Saturday, January 4, 2014

You might want to avoid 'Chinatown After Dark'

Chinatown After Dark (1931)
Starring: Rex Lease, Billy Gilbert, Carmel Myers, Barbara Kent, and Frank Mayo
Director: Stuart Paytom
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Jim Bonner (Lease) tries to unravel the mystery of his brother's disappearance, while being hounded by an incompetent police detective (Gilbert) and a sinister Chinese criminal mastermind (Myers).

There a scraps of interesting story elements scattered throughout this poorly written, unevenly paced, wretchedly acted,, and badly staged Yellow Peril-style thriller. Most fascinating to me was the casual yet nasty racism on display when the chief homicide detective assigns the investigation of the murder of a well-to-do Chinese man to an officer he states won't be able to solve the case.

Although I reference a mystery in my summary above, there are actually three different mysteries in the film, none of which are handled very well. First, the reason why the villain wants the Chinese dagger is the film's first focus is revealed way too early. Second, the disappearance of the hero's brother (and the hero subsequently coming under suspicion of murder) would easily have been resolved by the hero doing to the police--something which he never really did not have a reason to do, other than there wouldn't be a movie. Third, the question of "how will the hero clear his nane?" was never really a question, because of the ineptitude with which the two previous questions have been handled.

Watching this film, I repeatedly found myself saying, "that would make an interesting story" as some plot nugget or off-hand reference came and went on the screen. Unfortunately, that interesting story is not found in "Chinatown After Dark."

What is also not really found, since this film headlines Carmel Myers, was the elaborate costumes that I imagine some of the audience went looking for. Although little known today, Myers was a huge star during the Silent Ere who was known for wearing spectacular and exotic outfits in her films. Here, while she is midly exotic in her look, there is nothing particularly amazing about her costume; I suppose, in some ways, that can be taken as a reflection of how her star steadily faded after she made her transition to talkies.

I think this film is probably only of interest to hardcore lovers of old films... and even then, you probably don't need to rush to see it. But, if you have nothing better to do, you can watch it right here, right now by clicking below.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the link. I think I'll give it a watch.