Saturday 29 September 2007

Boston Blackie's Chinese Venture (1949) Seymour Friedman

With a title like this in 1949, it's pretty likely that we're not going to be heading overseas, and sure enough we kick off at Charley Wu's Chinese Laundry. Boston Blackie about ten seconds before old Charley is found murdered, so naturally Inspector Farraday hauls Blackie in for the job. Just as naturally, he didn't do it but goes investigating and outdoes Farraday at his own game.

Fourteen films is pretty long for a detective series to last and as you'd expect the quality declines somewhat as the series progresses. The excellent ones came very early on (two and five) and the last good one was number six out of fourteen. Chester Morris is a point of consistency throughout, though he's a lot older and chubbier here in 1949 than he was eight years earlier when the series started. He had a lot of fun with the role, but much of that fun got repetitious. Richard Lane was the only other point of consistency, playing Inspector Farraday in every episode. There's no Arthur here: he's long gone, but we do have the Runt and Detective Mathews at least. Mathews is Frank Sully, as he was for the last seven films, but George E Stone missed the first and last, so the Runt is Sid Tomack here, and he really doesn't fit.

What surprised most here was that while the most prominent lady, Red the Bar Girl, is far from Chinese (she's played by Joan Woodbury who is about as oriental as she sounds), many of the rest of the cast are. Of course they're all in tiny roles, except for Maylia who plays Mei Ling, but that's not the point. There's a cool joke on a fake tour through the seedier parts of Chinatown where the gullible get to look at five Oriental men playing fan tan, but once the door is closed they switch back to English accents and bridge. OK, bridge only has four players and the next three jokes are essentially the same, but throughout the people we're looking at are at least of the right ethnicity.

It's actually not a bad film, thus ending the series on a note that at least isn't disappointing, but it's far from a good one. I'm just thankful that it didn't get continued on with gradually lesser and lesser actors, progressing down the chain to Monogram and someone like a hopped up Bela Lugosi for the lead.

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