The Fatal Hour (1940)

Who’s in it?: Boris Karloff; Marjorie Reynolds (Holiday Inn); Grant Withers (Fort Apache, Rio Grande)

What’s it about?: An undercover cop’s death leads to more murder for Inspector Wong to solve.

How is it?: The only reason it’s in the 50 Horror Classics collection is because it stars Boris Karloff. It’s not a horror movie though; just a straight up murder mystery, the third in the series with Karloff as Chinese detective James Lee Wong.

Though obviously trying to capitalize on the popularity of Charlie Chan, the Wong series can’t compete. It’s always fun to watch Karloff – and I’m glad the movie’s included in the collection, even if doesn’t belong – but Wong doesn’t have half the charm of his more famous predecessor. He’s pleasant and dignified, but Karloff never exactly disappears into any role he plays and that doesn’t change just because he’s in yellowface. It’s hard not to be cynical about Inspector Wong when it’s really just about Karloff as a detective and – Hey! Charlie Chan is popular; let’s make him Asian!

One cool thing about the Wong series is that he has a pretty good supporting cast in reporter Bobbie Logan (Reynolds) and Police Captain Bill Street (Withers). Wong stays one step ahead of them, but I like the romantic tension between the couple as they fight and try to out-sleuth each other. It’s a refreshingly different approach from Charlie Chan’s bumbling son as sidekick.

Rating: Okay.

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