|Index||5 reviews in total|
This minor entry in the Universal Studios canon has mystery, comedy and romance in the Thin Man vein. After a murder in a Chinatown cafe, ex-policeman and Chinatown tour guide Ted Lacey decides to investigate in spite of the objections of his former sergeant. The mysterious Woman in Black, Chinese communists and a missing $70,000 is not going to deter our hero from discovering the real killer. A pity that there aren't more unknown gems like this one around.
I first saw this as a broadcast movie in the late 1950s and have never forgotten how enjoyable was the experience. Considering the talents involved in the production (Schary and Blochman, for example) that is not surprising. Good ensamble cast including Talbot, O'Connell, Warren and Devine. Humorous reparte between Talbot and O'Connell adds to the enjoyment already supplied by the fast pace of the plot and the effective use of exterior shots of San Francisco's streets. Even if you are not a fan of this genre of 1930s B films, check it out. You will be rewarded!
Ninety-Five per cent of everything is crud. That's Sturgeon's Law,
named for its proponent, the great writer Ted Sturgeon. Dedicate
yourself to studying any branch of the arts and you recognize its
truth. Most of what people produce in any field is what they know will
sell. Fine art sells through snobbery and novelty; popular art sells
through people knowing what they're getting.
That's why every popular movie these days is a sequel or a series or part of a Cinematic Universe. Doing something new is risky. Even when it's well done, it may not be recognized. It probably won't be. With luck, its strong points will be recognized while the creator is alive. H.P. Lovecraft lived and worked in increasing poverty. Now he's considered a major component of the great American literary landscape. Philip K. Dick never earned more than $10,000 a year from his writing, and frequently less. Now movies based on his works get made every year. BLADE RUNNER came out the year he died, and the IMDb currently shows 29 movies based on his writing, produced or in some stage of production.
It's not that people are blind and need critics to tell them what's good. Critics rarely know, since they're mired in their own personal aesthetics, thinking it's something that's objective; or they have their own narrative to support.
After a while, you stop hoping that the next movie you see and review for these pages is a great movie. You hope for some individual component you can praise, and then you hope for competence, with maybe something to add to your narrative about the evolution of the art. Then you hope for something early in the evolution of a great artist, before he knew what he was doing, looking for the roots of greatness, Finally, you look for another title to check off your list. Been there, done that.
CHINATOWN SQUAD is a been-there-done-that. Oh, I had hopes for a while. The screenplay is credited to Dore Schary, but it's a competent whodunnit with everything hanging off the fact that no one can get a straight story from Valerie Hobson. It has several elements that made me hope I was seeing something in the evolution of Film Noir, with its San Francisco setting, its fog and shadows and occasional Dutch Angle shot. It isn't though. It's another potboiler with some snappy patter and a couple of minutes' worth of location shooting in San Francisco to keep the audience amused.
Director Murray Roth would die a couple of years later, about the time Dore Schary would hit it big a couple of years later with BOYS' TOWN; Lyle Talbot's career would continue to slide, Valerie Hobson would return to England, where she would distinguish herself; everyone would cash their pay checks and, with luck, go on to the next job. The movie would play the circuits for a year or two, then go back into the vaults for eighty years. Because there's nothing very wrong with this movie, but nothing to distinguish it among several hundred feature films released in 1935.
Well, on to the next one. Here's hoping for better.
In the 1930s and into the 40s, Hollywood made a million B mystery
movies and, apart from westerns, were about the most popular sort of
low-budget picture. And, in most, the formula was very, very
similar...a murder occurs and the cops are mostly idiots, so it's up to
an amateur to come in and show everyone how to solve the case. Because
I love Bs so much, I must have seen at least a few hundred films like
"Chinatown Squad"...and this one is very typical. It has the dumb cops,
the baffling murder and the talented amateur, though in this case Ted
Lacey (Lyle Talbot) WAS a cop but somehow got in trouble....and this
case might help him get back on the force. The case involves a dead guy
who is discovered in Chinatown and it all involves money for the
Chinese communist cause (an unusual subject matter for the time,
In many ways, this film is exactly like the products from all the other studios--particularly Monogram, who seemed to have made the most B murder mysteries. The acting is a bit better than usual and the cops just as dumb...so dumb you wonder why Ted would WANT to be back on the force! Worth seeing but far from a must-see.
1935's "Chinatown Squad" was one of the handful of non genre titles included in Universal's popular SHOCK! package issued to television in the late 50s. I never encountered it on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater, but it probably rates as one of the better ones, all 'B' programmers of little distinction, most of which dealt with spies or sabotage. This is a welcome whodunit with Lyle Talbot, still in the leading man phase of his career, getting most of the humorous lines, at the expense of Hugh O'Connell's bumbling police sergeant. The murder victim is conniving embezzler Earl Raybold (Clay Clement), who gets stabbed to death by fork (!) in a Chinatown cafe where all the suspects have conveniently shown up. The busy Valerie Hobson, fresh from "WereWolf of London" and "Bride of Frankenstein," is the main asset, playing a mysterious woman in black, trying to retrieve some incriminating letters from the dead man, while others search for a valuable ring which has disappeared. While monster loving urchins like myself would have turned up their noses at viewing this picture on local 'Creature Features,' this now adult movie buff found it most agreeable.
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