David Bordwell's website on cinema   click for CV




Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder

On the History of Film Style pdf online

Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling

Film Art: An Introduction

Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages pdf online

Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies pdf online

Planet Hong Kong, second edition pdf online

The Way Hollywood Tells It pdf online

Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Figures Traced In Light

Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 pdf online


Hou Hsiao-hsien: A new video lecture!

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay


Rex Stout: Logomachizing

Lessons with Bazin: Six Paths to a Poetics

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History

Shklovsky and His “Monument to a Scientific Error”

Murder Culture: Adventures in 1940s Suspense

The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?

Mad Detective: Doubling Down

The Classical Hollywood Cinema Twenty-Five Years Along

Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

William Cameron Menzies: One Forceful, Impressive Idea

Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong

Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema

(Re)Discovering Charles Dekeukeleire

Doing Film History

The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema

Anatomy of the Action Picture

Hearing Voices

Preface, Croatian edition, On the History of Film Style

Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything

Film and the Historical Return

Studying Cinema


Book Reports

Observations on film art

Archive for March 2007

A many-splendored thing 3: Filmart and filmfans


The annual Hong Kong Filmart is a trade show for all aspects of film/TV production and distribution. As in past years it commands several floors of the Convention and Exposition Center, shown in yesterday’s entry. There are many screenings (thinly attended) but the main business is dealing. Representatives from Europe and Asia meet and greet in their display spaces, or more often in restaurants and hotel rooms. Here are some snapshots from the floor of the market, which I managed to visit on Wednesday.



The cheerful Park Jiyin gave me some publications and DVDs from the Korean Film Council. She had read Film Art in her university courses!

Sanrio’s display areas were pretty nifty.


On the Filmart floor I again ran into King Wei-chu, brandishing yet another of his poster treasures while we talked with Ip File, a publicity executive for Celestial Pictures (current owners of the Shaw film library). Mr. Ip also worked as an assistant director to Chor Yuen, one of the best Hong Kong directors of the 1950s-1970s.


After cruising Filmart I caught the trade screening of Twins Mission, a goofy but likeable Hong Kong film by martial arts choreographer Kong Tao-hoi. Twins, in case you don’t know, are, or is, a pair of girl pop singers who have made some films before this, notably The Twins Effect (2003). In this entry, Twins are now trapeze artists, and they encounter a squad of kung-fu killers, all themselves either male or female twins. It’s gradually revealed that our Twins were trained in the martial arts along with many other twins…by kung-fu masters who are twins. Confused yet? Given that our Twins don’t resemble one another, the premise seems a sendup of the very idea of twins and, er, Twins.

The agreeable fight sequences are enhanced by digital effects; my favorite passage includes a moment when a spinning blade trims one girl’s eyelashes. There’s a mawkish subplot about a little kid with cancer, but the presence of Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah, who literally plays his own evil twin, more than makes up for it.

A sequel seems already to be shot. This movie, released about a month ago, ends without resolving the plot, and then we’re asked to watch out the rest of the story. Maybe the next installment will develop the subplot involving Sam Lee overacting as a mainland cop, a trail that leads nowhere here. Morever, the 35mm print I saw jumped from scarily sharp HD footage (every pore on the face all too crisp) to fairly poor digitized stuff to soft, sometimes out-of-focus 35 footage. Did they change formats partway through the shoot?

Yes, I learned later that night. I met Grady Hendrix and Goran Topalovic, directors of the New York Asian Film Festival (aka Subway Cinema), for drinks at the movie-themed coffeeshop/ bookstore Kubrick. They bought books, I bought books, then we sat outside chatting. Soon Ryan Law joined us. Ryan has recently expanded the server for the Hong Kong Movie Database, of which he’s the founder and mainstay.


Ryan, Grady, and Goran

Ryan said that for reasons of economy, it’s become very common for HK movies to mix analog and digital formats. He said that in fact Twins Mission used film, HD, and Betacam!

Leisurely talk on a balmy spring night was a good ending to a full but unhurried day, and I came back to write the blog you see now. Tomorrow: more film viewing and a visit to a night shoot of Johnnie To’s installment of Triangle.


A many-splendored thing 2: Awards aplenty


Short version:

This year the Hong Kong Entertainment Expo has launched the Asian Film Awards, a celebration of outstanding films and filmmakers created by the HK International Film Festival. Over 700 films were sifted by a jury and a handful of finalists were chosen in several categories. At the ceremony on Tuesday night, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, which I wrote about at Vancouver’s film festival, won several: best film, best actor (Song Kang-ho, the put-upon father of the family), best cinematographer (Kim Hyung-goo), and best visual effects (The Orphanage). Best director honors went to Jia Zhang-ke for Still Life. Other winners:

Best actress: Miki Nakatani (Memories of Matsuko)

Best screenply: Mani Hagighi (Men at Work)

Best production design: Tim Yip (The Banquet)

Best musical score: Rahayu Supanggah (Opera Jawa)

Best editing: Lee Chatametikool (Syndromes and a Century)

A special award for Outstanding Contribution to Asian Cinema went to the great actress Josephine Siao Fong-Fong, presented by Luc Besson in an eloquent tribute.

I was fortunate enough to be given an award for Excellence in Asian Film Scholarship.

Long version follows.


Tuesday morning-early afternoon: The film market, Filmart, is held in the overwhelming Convention Center on the harbor: at least seven floors of steel and glass, shaped like a wingspread gull and full of gigantic auditoria and meeting rooms. Sellers have set up booths to showcase films, TV shows, and the like. There’s also a film financing forum, where directors come to pitch projects to likely funders.

After getting my credentials, I shmoozed with old friend Shelley Kraicer, a Chinese film expert who’s a consultant for several festivals. I also spent time with Ho Yuhang, whose Rain Dogs I’d seen at Vancouver. Ho is a great fan of film noir, and I brought him some DVDs that seemed up his alley. He’s planning a psychological crime drama for his next project, and don’t be surprised if touches of David Goodis and Jim Thompson show up in it.

Late afternoon: After climbing into a suit, back to the Convention Center. At the preshow reception, met Fred Milstein, who works as a completion guarantor at Cine Finance; Fred went to film school, so we had several friends in common.

Also reunited with King Wei-chu, a programmer for Montreal’s wonderful Fantasia film fest, and Frédéric Amboisine, passionate adherent of Asian cinema and writer for the lush French magazine Kumite. (King and Frédéric awed me with the memorabilia they tote around, rare posters and books they’ll whip out to show you.)

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Also ran into director Ann Hui, looking happy and relaxed as usual. Ann, who’s one of Hong Kong’s best filmmakers, visited UW-Madison to show Summer Snow back in the 1990s.


Evening: The ceremony approached. We spilled into the auditorium, with assigned seats. Mine was in the front row, and as I passed the center section I saw plenty of indications of star power.

I was lucky enough to be seated beside the remarkable Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The Circle, Offside) and next to him was Jia Zhang-ke, who remembered me from a panel we’d been on together in Shanghai. You can see that they were in good spirits. On my other side sat Vicki Zhou Wei and Song Kang-ho.


Before the curtain rose, I caught up with Tony Rayns, wearing an amazingly horticultural bow tie, and Peggy Chiao, the godmother of the New Taiwanese Cinema.

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The big noise of the night was the presence of Korean pop star Rain, who brought shrieks from the crowd whenever he turned his head. Still, there was no shortage of fan response for Andy Lau and Tony Leung, the spokesman for Entertainment Expo.

The ceremony was principally in English, from a clever script written by the resourceful Grady Hendrix. Karen Mok started things off in her plummy English accent, but then David Wu showed up with his rapid-fire patter, eventually joined by Fiona Sit.

I missed some stretches because I had to go backstage before my award, but here are some pictures before and after. First, Mani Haghighi gets his screenplay award.


Here’s Siao Fong-Fong getting her special award:


And here’s the Korean contingent as they realize they’re on a roll:


Late evening: At the afterparty, in a bar called JJ’s, I met with Grady, Stuart Levy of Tokyo Pop (who grasped the importance of Asian pop culture before nearly anybody else), his Japanese associate Matsuhashi Masashi, and several other folks—not least the indispensable Athena Tsui, who had worked very hard to make the Awards show a success. On the way out, got my picture taken with the charming Song Kang-ho.


Later evening: Quiet dinner at a great fish restaurant with pals Yuhang and Michele, including Tony Rayns sans bowtie. We had some fine dishes, including pissing prawn (don’t ask).

Finally: Say hello to my lee’l fren’. The awards statuettes were designed by Wong Kar-wai art director William Chang.


In the spirit of awards ceremonies: Thanks to everyone who’s helped me work on Asian film over the years, especially Tony Rayns, Donald Richie, Komatsu Hiroshi, Li Cheuk-to, Athena Tsui, Shu Kei, Sam Ho, Ding Yuin Shan, Stephen Teo, Doug Gomery, and Gabrielle Claes, along with several archives, festivals, and film distributors. Thanks also to Mr. Johnnie To, who kindly presented me with the award.

A many-splendored thing 1: Academics and premieres


This year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival is mammoth—at 23 days, perhaps the world’s longest. It’s smoothly meshed with the HK Filmart, a trade gathering for buyers and sellers, the Asian Film Awards, and a slew of other events, all under the umbrella of Entertainment Expo. The goal, Timothy Gray points out in a communique in Variety, is to confirm Hong Kong as a regional media hub.

So many things have happened to me since my arrival, and so many impressions pile up, the diary form is for now the best way I can recount my doings. In the course of my stay, I’ll try for less fragmentary reportage.

Saturday 17 March

Back in my favorite city. Plane arrived two hours late around midnight Saturday, and the Internets connection in my room didn’t work. Went to bed, got a surprising 8 hours’ sleep.

Sunday 18 March

Joined my friends Mette Hjort and Paisley Livingston for a shopping expedition with their kids Erik and Siri to Sha Tin, a megamall in the New Territories. That night I stayed with them in their newly renovated home in Sai Kung, with calming views of a park and a bay. Slept 4 ½ hours; read about Alien Autopsy, prepping for a future blog.

Monday 18 March


A busy day. Most of it was spent at cozy Lingnan University (one area shown above), where Paisley and Mette teach. I got a little tour and met artist-in-residence Jane Dyer, who’s working on some lovely pieces involving books. She finds ’em, shreds ’em, paints ’em black…and turns them into disquieting sculptures.

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Had an informal sandwich lunch with the students in the Visual Culture program, then a more extended attack on dim sum with Mette (center), Jane (right), and Meaghan Morris, head of Cultural Studies at Lingnan and another fan of HK action cinema.

Late afternoon, I gave my CinemaScope talk, with an addendum on HK cinema’s use of Scope. Good questions afterward.

With Meaghan I rushed off to Wanchai, where she lives and where I was slated to see the new Milkyway film, Eye in the Sky, at the Convention Center. After a comical mishap involving changing taxis, I made it to the Center just as the crowd was gathering. I hovered on the edge, uncertain of what to do next, when Yuin Shan Ding, Johnnie To’s right-hand man, saw me and gestured me in.

So I walked the red carpet, waiting for somebody to stop me. I should have remembered: This is HK, where such events are unbelievably informal.

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Inside I caught up with Shan and got my ticket. At that moment I met another old friend, Athena Tsui, who was coordinating things in the foyer. Behind her Simon Yam, Lau Ching-wan (above left), Johnnie To, and Yau Nai-hoi were giving press interviews in the glare of TV lights. After snapping some pix, I went in and took my favorite seat, down front and center—where I also found another old Hong Kong friend, Li Cheuk-to, bustling about seeing to a dozen matters. Soon the major players came in too. Above, it’s Yau Nai-hoi, director of Eye in the Sky, on the left and producer Johnnie To on the right.

Then the ceremony started. The principals (To, Yau, Yam, Kate Tsui, Maggie Siu, and Lam Suet) got up on stage and said a few words of introduction. Simon claimed that he gained twenty pounds for his role, while Lam Suet proudly said that he had not.

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Compared to To’s own directorial efforts, Eye in the Sky is more conventional genre fare. It’s very linear, giving us essentially a ninety-minute pursuit sequence. As a result, we get almost no backstory about the plainclothes cops (Yam and Kate Tsui) who are tailing heistmeister Tony Leung Kar-fai. It does recall other Milkyway films, which are often built around games of chase and disguise. It’s also very much a street film; you see a lot of the Hollywood Road area, and there are nice images of passersby caught unawares.

Here forward momentum is everything, with virtually no pauses for reflection or just catching your breath. Each scene seems caught on the fly, with aggressive smash-and-grab camerawork. Eye contrasts intriguingly with To’s Expect the Unexpected, which exhibits more control of the run-and-gun look and immerses us more thoroughly in the lives of its police protagonists. Still, Yau’s career will be worth watching, not least because Hong Kong needs to replenish its cadre of young directors.

Audience response to Eye was enthusiastic. Darcy Paquet has some quick first thoughts here.

I Am a Cyborg followed, but I have several other chances to catch it, and sleep beckons. Back to the hotel. Tomorrow, Tuesday, is the biggest day of my trip.

Charlie, meet Kentaro

DB here:

Echoing an earlier virtual roundtable on this blog, I want to write about my two favorite B film series, now available in handsome DVD boxed sets. Both series were mounted at 20th Century-Fox, both were adapted from genre fiction, and both seem very much of their time: lots of exotic Orientalia, and probably too many middle-aged men in tiny mustaches and broad fedoras. But to my mind these films offer brisk, unpretentious entertainment, solidly crafted and surprisingly subtle. They also allow us to trace some changes in the ways movies were made across the 1930s.

There’s another reason for this blog. Tim Onosko, a friend of Kristin’s and mine, recently died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Tim was an extraordinary figure, as you can find here. He was central to Madison film culture for forty years, and in his various creative activities, he shaped everything from The Velvet Light Trap to Tokyo Disneyland. He and his wife Beth also made a documentary, Lost Vegas: The Lounge Era. Tim and I enjoyed talking about the two series I’ll be mentioning. He loved these films, as he loved all films and popular culture generally, with a sharp-eyed dedication. So this is a small effort at an homage to Tim.


The Hawaiian and the Japanese

Charlie Chan, a Hawaiian police inspector of Chinese ancestry, became famous in a series of six novels by Earl Derr Biggers, from The House without a Key (1925) to The Keeper of the Keys (1932). Chan novels were brought to the screen at the end of the 1920s by Pathé and Universal, but for Behind That Curtain (1929) Fox took over the franchise. Warner Oland, a Swedish-born actor who had often played Asians, settled into the lead role in Charlie Chan Carries On (1931). He played Chan up through Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937), then fled Hollywood under peculiar circumstances and went to Sweden, where he died soon afterward.

moto-vol-1-100.jpgThe Mr. Moto films overlapped with the Oland cycle. John P. Marquand introduced Moto in the novel No Hero (1935) and made him more central to four novels that followed. Again, Fox bought the rights and launched the film series with Thank You, Mr. Moto (1937). It starred Peter Lorre as the mysterious Japanese, and I think it’s fair to say that the role made him a Hollywood star. The series ran for eight installments, ending in 1939 with Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation.

Each series echoed its mate. Tim claimed that in an early Chan, a character is reading a Moto story in the Saturday Evening Post, though I’ve never found that scene. When Charlie’s Number One Son turns up to help Moto in Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) it’s revealed that Charlie and Moto are old friends. There’s a more elegiac moment in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning (1939) when a theatre displays a poster for the Chan series—perhaps as well serving as an homage to the recently deceased Warner Oland. Despite Oland’s death, the Chan series continued until 1949, with Sidney Toler in the role, but with Lorre’s departure the Moto films ceased.

Having a Caucasian actor play an Asian protagonist was common at the time. Today, it seems condescending or worse, but we should recognize that the films featured Asian actors as well, often in significant roles. The most visible example is Keye Luke as Charlie’s highly Americanized son. Forever blurting out “Gosh, Pop!” Luke is a lively and likable presence.

Just as important, the portrayal of the detectives is remarkably free of racism. Charlie and Moto are clearly the quickest-witted characters, and both prove resourceful in all kinds of ways. Moto’s judo subdues thugs twice his size, and Charlie is up-to-date in the new technologies of detection.

The scripts go out of their way to show both men skilfully handling the prejudice they encounter. In Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), a blatantly racist cop (William Demarest) who calls Charlie “Chop Suey” is mocked incessantly by everyone, most gently by Charlie. Moto excels at pretending to be the stereotypical Asian (“Ah, so!” “Suiting you?”). And both our protagonists are sympathetic to others who are in minorities. Charlie is notably unwilling to participate in guying black servants as the whites do, and Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936) shows his keen sympathy with the “freaks,” treating them with quiet courtesy. The Moto series presents a Japanese who doesn’t seem to share his country’s goal of ruling Asia. In Thank You, Mr. Moto, he enjoys a respectful friendship with a Chinese family of declining fortunes.

chan-vol-2-100.jpgThe Chan series features straightforward detection. A murder is committed, and either Charlie is in the vicinity or the police ask for his help. A young and innocent couple is involved, adding pressure for Charlie to solve the case. Another murder is likely to take place, and a few attempts are made on Charlie’s life before he comes to the solution. In traditional fashion he tends to assemble all the suspects at the climax before exposing the guilty party.

moto-vol-2-100.jpgThe Moto films aren’t as concerned with puzzles. Like the novels, they’re tales of international intrigue, involving smuggling, theft of archaeological treasures, and the like. There’s more violence and physical action, with shootouts and last-minute rescues. Moto Kentaro (his given name is visible only on his identity card) is a more shadowy presence than Charlie, often working under vague auspices. He’s either an agent of Interpol, a functionary of the Japanese government, or an exporter who takes up intrigue as a hobby. (1) In Mr. Moto’s Gamble, arguably the best of the series, he engages in old-fashioned detection involving murder during a boxing match. Unsurprisingly, the film was originally planned as a Chan vehicle, and it even includes Number One Son as Moto’s sidekick.


Looks and looking

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We can learn a lot by studying the two main actors’ performance styles. The plump Oland plays Chan as stolid but not ponderous. He floats across a room and gravely circulates among suspects, giving the films their deliberate pacing. Oland’s drawn-out delivery and pauses were due, people say, to his acute alcoholism, but he never seems to be struggling to find his lines. Charlie is at pains to be unobtrusive, modest, and tactful; his characteristic gesture is a simple one, letting the fingertips of one hand grasp one finger of the other.

He is a loving father, doting on his many children (all in tow in Charlie Chan at the Circus). Although Number One Son may exasperate him, you would go far in films to find as warm a portrayal of a father’s affectionate efforts to curb an impulsive boy. See Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) for the casual byplay between Charlie and Lee, now an art major and a member of the swimming team. Lee’s bubbling energy gives Charlie’s imperturbability even greater gravitas.

The short and slim Lorre plays Moto as a suave man-about-Asia, hand thrust casually into his trouser pocket. Moto is an art connoisseur, a graduate of Stanford (class of ‘21), and a master of many languages. Lorre, so easily caricatured at the time and now, hit on a brilliant idea: He didn’t give Moto stereotyped tricks of pronunciation. Unlike Oland, he didn’t usually drop articles or compress syntax.(2) Lorre just played the part in his lightly accented English, as he would in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. He added a soft-spoken delivery, a modest smile, and a trick he may have picked up from Marlene Dietrich–ending his sentences with a slight upward inflection, turning every statement into a polite question.

Reaction shots of suspects are a convention of these movies, but after several cuts show us everybody looking shifty, the reverse shots of our heroes show us that they miss none of this byplay. (3) Charlie is alert, but he hides his penetrating view behind a bland courtesy. As Moto, Lorre presents a more aggressive intelligence. Peering through round spectacles, those bug eyes, panic-stricken in M, can now become pensive or bore into a suspect. Charlie needs the force of law, but Moto, who usually acts alone, is dangerous by himself, and Lorre’s horror-show pedigree serves him well in giving his hero’s stare a sinister edge.


Listening and looking

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You can argue that Oland and Lorre, coming to their parts only a few years after sound had arrived, helped Hollywood develop a wider array of acting styles. We historians of Hollywood have rightly praised gabby comedies like Twentieth Century (1934) and It Happened One Night (1934) for finding a performance technique suited to sound films, particularly in the wake of technical improvements in acoustic recording. If movies had to talk, we think, they should really talk, fast and hard and heedlessly. In this church our Book of Revelations is His Girl Friday (1940).

Lorre and Oland, like Karloff and Lugosi, remind us of the virtues of being gentle, spacious, and deliberate. This isn’t a reversion to those hesitant, strangled mumblings of the earliest talkies. Rather, the movies’ plots surround our Asians with rapid-fire duels of cops and reporters, snapping out “Say!” and “Hiya, sister!” and “Watch it, wise guy!” and “Don’t be a sap!” Against clattering percussion Moto and Charlie deliver a melodic purr.

Some people still believe that in Citizen Kane Welles and Gregg Toland introduced American film to steep low angles, tight depth compositions, and noirish lighting. In The Classical Hollywood Cinema, I’ve argued that the Gothic, somewhat cartoonish look of Kane synthesized and amplified trends that were emerging during the 1930s. The Chan and Moto films are wonderful places to study these visual schemas.

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In Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935, above), cinematographer Charles G. Clarke (whom Kristin and I interviewed for the Hollywood book) offers flashy depth and silhouette effects, and nearly all the Chan films have moments of clever staging. Charlie Chan at the Opera, above, is particularly engrossing, with its huge set (recycled from the A-picture Café Metropole, 1937). The same film, incidentally, contains scenes of a fictitious opera, Carnival, composed by Oscar Levant. This was an ambitious gesture for a B film and looks forward to Bernard Herrman’s Salammbo sequences of Kane.

The Motos are even more remarkable. You want wild angles? Venetian-blind shadows? Telltale reflections in eyeglasses? Swishing bead curtains? Twisted expressionist décor? You’ve come to the right place.

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Some late thirties Fox sets seem to have been stored in Caligari’s Cabinet. Watching these films, it becomes clear that Kane applied the moody technique of crime and horror films to ambitious drama. One bold setup in Mr. Moto’s Gamble looks like a dry run for a Toland big-foreground composition (done here, as often in Kane, through special-effects). I like this shot so much I used it in Figures Traced in Light.

Yet all this creativity took place within severe constaints. These were B pictures, running under seventy minutes and shot in a month or so. Three or four would be released each year. They shamelessly used stock footage, leftover sets, and the same players in different roles from film to film. (Watch for Ray Milland, Ward Bond, and others on the way up.) The boys in the Fox cutting room seem to have enforced a remarkable uniformity: most of the Chans in these DVD sets, regardless of director, contain between 600 and 660 shots, while the faster-paced Motos average between four and six seconds per shot. The actors created hurdles too. Oland sank even further into drinking while the high-strung Lorre was addicted to morphine and periodically retired to sanitariums to recover. Those were the days; rehab wasn’t yet a matter for infotainment.


The Fox DVD boxes are model releases. The prints are well-restored (better on the second sets than the first) and filled with astute, informative supplements. We get a lot of detail about production matters, including why Oland left Hollywood. There is welcome biographical background on master minds like Sol Wurtzel and Norman Foster. I still want to know more about James Tinling, though; his direction of Mr. Moto’s Gamble and Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935) belies his reputation as a hack.

“The cinema is not dangerous,” Moto reassures the Siamese tribesmen about to be filmed in Mr. Moto Takes a Chance (1938). Immediately, the woman who’s being filmed dies. The adventure begins. Who can resist movies like these? They have kept me happy since my childhood, when I watched them on Sunday afternoon TV. They can keep your children, and you, happy too.

For some good reading, see John Tuska, The Detective in Hollywood (Doubleday, 1978); Charles Mitchell, A Guide to Charlie Chan Films (Greenwood, 1999); Howard M. Berlin, The Complete Mr. Moto Film Phile: A Casebook (Wildside, 2005); and Stephen Youngkin, The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (University Press of Kentucky, 2005).

For more on Charlie, click here. Charles Mitchell has a nice wrapup on Kentaro here.

(1) The involvement of an innocent romantic couple was a convention of slick-magazine fiction of the day (both the Chan and Moto novels were serialized in the Saturday Evening Post), and it recurs throughout mainstream detective fiction of the 1930s. Most writers of the period wrestled with the problem of how to make the couple interesting. See Carter Dickson/ John Dickson Carr’s short story, “The House in Goblin Wood,” for a brilliant handling of the device.

(2) As many commentators have noted, Charlie doesn’t speak pidgin English; he seems to be mentally translating. Interestingly, the generation gap is apparent here too, since Number One Son speaks peppy and perfect American slang.

(3) One hyperclever moment in Mr. Moto’s Gamble gives us the usual rapid-fire array of single shots of discomfited suspects but neglects to show us the real culprit.

David Bordwell
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