit gum makeup necessary.

Luke's Jimmy Lee Wong's relationship to that eminent detective Mr. James Lee Wong, whom Karloff had played in the previous five films, is merely hinted at here when faithful retainer Lee Tung Foo alludes to the young man's absent "father."

   



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