Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Fatal Hour (1940)

This is one of a series of films about a Chinese-American detective named Mr Wong.  Of course the character is not actually played by a Chinese-American actor, but by Boris Karloff.  To be fair to the film-makers, Mr Wong's own creator described him as having "the face of a foreign devil - a yankee", so the issue also seems to have been in the source material.  Still, it's nice we live in an age where such whitewashing no longer happens.

Oh, if only that last sentence were true.

But rather than ranting about the ongoing racism and sexism that plagues us all, let's just focus on this film.  First of all, I should admit that I am probably being a little generous in giving it a qualified recommendation.  This is certainly no masterpiece of cinema, or anything.  The script doesn't make a whole lot of sense - often an issue with low budget whodunnits - and the paucity of the budget is evident in the limited sets, lack of action, and absence of outdoor scenes.

On the other hand, we've got a 1940s cheapie (and the fact that they made six of these in two years should tell you how cheap it was) with a mostly solid enough cast, a change of pace performance from Boris Karloff, and an Intrepid Girl Reporter who actually manages to save the day (though they do lose points for having her faint after doing so).  Plus, the script may be pure hokum, but it at least keeps rattling along with murders and shenanigans aplenty.  Sure, they're mostly there to push the run time over the 60 minute mark and distract you from the weakness of the main actual mystery ... but they also help keep boredom from settling in, which puts this above the average for such fare.  I also liked that the film had the killer make use of then-modern technology for their crimes.  And in a way that - while very contrived - was actually plausible with said technology.

Ultimately, if you go into this with modest expectations, you'll probably be tolerably entertained for its slender run time.

Postscript: later in 1940, I am pleased to say, an actual Chinese-American actor was cast for the role of Mr Wong.  What a radical idea.

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