I never saw any of these in the theater. Television was coming of age about the time this one came out (1949), and they became a staple of Saturday afternoon fare on the tube. The Boston Blackie series was based on a character created by Jack Boyle, who died in 1928, before the advent of talking pictures. In summary, Horatio ‘Boston Blackie’ Black is a sometime jewel thief, who has apparently retired and now spends all his time solving crimes for the police and in spite of the police. This is Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture, from Columbia Pictures and featuring Chester Morris as Boston Blackie. Images are screen shots from Turner Classic Movies. Details are from IMDB.
First of all, the title is interesting. This has nothing to do with China. Everything seems to take place in Lower Manhattan. The only thing Chinese is the locale, Manhattan’s Chinatown, “home to the largest enclave of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere.” That and a number of principals of Chinese ancestry.
The opening shots show Boston Blackie and his sidekick, Runt (Sid Tomack) exiting Charlie Wu’s laundry establishment. Blackie is the dapper one in the picture. Next we see attractive Mei Ling (Maylia) entering her uncle Charlie’s place, looking for him.
She finds him dead. Somebody has killed him.
Immediately the police put out the word to haul Boston Blackie in on suspicion of homicide. This is something that has to happen in each of the Boston Blackie films.
I’m not going to detail the plot. Borrow the DVD from me. Blackie and Runt team up with Mei Ling to figure out what has happened. This leads the Blackie and Runt on a trek through the innards of Chinatown, including a bus tour that features a special view of the sinister side of life in Chinatown. It’s all put on. The tour guide takes suckers to such sights as “a Chinese gambling den,” “Chinese slave girls” working off their debt to the smuggler who brought them from China, and more. Here the out-of-towners find themselves amidst a put-on resurgence of the tong wars, as two actors pretend to be a hatchet man and his victim. There’s also a curio shop, where the tour guide, Les (Don McGuire), surreptitiously picks up a packet of tea containing stolen diamonds. Aha! Something is afoot.
Mei Ling started out the movie working for a nightclub owner, Bill Craddock (Luis Van Rooten). Bill has a girlfriend (Joan Woodbury), who carries stolen diamonds into a locked room inhabited by Rolfe (Peter Brocco), a Dutch diamond cutter who has overstayed his visa and is now being held as a slave to cut stolen diamonds. Now we are beginning to understand the plot.
The net closes on Craddock, the fulcrum upon which the plot pivots. His girlfriend hid a diamond shipment in his laundry bag, and it wound up in Wu’s laundry, necessitating the murder of Wu when he discoveres the loot. As Blackie and Runt question Craddock in his office, the window is slowly inched open, and a hand with a knife appears. We know what’s going to happen next.
Yes! Just as Craddock starts to unload critical details, he catches the knife in the back, the stock-in-trade feature of all the best B movies.
Yes, Boston Blackie uncovers the entire scheme for the police, receiving no thanks in return. It’s the standard theme for the series. And there’s a lot wrong. Where to start?
How about starting with the opening scenes. Mei Ling walks into her uncle’s store, looking for him. he’s not at the counter. She walks behind the corner and into the back room. He’s not there. She turns around, and there’s his body on the floor behind the counter. And she walked right by it on the way in without noticing his dead hand at her feet? She could have tripped on it.
The knife throwing scene? Get out of here! I have done some knife throwing, and there is no way a knife held between a thumb and a finger and thrown is going to drive its way into a grown man’s heart. Even Alfred Hitchcock did it better in North by Northwest. And that was bad.
IMDB had nothing to say about production costs, but they were apparently kept low by skimping on talent. Many of the lesser known principals speak their lines as though reading from cue cards. More energy on the part of director Seymour Friedman would have spiced this up a lot. He must have had another job waiting.
This is, incidentally, the last of the series of 14, all made in the 1940s. I don’t have the full set, but I will review the remaining ones I do have. Keep reading.