Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939)

Film and Plot Synopsis

In Mr. Wong in Chinatown, a pretty Chinese woman arrives to the San Francisco home of detective James Lee Wong. As she waits, someone shoots a poisoned dart into her neck and kills her. The only clue to the death, and the woman, is a note with the name Captain J scribbled onto it as she dies. In time, we learn she’s on a mission to buy and smuggle airplanes into China. Soon, Mr. Wong finds two captains with the initial J; however neither man is of any help to the good detective.

‘Mr. Wong in Chinatown’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939)Mr. Wong in Chinatown begins when a beautiful Chinese woman pays Mr. James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) a late night visit. While she waits in his parlor, a mysterious hand appears through an open window, and shoots a poisoned dart into her neck. She falls to the ground just as Wong enters from his laboratory. He finds the unknown woman is dead, and the only clue to her identity is the scribbled name of Captain J on a notepad she wrote before losing consciousness.

Wong has his servant, Willie (Lee Tung Foo), call for Inspector Street (Grant Withers) while he examines the open window. When Street arrives to examine the murder, Wong immediately shows him the note and the poisoned dart. He says someone fired it from a Chinese Sleeve Gun. Since he too owns one, the men walk to Wong’s laboratory to examine it.

As they leave, intrepid Morning Herald reporter, Bobbie Logan (Marjorie Reynolds), enters Wong’s home through the same open window that the murderer fired the dart. Always on the snoop for a scoop, she spots the dead body on the ground, and makes a call to her boss. The Inspector hears her dial, and the group goes to question her. It seems she and the Inspector are quite familiar with one another.

Bobbie ids the woman as Princess Lin Hwa (Lotus Long). Apparently, the Princess only arrived from China a few weeks prior. Wong checks his ship logs, and Captain Jaime (William Royle) was the captain of her boat. They deduce the name, Captain J, on the note and Captain Jamie in the logs are one-in-the-same.

Wong asks Bobbie if she knows the address of the Princess’ apartment, which she does. As Wong and the Inspector head out, Bobbie tries to follow, but the Inspector cuffs her to a wood chair. He then orders one of his men to keep an eye on her as she throws a temper tantrum.

The Inspector and Wong arrive at Captain Jamie’s ship to talk to him. Jamie and his men seem a bit apprehensive, but he says that he thinks the Princess was on a sight-seeing trip. He hands over his crew and passenger list, and the two men leave. However, the Inspector is suspicious of the Captain and plans on checking up on him at headquarters.

As he and Wong drive off, Captain Guy Jackson (George Lynn) appears out of nowhere. Jamie asks him why he killed the Princess, but Jackson says he’s crazy. He doesn’t know anything about a murder. She gave him the check for $250,000 though. It appears that the two men are/were running some sort of scheme to swindle the Princess out of large sums of money. Jamie again accuses Jackson of killing the woman which he again denies. With her dead, the men can’t get anymore money out of her, and they know she’s loaded. Jackson leaves in a huff.

Meanwhile, Bobbie is now somehow free from the handcuffs, and she arrives at the Princess’ apartment. As she snoops around, a man wearing dark glasses, a hat, and a bandana around his mouth enters the apartment; looking for something. Bobbie hides in the closet, but a suitcase falls on her head and knocks her out. Just then, Wong and the Inspector arrive, but the mysterious man leaves before they get there. They find the door open, and Bobbie out cold in a closet.

When she comes to, she asks if they caught the guy that slugged her, but there wasn’t anyone else there. She can not give the Inspector a description of the man in the apartment either. The Princess’ old maid (Moy Ming) that came on the boat with her shows up. She only knows that the Princess left at 8pm. She never had visitors, but made many appointments downtown.

Next a mute dwarf (Angelo Rossitto) shows up. He saw the masked man, and pantomimes where he went. In a quickie game of charades, Wong figures he left through a window, and into the alley where a large black car waited for him. Street heads back to the station to do some digging on the car and the dwarf while Wong heads to Chinatown. The dwarf and the old woman seem to know more than they are letting on.

In Chinatown, Wong meets with a Tong Chief on behalf of the police. He asks him if he knows of Princess Lin Hwa, and informs him and his associates that she was murdered. The Chief says the Princess was in the country to make purchases for her brother so he can smuggle airplanes into China.

Wong heads back to the Princess’ apartment to find the old woman dead from the same type poison dart, and the dwarf missing. He calls for Street, and two men find the dwarf’s footprints in a rose bed at the base of an open window. The men go down to the basement where the dwarf lived to find him.

Down there, Wong finds the Chinese Sleeve Gun that shoots the poison darts hidden/planted in the dwarf’s bed. While Street figures he’s the killer, Wong seems to disagree. He wants to talk to Captain Jamie again about what he knows about airplane smuggling.

The next morning, Wong goes to see Mr. Davidson (Huntley Gordon) at the Exchange Bank of Hankow; the bank the Princess had an account with. Davisdon says the Princess brought with her almost $1,000,000 in cash. She then withdrew $250,000 of it in a cashier’s check to a Captain Jackson of the Phelps Aviation Company of Los Angeles. Jackson opened an account for himself at Hankow, and then deposited the check’s money into it. Additionally, Davidson reveals a series of subsequent withdrawals left her account with only $38,000. She withdrew that final sum the day of her murder.

Wong leaves, and hails a cab. The driver looks suspiciously like the masked man sneaking around the Princess’ apartment. Bobbie, still on the hunt for a story, is in another cab. She orders that driver to follow Wong as it drives off. The driver stops the cab in the middle of an alley, and Wong finds himself locked in it. Bobbie arrives to open the door for him. Wong gets out just in the nick of time. As they round the corner, Wong’s cab explodes.

Wong looks over the wreckage as well as a growing a crowd that’s around him. As the police show up, Bobbie offers him a ride, and they head to see Captain Jackson at Phelps Aviation Company. Wong’s presence seems to alarm Jackson. He grabs a gun, and puts it in his jacket before meeting with him.

Wong questions him about the check, and Jackson claims he made a deal with the Princess and her brother to secretly ship the planes to China. He claims he had plans to meet the Princess at the Palace Hotel for a second payment the night she died, but she never showed. Since the Princess’ brother had many enemies, he doesn’t know who would have killed her. His relationship was pure business. However, he seems to know more than he’s letting on as well.

Back at the station, Inspector Street learns someone tried to kill Wong with a bomb just as Bobbie and Wong arrive. Wong fills him in on what he’s learned, but Street still suspects the dwarf as the Princess’ murdered. Wong asks Street for a report on The Phelps Aviation Company before returning home.

Back in his lab, Wong inspects the Princess’ signature and compares it to the one on the cashed checks. They seem to match too perfectly; most likely, someone forged the signatures. Street shows up to tell Wong that the dwarf has disappeared, and the Phelps Aviation Company is fake. It never existed.

Wong heads to Mr. Davidson’s mansion next, and asks him if it’s possible someone forged the checks. Mr. Davidson agrees its possible, but it would be quite hard to put one over on him. He’d be very embarrassed if they did. He then asks Wong many questions about the case as he says he’s taken a keen interest in it. Wong answers them, but a phone call from the local pet cemetery abruptly interrupts them. They need to know about a headstone for his dog’s grave. He had to put one down because he was too aggressive. Wong thanks Davidson for his time, and then quickly leaves. Davidson seems to know more than he lets on.

Later, Jackson, Jamie, and another man jump Davidson’s fence. One of the men shoots his Great Danes dead, and then holds him at gun point. They demand to know where the Princess stashed the rest of her money. Davidson doesn’t know, and says to ask Wong. They agree, and then force him to call Wong for a meeting later that night.

Time passes, we see a car pull into the cargo hold of Captain Jamie’s ship as it gets ready to set sail. Jackson and Jamie exit the vehicle; Wong and Davidson are in the backseat with their hands tied behind their backs. The men demand to know where the Princess’ money is yet gain. Wong doesn’t know, so they have one of their cronies guard them until they come back to question them further. The two slyly untie their hands as Inspector Street and Bobbie arrive outside to talk to Captain Jamie one more time.

As Street goes inside the Captain’s quarters, Bobbie snoops around. Captain Jackson walks up to her, and when she recognizes him, he grabs her too. Inside, we learn the Inspector just found Jamie’s key in Davidson’s home, and wants to know why it was there because Davidson and Wong disappeared from the home shortly after Wong paid him a visit. Jamie claims not to know anything about it, and is just preparing his ship for its next journey. Street thanks him for his time.

As Jamie escorts Street off the ship, Bobbie lets out a shriek. Street finds Jackson accosting her, and a fight ensues between the men. Street knocks down Jackson as Jamie tries to shoot him. When the Inspector grabs him too, the gun goes off.

Meanwhile, down in the cargo hold, Wong and Davidson use the distraction of the gun’s noise to overpower the lone thug guarding them. As Davidson knocks him out, the police arrive to arrest everyone. Street interrogates Jackson and Jamie one more time in the Captain’s quarters in front of Wong and Davidson. They say they only kidnapped Wong and Davidson to find out where the remaining money was located. They do not have anything to do with the Princess’ murder.

Street books the two for kidnapping, but not murder. Wong then interrogates Davidson. He says that when Davidson discovered the Phelps company was a fraud, he then forged the Princess’ signature on the checks to take the remaining money for his benefit. Davidson’s time working for the bank in China would allow him to learn to write Chinese and also learn how to use a sleeve gun. Furthermore, he claims Davidson was not burying a dog at the pet cemetery, but the dwarf because people do not buy expensive headstones for dogs that were overly aggressive. He then accuses Davidson of killing the Princess, her maid, and the dwarf.

Davidson congratulates Wong on being a very clever man, and then jumps ship into the waters below. Street’s Sergeant Jerry (James Flavin) follows him into the sea, and nabs him for a happy ending.

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Monogram Pictures released Mr. Wong in Chinatown on August 1, 1939. William Nigh directed the film starring Boris Karloff, Marjorie Reynolds, and Grant Withers.

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