Amazon Prime Video has a bunch of the Boris Karloff classics on file, and this is one of them. It’s Mr. Wong, Detective from the Mr. Wong series in 1938—the first of six. This is from Monogram Pictures, a company we have seen a lot of before. Details are from Wikipedia.
In the opening scene we see a shadowy character known in the film only as “Lescardi” (Frank Bruno). He’s hiding out on a pier on the San Francisco waterfront, watching a ship pull into the harbor. He reports to his boss, Anton Mohl, aka Baron Von Krantz (Lucien Prival). Only, he comes in through the skylight instead of the door, causing Mohl to greet him with a pistol and a warning, “You’re going to get killed doing that, one of these days, Lescardi!”
Their situation is grim. The ship will carry a shipment of poison gas to their “enemies.” They are desperate to forestall the shipment. They enlist the aid of Olga Petroff / Countess Dubois / Sophie Dome (Evelyn Brent).
Meanwhile, one of the industrialists preparing to ship the poison gas is Simon Dayton (John Hamilton), President of Dayton Chemical Co. He is also in desperate straits. The actions of Mohl and company are taking a toll on his comfort level. He pays a visit to Detective James Lee Wong (Karloff). They set up a meeting in Dayton’s office for 10:00 the following morning.
In the meantime, Dayton’s partners, Theodore Meisel (William Gould) and Christian Wilk (Hooper Atchley), convene an urgent conference with Dayton. He consents to sign an agreement bequeathing his holdings in Dayton Chemical Co. to his partners in the event of his untimely death. This is foreboding.
Disaster descends shortly. Before Dayton is able to meet with Wong, poison gas inventor Carl Roemer (John St. Polis) barges in. He has a gun.
When the police arrive shortly thereafter, sirens blaring, Dayton is found dead in his office. How did he die? It was poison gas. How did it get administered? Mr. Wong will be able to provide the answer.
Wong notices glass particles in Dayton’s office. He determines the pieces came from a glass bubble about 65 mm in diameter. A glass blower reconstructs several samples.
Wong learns the high-manganese-content glass is brittle, and he surmises sound of a certain pitch will cause it to shatter. Several attempts with musical instruments fail, but his pet parrot comes through. The glass shatters.
What else will shatter the glass. If you guessed the wail of a police siren, you are hot on the trail. Dayton was poisoned when a glass sphere containing the poison gas was shattered as Police Captain Sam Street (Grant Withers) arrived. The ruse works twice more to accomplish the murders of the remaining Dayton partners when police arrive as summoned.
All this to and fro with Dayton Chemical works out just great for Captain Street, since his main squeeze, Myra Ross (Maxine Jennings), is (the late) Simon Dayton’s secretary.
I’m not going to tell you who the murderer is, but I will note that Mohl and his gang, though wanted for other nefarious deeds, had nothing to do with it. They were just put in to keep us guessing.
This movie actually had a plot, and a nice one, too. Again, dialogue and performances are second rung, even for 1938. I watch some TV drama these days, and the small screen is showing some amazing talent. Either there are some great drama schools running 24 hours out there or else the industry is attracting artistry that would otherwise be doing politics. Thank Hugh Wiley and Houston Branch for the script.