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Secrets of Chinatown (1935)

Approved | | Crime, Mystery, Thriller | 20 February 1935 (USA)
Private detective Donegal Dawn, is summoned by the police commissioner to solve the reasons for a crime wave in Chinatown, and scoffs at the official ruling on tong-killings. His friend, ... See full summary »


Fred C. Newmeyer


Guy Morton (novel), Guy Morton (screen story and continuity)


Complete credited cast:
Nick Stuart ... Robert Rand
Lucile Browne ... Zenobia
Raymond Lawrence Raymond Lawrence ... Donegal Dawn
James Flavin ... Brandhma
Harry Hewitson Harry Hewitson ... Chan Tow Ling
James McGrath James McGrath ... Commissioner
Reginald Hincks Reginald Hincks ... Dr. Franklin
John Barnard John Barnard ... Doverscourt
Arthur Legge-Willis Arthur Legge-Willis ... Yogi of Madrada
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Private detective Donegal Dawn, is summoned by the police commissioner to solve the reasons for a crime wave in Chinatown, and scoffs at the official ruling on tong-killings. His friend, Robert Rand, has has fallen for Zenobia, a clerk at Chan Tow Ling;s curio shop. Dawn tells Robert that their live would be in peril if he tries to take Zenobia away from Chinatown. That night, Robert breaks into the shop's cellar where he hears strange music and voices, and sees a weird ceremony in which (the mesmerized) Zenobia officiates as a priestess. Robert is captured by the worshipers. Dawn tracks the sinister "Order of the Black Rober" but can not find a trace of Robert, Zenobia or the cultists. Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

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Story of a black robed organization in Chinatown is lifted out of the typical low budget pile by a complex story and great film making and make it worth looking for.
4 July 2006 | by dbborroughsSee all my reviews

Let me take a crack at trying to explain the plot of this very complex movie: In and around the Chinatowns of Seattle and Vancouver a dark organization of black robed men is smuggling drugs and worse in from China and elsewhere. If anyone gets to close they are send a coin which spells their doom. As police informants and investigators fall, the commissioner of police is forced to turn to a special investigator, with a knack for disguise and a vast knowledge of Eastern ways, to help bring an end to the body count. Also in the mix is a young man infatuated with a mysterious young girl (who can appear and disappear into thin air) who is somehow tied to the band of villains.

IMDb lists this as running 62 minutes, the version I saw ran 55, and in either case the running time would be way too short for what is going on the screen. There are so many characters, subplots, locations, and wild ideas (in a good way) that this movie easily could have run two hours and have kept you on the edge of your seat the whole time. The short running time is the problem with this movie because things are not explained the just happen. Frequently you get the feeling that another scene or two should have been included. I don't think that the missing scenes were filmed, I think they filmed the bare minimum of scenes for you to be able to follow the plot and went with that.

I like this movie a great deal. No its not completely clear as to whats going on at times, but its clear enough to make you want to see whats going on. In some ways the lack of clarity works for the film since it forces you to pay attention to the action. Besides in the end the film does tell you everything you need to know to enjoy the story, you just have to be patient and wait for the end. Additionally there are enough loose threads that make you get a sense that the film world actually exists somewhere and not just on the screen.

If you've seen a good many low budget mysteries or films from the same period where everything seems to be set bound then you'll want to take a look at this movie. Clearly filmed on location the film makers show us locations that aren't the run of the mill. Sure some of the offices look like normal film sets but the streets, the caves, the temples, the noodle shops are not. Its great that the film makers take what could have been very a "been there and done that" film and spiced up every element and turned it into something unique and worth watching.

Even better is the camera work. I don't ever remember seeing a any 1930's sound film that looked this good and mysterious, certainly not one that was shot on a small budget. I'm certain that some of the effects were achieved by simply choosing to shoot silent and post sync the sound. Its a small thing but the effects are stunning. Look at the murder of the police detective on the street, the high shots in the Chinese temple, or the sequence with the yogi where the drifting smoke seemed to lighten up everything behind it. Amazing, truly amazing. The technical work makes me want to show this to people just so they cam see the camera work (which most will probably not appreciate, but thats okay).

This is a great little film. Its one to search out especially if you want to see what a bunch of clever people can do when they refuse to do things the same old way.

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Canada | USA



Release Date:

20 February 1935 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Black Robe See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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