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05 September 2014 @ 11:53 pm
Movie Reviewed: Daughter of the Tong, part 1 of 3  
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title


Daughter of the Tong
(1939)

Starring: Evelyn Brent, Grant Winters, Dorothy Short, Dave O'Brien, Richard Loo
DIR: Raymond K. Johnson (a.k.a. Bernard B. Ray)

Blurb: An F.B.I. operative goes undercover to infiltrate a gang responsible for killing one of his fellow agents. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the man suspected of being the killer, the agent succeeds in finding the leader of the murderous gang. Known as The Illustrious One, this Asian (no she isn't... she isn't trying to pass herself off as Asian - she just likes the culture) femme fatale controls her gang ruthlessly from the luxury of her space in the Oriental Hotel.


Scene 01: Pre-first actual scene, we get the cast list/character name that goes on and on as apparently everyone with a speaking part gets special attention. It quickly becomes apparent that our Asian Gangster Film will mostly involve decidely non-Asian people... including our Dragon Lady-type.

Our next pre-first actual scene is a blurb. It fills us in on how every single American, in one way or another, is paying monetary tribute to racketeers. Law enforcement agencies are on the case, trying to stamp out these criminals. But local agencies cannot cope with the national networks of criminals; For that we have our heroes in the F.B.I.


Scene 02: Our first actual scene takes place in a city where a light fog is forming. The musical cues, if not picture quality, leads us to believe this may be Chinatown.


Scene 03: We focus in on an elderly Chinese man smoking a pipe and watching the street. In the background, another gentleman of more Caucasian persuasion makes his way down the street, before quickly moving to another alley.

Both men's attentions seem to be on a delivery taking place as we see a couple of large crates being unloaded from the back of a truck at a storefront.


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Our white guy in his business suit sidles up to one of the crates after the delivery men have taken another inside. He inconspicuosly [uh, implied] digs at one crate lid with a knife in order to see what it contains, all under the watchful eye of the elderly Asian.

When our presumed-agent peeks inside with his flashlight, he finds another Asian person hunkered down in the crate - presumably being smuggled into the States.

Elderly Asian man now chooses to intervene. He startles our agent by giving one gong tap from his alley. Our agent dashes away, as Elderly Asian hits the gong once again. This finally summons the movers out front. The Agent continues with his getaway, causing Elderly Asian to begin hitting the gong several times.


Scene 04: This alerts a couple of guys in a car some block or so away. By chance, FBI Agent comes out of the exact alley where mobsters are waiting. They shoot him, before driving away.


Scene 05: Some distance away, a pair of motorcycle cops get the call about gunshots and race to the scene.

They're joined by a montage of police cars also racing to respond to the scene. This goes on for a while.


Commentary: Although, I'm going to give credit to the director for breaking up what is clearly just run-time stretching scenes with POV shots from inside one of the racing cars. Breaking up the camera angles on the "cops racing with sirens blaring" was a nice choice since you have to think this was a tight budgeted picture.


Scene 06: After the more-than-necessarily-long police action montage, we cut to... no, not the police at the scene!

[Hah, sneaky movie - you got me.]

We cut to a man at a typewriter [um, okay]. Followed by more men doing the same thing. I do believe we're seeing typesetters and this will be a newspaper [and I do believe it is more stock montage-friendly footage].

Yes, we're watching the setup and printing of the daily edition.


Scene 07: We see a Newspaper Headline [of course we do, but this one doesn't come in spinning at us]. It informs us that someone named Carney is suspected in the latest outrage. Two gangsters check out the headline before proceeding through a sliding doorway.


Scene 08: There we see Mr. Wong at the front desk of this hotel. He watches the elevator dial on the wall tick between the first floor and the fifth [in real time!] before getting a small smirk as he sees it travel up to the 5th.


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Scene 09: Upon reaching this floor, the two gangsters asks another desk man, this one Caucasian whether Carney is in. He waves them through with the cryptic, "go on up" suggesting that perhaps there is a hidden floor in this "five floor" hotel.


Commentary: Future!Me wants to insert that no - there isn't. It's a misspoken line that nobody caught. There is no hidden top floor.


Scene 10: Our two gangsters go into a tastefully decorated office where another gentleman sits reading that morning's paper as an Asian tidies up in the background. Newspaper Reader comments on the morning news, which Gangsters obvs feels is a bit too much heat.

Finally, they're joined by Carney... who isn't Tommy, but is our Dragon Lady. She comments on the gangsters making the headlines. Gangster insists it was necessary, and she waves it off as trusting his judgement, but she doesn't like the way the papers are slandering her name. Gangster offers there are several newsmen he'd like to take for a walk in the woods, but she tells him to forget it. She isn't afraid of their words or them.


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Carney's real concern is that elections are coming up and her boys are in office. She doesn't want public killings of law enforcement to make the people nervous enough to ditch her chosen administration. She orders Gangster to spread the word that they're to take it easy out there until after they're through election season.

Gangster tells her that could be a problem with Jerry Morgan out there causing problems, but Ms. Carney has an answer to that thorn. She has a "specialist" coming in from Atlanta that no one in the Portland area will be familiar with to do their dirty work without tying back to her. Whoever Jerry Morgan is, he won't be of concern much longer.


Commentary: Here is a nice place to comment on the casting. My number one concern going into this movie was that the IMDB box art photo indicates an Asian Woman as the big bad. And even the movie blurb describes her as an Asian femme fatale.

This isn't so at all! What I had feared was that the very not-Asian Evelyn Brent was going to be wearing the fake-slant eyes to pass for Asian, despite her lily-whiteness which while an artifact of the times that was acceptable then, is just embarrassing now.

Thankfully, that isn't what is happening here. Carney not only isn't putting on an Asian name, but she isn't wearing anything to indicate that she's trying to pass for Asian, either. She wears dramatic makeup, an Asian-inspire hairstyle and obviously likes Asian accoutrements, but she's not playing an Asian character.

I also immediately liked that she wasn't playing the "puppet master" character behind a man. It is clear from the beginning with her Henchmen that she's in charge, they know this, and they respect her and follow her orders. So, with my mind at ease that I won't be spending every scene with her cringing, I can turn my attention to her work.

It didn't take long for me to like Evelyn's portrayal of this iron lady, who is straight forward, strong and not afraid to show her strength.

What was also interesting is that this doesn't take place in San Francisco or Los Angeles. Setting it in Portland is an interesting choice, although how much we'll really get a sense of being in the Northwest is debatable.



Scene 11: We then change to a view of a FBI wrap sheet for "Gallagher". He's a bank robber, prison escapee and all around nogoodnik. Two men are considering the file, with one commenting that "Dickson"... this would be Agent Ralph Dickson... bears an uncanny resemblance to our baddie.

Dickson is brought into the local field office and asked specifically if he's ready to try to impersonate Gallagher, which he's more than ready to do. He mentions that he's already had to convince people a few times that he's not the same person, so with a fake scar applied, he should be able to do so readily enough.

It turns out that the Chicago branch has already arrested the real Gallagher, but it's being kept on the QT. Dickson sees this as the break he'd been waiting for, as opening death agent was a close friend and Dickson is convinced that Carney is responsible for his death.

Dickson is given the lowdown on Carney's case, which involves human trafficking. During the extended chatting, it's also revealed that Dickson isn't the only agent that will be inside Carney's organization trying to tie her to a Federal crime.

There is another someone by the name of McMillan but Dickson and he won't know one another's identity to protect the other in case either of them are caught and killed.


Commentary: Okay, this scene is one of those where a few guys sit in a plain, ugly office and infodump and it feels like it. Some of this information is important, but it's given too much time to unfold and I wish they'd done a better job of identifying the other two guys in the room, other than Dickson himself.


Scene 12: The following morning, Dickson arrives on the city bus under the assumed identity of Gallagher. Also on the bus was one Marion Morgan. Marion manages to drop a hanky as she's digging into her purse for a coin for the local paper. Dickson spots this, and thinking it may be a signal of some sort flips a coin to decide if he should approach her. He does. He lightly flirts, she tells him to bugger off.

All of this is under the watch of one of Carney's associates. This is Mugsy, who makes the introductions and escorts Dickson on his way.


Commentary: And I have to say, Dickson is already off to a rocky start as Gallagher. For being a tough, robber/escape artist who has decided to hook up with a Femme Fatale to do her dirty and unpleasant work in a new city he's acting awfully chipper and friendly. He's not exactly screaming "hardened criminal used to working with thugs" here.

And I already have Marion marked as a possible love interest and this as a cute meet. I loathe obvious cute-meet setups.



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Scene 13: Agent Dickson follows Mugsy into a cab, where Mugsy compliments Dickson on his Atlanta "jailbreak". He also happens to tell him all about how his pal "Lefty", who he escaped with is also in Portland working for Carney....

You can tell by the look on Dickson face that he wasn't planning on having to impersonate Gallagher face to face with someone that would be familiar with him. He tries to play off his sudden surprise by stating he thought he'd been nicked again, but Mugsy assures him that was just talk.


Commentary: And for catching a taxi, Mugsy is awfully wordy about having an escaped convict with him. It's weird because they could've just had a "dayplayer" pretend to be a driver for Carney's organization. Instead, and this is clear because of the way Mugsy directs the guy to the Oriental Hotel, he just jumps into this random cab and starts blabbing away.

Very clumsy of the film, unless the 'witness' comes into play later. [Future!Me would like to tell you: "No."]



Scene 14: [HI, YELLOW CAB! THANKS FOR YOUR PARTICIPATION.]

When they arrive in the Hotel, Dickson pretending to be Gallagher checks in under his cover identity set up by Carney as "Mr. Hammond". Mr. Wong tells him that his checking in isn't necessary and they've been expecting him. He shown up to his room, while Mugsy says hello to some gangsters in the lobby.

We pass several individuals, all of whom take a passing interest in "Hammond" so any of them could be the mysterious second undercover agent, including Mr. Wong.


Scene 15: In his new room, Dickson/Gallagher/Hammond starts to unpack but we can tell he isn't happy and it doesn't take much to understand that it is because Lefty is someplace close by and could cause a real problem.


Commentary: Y'know, this 'film' is starting to strike me as less of a movie and more of a television episode. We are wasting precious minutes watching people walk around. So, I think that not only is it a television episode with pretensions, but it's probably only a 30-minute story to boot. Now, IMDB users have given this a 5.2 so it should be average-ish. And so far, I'd say that's about right, if this were a tv episode. Thus far, anyway, I'm thinking they were a bit generous if this is a theatrical movie.


Scene 16: Back with Mugsy, he's watching one of his fellow gangsters on a pinball machine. He tries to get a nickle out of them to play, but they wave him off and leave.

Mugsy checks in with Wong on Hammond's room number and then gives him a call.


Scene 17: Our agent promises to be right down once he's done unpacking.


Scene 18: Meanwhile, Marion arrives at the Hotel as well. It seems that Jerry Morgan is also staying there. Mr. Wong has no problem giving out room numbers and Marion is off to the 4th floor, which happens to be the same floor that Agent Dickson is staying on.


Scene 19: We then join Morgan, who is unhappily with a pair of gangsters including Ward. They're waiting for Marion to arrive with some money for something related to the "Morgan problem" we heard mentioned earlier.

Marion is let entrance to deliver the package of cash to Jerry. The gangsters are cordial and allow her to leave shortly thereafter to wait for Jerry in the car, while he concludes whatever issue he'd gotten himself into.


Scene 20: At the elevator, Marion is joined by one of our henchcrew who informs her that he'll be escorting her until Carney is certain that the deal with Jerry is copecetic. Marion seems more annoyed at not being trusted than she is worried.

Just before the elevator closes, Dickson happens to make it inside for his meeting downstairs with Mugsy.


Scene 21: In the elevator, Dickson is surprised to run into Marion and tries some small chat. She brushes him off as Thug shows her his gun behind Dickson's back to warn her not to say anything.


Commentary: Which makes very little sense... surely if Dickson was on the fourth floor, and Jerry was being held on the fourth floor, then the fourth floor is being used for the Illustrious One's convenience. So surely Thug-dude would a) already be used to the 4th floor being used for everybody in the organization as default and b) would've also been aware that out-of-towner Gallagher was going to be staying there and c) would've been given some sort of preliminary idea of what he looked like, including that he has a scar and that d) he's there by special invitation of his boss.

With all of this, why would he deem it necessary to pull his gun and threaten to shoot fourth floor resident in the back in the elevator if Marion acted suspicious?

I wish she's blurted out that she was in trouble, Dickson was immediately shot, and Carney suddenly had to deal with this utter disaster caused by a dumb-ass who should've known better. Maybe she'd learn a little something about intradepartmental communication.



Scene 22: In the lobby, the elevator is arriving at the first floor, when there is a short scream by Marion. Mugsy hits the button, but the elevator has already gone past toward the basement level.


Scene 23: At the basement, Marion is forced out of the elevator at gunpoint, along with Dickson who had apparently been hit in the head by our brainless gangster. He warns Dickson to stay out of things or he'll really get hurt.


Commentary: Oh, please tell me there will be a scene where Carney kills this knob! [Future!Me teases me with a grin, before giving me a flat "No".]


Scene 24: Marion is marched away, as the elevator returns to the frantic button-pushing of Mugsy wondering what the hell is going on.


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Dickson/Gallagher/Hammond blows off Mugsy's wondering about a woman's scream. He claims that Mugsy was hearing things. Mugs asks if he's okay, because he looks like somebody who was just belted, but Dickson claims he just gets a headache in elevators sometimes.

They end up at the arcade game in the lobby.


Commentary: OKAY, WHAT THE HELL??

Do the various gangsters in this organization not talk to one another about what is going on in the building? WHY would FBI Undercover Agent Dickson keep silent about a kidnapping that clearly his criminal contact, Mugsy, has no clue about? Wouldn't he want to have Mugsy try to help the girl, if in fact there is something shady going on right under Carney's roof without her direction? Wouldn't that have actually enhanced his reputation with Carney and helped his mission in getting close to her operation?

And, for that matter, where the hell is Carney -- isn't she supposed to be giving some sort of assignment to Dickson that actually involves the "Morgan problem"?? Was that resolved now offscreen with the plan to turn over a wad of cash? Is this a different criminal conspiracy and the two groups of gangsters don't realize they're using the same location?

I'm so confused about what the heck is going on with Morgan and how Carney is or isn't involved in what is happening on the fourth floor!

[Future!Me is starting to annoy me, but he butts in again to say, "Chill dude. It'll all be explained more or less in an infodump but I'm pretty sure it still won't make any sense to you. You should prepare yourself."]



Scene 25: Mr. Wong at front desk receives a phone call for Dickson under the Hammond identity. This gives Mugsy his opportunity to play the arcade game on somebody else's nickel.


Scene 26: In the apartment, Carney sits at her desk as her Number One speaks with 'Gallagher'. He tells him that they'll have a job soon, so he should stand by for a second call with things are arranged for him to go.


Scene 27: Dickson is left disturbed that he's going to have to "pull a job" without actually getting to Carney. Fortunately, Mugsy is excited now because he and Hammond - being partners and all - have hit a payoff at the game. Agent Dickson uses this to claim to Mugsy that he just caused him to forget how to contact Carney and Mugsy tells him she has the whole top floor.

Dickson asks if all of Carney's boys stay there, and is told by Mugsy that the bottom tier stay at another address before he goes back to nattering about the "payoff" at the game.

[Poor, simple and talkative Mugsy... another one who is going to need to be rubbed out. Also, you'll get that his obsession with the simple arcade game is his character trait. Also, also, you'll recognize that this gives him a patina of Komedy Relief. Thankfully, thus far, his character hasn't been OTT enough to be obnoxious, so there is a point in the films favor.]

Mr. Wong has dealt with Mugsy before, though. He takes a quick look at the game, announces that Mugsy tilted and he gets nothing. Mugsy tries to call "Hammond" back to get him their three nickels from the desk manager, but Dickson is gone.


Commentary: Now, tell me. What exactly was gained by the scene in which Carney has a call placed to Dickson just to ensure that Gallagher/Hammond arrived on time and then to tell him to stand by so he can play an arcade game.

Really. That was needed?



Scene 28: Despite his instructions to stay close, Dickson leaves the Hotel to wander over to Ferguson & 5th where Mugsy had just told him the bulk of Carney's crew hang out when they're not off doing something underhanded.

This leads to an Import Company in Chinatown, and is recognizable as the location of the human smuggling we saw before Opening Agent's death.


Scene 29: Within the import shop, one of our thugs [this, I believe is Marion's abductor pointing to her possible location, but I'm having so much trouble keeping track of all of these men with their identical suits and hair cuts and Caucasian-ness].

Dickson barely has the time to slip into an alley before he's seen [and I keep wondering which of our guys is the villain who recognizes "Gallagher" that Dickson is going to have to fool -- if anyone has actually called out his name of "Lefty", I completely missed it].

Driver Suit looks around suspiciously, but whether he saw Dickson, is just weirded out by the random blind guy standing around suspiciously in front of the shop, or just randomly watches everything with suspicion I cannot say.

Dickson lights a cigarette and ponders [again, perhaps this Driver Suit is Marion's abductor which would explain what he'd have to ponder, otherwise this extended scene is useless]. Meanwhile across from the alley, in front of the shop, Blind Man gets a bit too much camera time to believe that he's actually blind and isn't either a watchman of some sort for Carney or is the secret double agent in her organization working the case.

Either way, Dickson sidles up to Blind Man. After a few seconds, he flips a quarter into the air which Not-So-Blind-Man catches in his cup... rather clumsily, blowing that no, he's not actually blind. But this is all we learn at this time.

Dickson proceeds into the Import shop for a look around.


Scene 30: The shop owner contemplates Dickson nervously, while our undercover Agent acts as suspiciously as possible. He spots a diversion in the form of a firework and lights the wick on it while Shop Owner is distracted.

As the random fireworks go off, Dickson slips through a curtained passage deeper within the shop. These are living quarters and he proceeds door to door, presumably looking for Marion, while the fireworks continue blasting away in the storefront.


Commentary: All of this is so dumb. Dickson is supposed to be undercover to find some evidence against Carney. Couldn't he have waited in the lobby, as he was told and thereby avoid suspicion, then go to carry out the assignment he receives and use this as a way to contact his handler to "bust him"/"provide a smokescreen" to avoid carrying out the illegality and then see if he gets his chance to speak to Carney about the blunder in person and thereby provide direct eyewitness testimony of her nefariousness?

This is about Dickson playing an undercover mole and here he is making sure that as many people tied to Carney see him skulking about suspiciously where he was very plainly directed not to be as possible. It's not like Carney seems all that careful about hiding her tracks [despite the implication that she is], so this should've been a relatively easy assignment to get inside to her... UNTIL NOW.

And okay, I'm going to assume that even a double agent is still an upstanding FBI-Guy and won't allow Marion to remain in danger but he could've slipped in anywhere and given a heads up to his boss about her abduction and possible location. His blowing his cover like this in order to wander around is just stupid and not how moles work.



Scene 31: Upstairs, Dickson is caught by another thug [who so ridiculously threatens him with the ol' gun-in-the-pocket gag], while our hero pretends he's looking for some random Joe. Dickson manages to get the drop on "Sam, the simpleton" and throat punches him unconscious.


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Sam is dragged off to a closet and stuffed in it [where he manages to remain standing while knocked out... apparently throat punches cause legs to stiffen and support weight as a side effect].


Commentary: The throat punch was neat, though, so the scene wasn't a total waste. Although, again, it isn't doing much for Dickson's undercover role of "Gallagher".


Scene 32: Dickson returns to apartment 36 where Sam was exiting and gives it a short knock. The thug who answered is given the message that Sam wants him down in the store.

Dickson then enters the room and does indeed find Marion there. He wastes precious moments flirting again, only to get a gun in his back by a second thug keeping Marion under watch.

Thankfully for Dickson, Marion chooses to help him out by knocking over a vase and causing a distraction instead of just assuming he's some stalker that she needs protection from. The distraction lets him knock out second gunman with another throat punch.

He hustles Marion out of the room, with her still not clear on what is happening and he being too busy with flirting to explain who he actually is and why he's abducting her from her abductors.


Scene 33: Dickson and Marion rush downstairs, only to find the returning 1st gunman who he'd sent after Sam. Dickson uses a gun to convince him not to do anything rash. He and Marion kinda-rush back up the stairs, where 1st Gunman quickly follows.

As they run by the closet, Dickson opens the door and sends unconscious Sam falling out and into 1st Gunman.

They run out a back door into an alley.


Scene 34: Dickson, while blocking the door hands Marion the gun and peppers her with questions. She's more concerned with Jerry's fate, understandably and she doesn't really know anymore than he does in any event.

He complains that she could be a little more cooperative, but since he hasn't identified himself as anything but a gangster who keeps showing up where she is, she's not about to do anything other than point his own gun at him.

She orders him to stay put while she makes her getaway.


Scene 35: Ill-advisedly, "Hammond" then shouts his name at her and tells her that he lives at the Oriental if she should change her mind, only reinforcing that he's one of Carney's thugs and leaving her even more confused as to why he's helping her.

Meanwhile, two of our thugs are at the door banging away.


Commentary: This just makes zero sense. What the hell is Dickson doing, here?! He's thoroughly blown his cover, so why would he return to the Oriental as Hammond/Gallagher after clearly interfering in one of Carney's operations?? Or alternatively, why is he blowing his cover to interfere in an operation from some criminal enterprise other than Carney's, but which seems to operate with or without her knowledge out of her own HQ.

Either way, he's left witnesses who knows his face and now presumably had little difficulty hearing his name shouted on the other side of the door as well as his future location! HOW IS HE GOING TO BE UNDERCOVER AND GAIN THE TRUST OF CARNEY NOW??

It doesn't matter that he hasn't been identified as an imposter -- he has completely shown that he can't follow the simple instruction to wait in the Hotel for instructions and he's bringing all sorts of attention to himself. All of this, by the way, while he's working on a tight deadline before word leaks that the real Gallagher has been nabbed by the feds in Chicago.

He's the worst fucking undercover agent, EVER. And I thought opening agent was bad with his godawful attempt at skalking inconspicuously. And all of this is to set up another in a series of "cute interactions" with Dickson trying to impress on us what a suave hero he is, when he's really just looking like a stalkerish boob trying to pick up a woman he met for mere minutes in total when he's supposed to be bringing down a criminal empire.

Add in the fact that names are only trickling out to make it difficult to keep track of who is whom and I'm finding this script really frustrating. The writer name is George H. Plympton but this feels like it was written on set by committee as they went along.



Scene 36: Meanwhile, back at the Oriental - Jerry is still being held despite Marion's ransom money being paid. He's playing cards with Mugsy and Mustachio. Mugsy mentions what kinda card Gallagher is and Jerry clarifies who he's talking about. Mugsy is talkative, despite a glare from Mustachio.

Jerry's "innocent questions" and pondering make one wonder if he's not the other double agent. Lefty is mentioned again, but is still unseen [as far as I can make out].



TBC

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