“Mr. Wong, Detective” (1938)
The initial film incarnation of Hugh Wiley’s detective creation, first popularized in 1934 in Collier’s, “Mr. Wong Detective”, presents the stylish and erudite investigator in a mystery that is fairly unworthy of a master of deduction (sharp eyed viewers will solve the method of murder, if not the guilty party, fairly early in the story), though as a first chapter in what was intended as a continuous series of films featuring the title character, it does set up an amusing dynamic with Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff) effortlessly matching wits with his more acumen challenged compatriots on the police force, especially the easily excitable Captain Sam Street (Grant Withers). Street’s obvious overanxious recklessness to pin the blame on any convenient supporting player who happens to be in the room is the primary source of comic relief in an otherwise straightforward story of a mysterious chemical formula whose very existence leads to a series of unexplained deaths. Needless to say, the film easily falls prey to the contradictory but familiar trap recognizable in an astonishing number of mysteries, wherein despite the presence of a master sleuth, they are powerless to stop the bodies from piling to the ceiling. By the end of “Mr. Wong, Detective”, the solution of the killer’s rather ingeniously disguised identity is far less impressive when, in the interim, most of the likely suspects have themselves been fatally dispatched.
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