Shadow of Chinatown
Movie Lover: michael sommer
saint germain en laye, Yvelines FR
-- March, 18, 2007
One of the very best serials whether or not you are a big fan of the famed Bela despite some of his Chinese henchmen looking ludicrously Un-Chinese.
But then that's all part of the escapest fun, as is the fiesty young woman reporter, Joan Barclay who clearly was a capable and attractive actress who seems to have merited more, and even class 'A' featuring, which so far as I know, she never got.
And for that matter, all of the leading players do good work fighting Bela, the diabolic Eurasian.
Movie Lover: Clifford Weimer
Sacramento, CA US
-- November, 14, 2004
I approached SHADOW OF CHINATOWN not expecting much. It was to my shock, then, that I found a serial that was cheesy, yes, plot-challenged, naturally, ludicrous, you betcha, but which held my interest and entertained in all 15 chapters, particularly the brilliant chapter 11 (more on that later).
The plot (and get this): A European importing business is feeling the competitive heat from a Chinese importing business. So they decide to keep tourists from visiting Chinatown to? to? well, it's not real clear how they figure this will help them, but they seem pretty sure of it, so it must be okay. Anyway, they hire a beautiful dragon lady named Sonya (Luana Walters) to handle this little project for them, but she outsources it to Victor Poten, a crazed Eurasian scientist who must be and is Bela Lugosi. Poten embarks on a mad plan to murder, pillage, torture, and generally embarrass a lot of people.
A feisty female reporter (Luana Walters) is investigating all the mayhem in Chinatown, and she enlists the services of a hunky young writer and Chinatown expert (Herman Brix) to help her solve the mystery.
The feisty female reporter soon ends up a prisoner of Poten, and in one of the highlights of the serial, writes "HELP!" on a mirror and reflects the sunlight so that the message shines like the Batsignal on the building next door. Pedestrians spend the better part of two chapters looking up at it and pointing, but not investigating. Must happen a lot in that neighborhood.
Anyway, Poten soon gets a jones to kill Herman Brix, and he disguises himself as a telephone repairman so he can implant a poisoned needle into Brix's telephone, and if you haven't seen Bela Lugosi dressed as a telephone repairman, well, then, friend, you haven't lived. He fails in that plan, but knocks Brix unconscious and leaves him on the floor with the sun shining through a goldfish bowl and onto Brix's forehead in a chapter called "The Sinister Ray" and no, I'm not kidding, that's a real deathtrap. I don't particularly see how this could be fatal (the goldfish, f'rinstance, is swimming along happily), but it sure is unique.
Eventually, Brix rescues the feisty female reporter, Sonja changes sides to help the good guys, Lugosi hypnotizes everybody and orders them all to do something bad, Brix's Kato-like servant, Willy Fu (great name!) comes to the rescue, somebody accidentally tries to strangle Brix with a coathanger, Lugosi disguises himself as a Chinese waiter (he looks sillier in his various disguises than Inspector Clouseau ever did), and a big heavy chandelier is rigged to fall on Herman Brix's big heavy head. Whew! You can see why I liked this serial.
Okay, as promised, on to chapter 11, "Thundering Doom". Y'know those parodies of old movies that feature people staring at each other while the organ music swells in a misbegotten attempt to build suspense? Well, a scene like that happens here in chapter 11, and it's pretty funny watching the entire cast glance at each other for a couple of minutes while that damn organ plays. And then, a short time later, it happens again. The second time, it's REAL funny. And know what? The THIRD time it happens in the chapter, I was laughing so hard I projectile-vomited Diet Pepsi Twist through my nose. I'm fairly certain it happened again at least once more in that chapter, but I can't be sure because I was laughing so hard, rolling around on the carpeting like a junebug in cotton candy.
My understanding is that there's only one copy of this serial still known to exist, a complete 15-chapter job on 16mm, so I was surprised that it's complete and looks pretty good. Alpha's DVD release has crummy sound, though, so you're going to have to crank it up. The bottom line is, if you're going in expecting FLASH GORDON or CAPTAIN MARVEL, forget it. But if you are looking for some ponderous but entertaining fun in a vintage serial, you could do a lot worse than SHADOW OF CHINATOWN.