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Secrets of Chinatown

Year: 1934
Language: English
Format: 35mm Black & White
Runtime: 54 min
Director: Fred Newmeyer
Producer: Kenneth Bishop
Writer: Guy Morton
Cinematographer: William Beckway
Editor: William Austin
Sound: Wally Hamilton
Cast: Harry Hastings, James Flavin, James McGrath, John Barnard, Arthur Legge-Willis, Nick Stuart, Lucille Browne, Raymond Lawrence
Production Company: Commonwealth Productions, Northern Films

After two men – Brandham (James Flavin) and Dovercourt (John Barnard) – disappear in Victoria’s Chinatown, a baffled police commissioner (James McGrath) brings in private detective Donegal Dawn (Raymond Lawrence) to assist in the case. His young friend Robert Rande (Nick Stuart) is attracted to Zenobia (Lucille Browne), a blonde woman who works in a Chinese curio shop. When Rande is threatened by a gang of Chinese opium smugglers, he discovers they are operating out of a temple and goes there to find a drugged Zenobia taking part in a religious ceremony. His attempt to rescue her is foiled and he only escapes when Dawn rescues him. When Rande returns to the temple he is attacked by a drugged Brandham. Dawn again saves Rande and rescues Brandham, who, with the help of a yogi (Arthur Legge-Willis), reveals another secret hideout. Dawn goes there to rescue Rande and Zenobia but is himself captured. The police arrive and the leader of the gang is revealed to be Chan Tow Ling (Harry Hastings), the owner of the curio shop and supposedly an undercover police agent.

The second feature produced in Victoria, British Columbia by Kenneth Bishop’s Commonwealth Productions, Secrets of Chinatown was intended for the British quota market but failed to qualify (as did its predecessor, 1933’s The Crimson Paradise) and was a box-office disaster. It is technically crude and has one of the most amazingly confused thriller plots in the history of B-movies; the action is completely implausible and the characters unconvincing. In fact, it edges nervously close to parody (consider the characters’s names, the hooded, robed Chinese villains, and the detective disguised as a Hindu in the midst of them). Not surprisingly, the film offended the Chinese community in British Columbia.

By: Peter Morris