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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Thursday, May 4, 2023

The Fatal Hour (1940)

I covered the first three Mr. Wong movies in my last Mystery movie marathon, so I figured it was time to finish up the franchise with the final three. The action kicks off with Wong’s friend Captain Street of the San Francisco police department finding out that his friend and fellow officer Dan Grady has been pulled out of the bay. He was working on cracking a smuggling ring and paid the price. Street enlists Wong’s help in finding out who murdered his friend and finishing the work that Grady started.

We are introduced to some gangsters running illegal Chinese Jade into the country, as well as the nearly bankrupt jeweler who is trying to save his business by fencing it. The closer that Street and Wong get though the more bodies that start to pile up. Belden, the jeweler, is shot as is his son’s daughter who had ties to the gangsters. Even a seemingly random radio writer is killed in the waiting room of Streets office! But who is doing it and why? If I told you that it would ruin the mystery and the big reveal. I wouldn’t do that.

The Fatal Hour is the weakest of the Wong movies so far. I mean it isn’t terrible and does follow the familiar and entertaining formula of murder, clues, solution that I’d expect. But after a quick start the proceedings slow down with lots of irrelevant dialogue and sneaking around in the shadows. The movie is only sixty two minutes long so the amount of padding is both surprising as it is disappointing. Though after about half an hour it picks up again for the big reveal of the murderer.

The mystery itself also left me wanting more. We aren’t given many clues with the big one being revealed at the end. Even then the identity of the killer and how he committed the one crime is a big stretch. Also, with the four murders only one is difficult to pin on the killer which is the best part of movies like this. I want to see our detective explain how the impossible crime was committed and the fact that three of the four don’t fall into that category was annoying. The movie also commits the cardinal sin of keeping the motive for one of the killings vague and then tries to explain it with a throwaway line in the final scene. Come on guys you at least have to give the audience the clues and potential motives for us to play along!

The highlight of the Mr. Wong movies for most is the fact that horror legend Boris Karloff is the titular character. That also brings up the difficult conversation about a white actor playing an Asian character or as it is more commonly known “Yellowface”. I’ve had my say the last time and you can read my more detailed thoughts on it at this link. The short of it I agree with those that take issue with these movies but am unwilling to toss them in the trash and ignore them. Why? Well in the case of this series it is because Karloff is good as the character. He underplays it lurking in many scenes but always present and collecting the clues. I also enjoy that fact that he doesn’t do the pidgin English that the Chan and the Mr. Moto character (played by another legend Peter Lorre) are guilty of. Instead, we get him in all his proper British accented Queen’s English.

Ignoring the other issues, The Fatal Hour judged solely as a movie is okay. As a completist I’m glad that I watched it but would much rather check out any of the first three again before revisiting this one. The mystery isn’t as fun, the pacing is off, and again I felt a bit cheated at not being given all the facts before the killer is caught. I’ll leave you with that lukewarm recommendation.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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