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On an expedition to Mongolia, Doctor Benton (Charles F.Miller) finds a
scroll containing the secret of the eternal flame.(whatever exactly that is).
However, such a discovery tends top bring many criminal elements to the fore,
so when Benton makes a lecture on his findings in Mongolia, someone makes sure
he doesn't survive it, poisoning the water Benton drinks during the lecture and
stealing the scroll.
But who could it have been, captain Street (Grant Withers) from homicide
wonders. Benton's cameraman Charlie Fraser (John Dilson), his secretary Win Lee
(Lotus Long), the suspicious butler Jonas (William Costello), maybe even the
pilot Mason (John Holland), who has allegedly gone missing during the
expedition (but is very much alive, as the audience soon learns) ? & what
about that curious Chinese follow Jimmy Wong (Keye Luke), whom Benton's
daughter Louise (Virginia Carpenter) & her fiancé Tommy (Robert
Kellard)have brought into the mix ?
Indeed, Street's investigations at first concentrate on Wong, as that man
seems a little too nosey, but soon Street has to realize Wong is on his side
& only tries to help the investigations. They soon join forces &
concentrate on Win Lee - who turns out to b e a Chinese agent only trying to
make sure the secret of the Eternal Flame (whatever that is) is not abused.
When Wong & Street want to make a visit to Fraser though to watch the
footage he has shot in Mongolia for clues, they find the man was knocked out
& vital parts of the footage gone. & the thief still to be around,
throwing knives at everyone involved. The trace of the knifethrower leads Wong
& Street to Chinatown, where they soon find Mason's hideout - but he can
escape, if just, without them recoginzing him.
Wong now decides to go for a long shot, as he puts an article into the
newspapers that Mason was indeed found, & now lies in hospital waiting
police questioning - which in Wong's eyes should bring the killer to the fore.
& really, the very next night at the hospital, Wong, disguised as Mason,
is attacked by the killer - who turns out to be Fraser. & for some reason
the real Mason shows up too to save Wong & get his revenge on Fraser, with
whom he was partners in crime, but Fraser has left him to die in the
All that is left for Street to do now is to arrest both Fraser & Mason
The 6th episode of the Mr.Wong-series shows a
change in tone, not only because the lead is played (for the first time, &
an extreme rarity in Oriental detective movies) by an actual Oriental - Keye
Luke, best known as Charlie Chan's Number One Son. Also Luke's
relative youth & appearance would shift the character from being the
restrained center of wisdom (as Boris Karloff has portrayed him in previous
movies) to the role of a more active investigator, with Grant Withers' captain
Street giving him good & able support - as opposed to previous portrayals
of Street as choleric & somewhat idiotic flatfoot (apart from Withers, only
Lee Tung Foo as Wong's butler is allowed to repeat his role in the series, but
the butler role is & always was of minor importance).
As a result, Phantom of Chinatown is a lively (much livelier as
previous entries) episode of the Mr. Wong-series, but ultimately
not a remarkable movie, as the major elements of the story - the Eternal Flame
subplot & the murder mystery - just fail to click, & the solution is at
least a little muddled - why Mason would in the end show up at the hospital
when, of all persons, he would know that it wasn't the real Mason who is
lying there is never satisfactorily explained.
Phantom of Chinatown would remain the last of Monogram's
Mr.Wong films, the idea of an Oriental detective it seems, has
worn out. However, in 1944, Monogram acquired the rights to Charlie Chan
& made a (longer lasting) series about that Oriental super sleuth (click
here !), with many of the initial entries also directed by Phil Rosen.