Film and Plot Synopsis
In Mr. Wong, Detective, someone murders a chemical manufacturer after he asks detective James Wong to help him. Wong investigates his death, and two subsequent murders. His investigation reveals an international spy organization who’s out to steal the formula for a poison gas the first victim’s company is developing.
‘Mr. Wong, Detective’ Movie Summary
The summary below contains spoilers.
The film begins with the President of Dayton Chemical Works, Simon Dayton (John Hamilton), fearing for his life. He has his driver take him to the home of Mr. James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) to protect him. Wong agrees to meet with Dayton the very next morning at his office. As Wong walks him back to his cab, Dayton notices the man behind the wheel is not his chauffeur, and is trying to kidnap him. Wong stops him, and in a panic, the man speeds off in the car alone.
The next morning before their meeting, Dayton arrives to his office to find his two partners, Theodore Meisel (William Gould) and Christian Wilk (Hooper Atchley) waiting for him. They ask him to sign a contract that says if anything happens to any partner, the company goes to the surviving partners. The three willingly agree to sign it.
After the two men leave Dayton’s office, Carl Roemer (John St. Polis) arrives, demanding to see Dayton. He wants his formula back that Dayton refused to pay him for and he has a gun with him to take it back. Myra Ross (Maxine Jennings), Dayton’s Secretary and his Office Manager Russell (Wilbur Mack) are able to pull Carl out of the office and back into Dayton’s lobby.
Once alone, Dayton calls the police to tell him there’s a guy with a gun at his office. Captain Sam Street (Grant Withers) heads over with sirens blaring. Street arrives to find Carl sitting in a chair in the lobby, and Dayton dead in his office locked from the inside. There are no marks on his body to indicate how he died.
Just then, Wong arrives for his appointment with Dayton. As they examine the body, the doctor says it was a heart attack. However, Wong finds an odd piece of glass as thin as an eggshell. He and Street also find the newly signed contract between the business partners.
Wong next heads to a lab to have the glass he found tested. It part of a glass ball that a person of Bavarian descent created. Back at police headquarters, Street and his men question Carl, but come up with nothing. Wong is there and Street reinforces his theory that Carl killed Dayton to get his formula back, and the guy died of a heart attack.
The coroner’s report comes in and it says Dayton died from a poison gas. Wong then shows Street his small glass sphere which he theorizes stored that poison gas which killed Dayton. However, he doesn’t know how the glass was shattered to release the poison.
Elsewhere in town, Anton Mohl (Lucien Prival) scolds Olga Petroff (Evelyn Brent) and his minion Lescardi (Frank Bruno) for sloppy work. Mohl wanted Lescardi to kidnap Dayton, but he screwed it up. Now they need to stop a shipment of Carl’s poison gas that Dayton was having sent out to be used on Mohl’s home country, and also find his secret formula so they can use it against their enemies. Lescardi wants to kill Wong to get him out of the way, but Mohl says no. With Carl in jail, they need work on Dayton’s partners to steal the formula. Luckily, Olga already has cocktail plans with Wilk the next night.
Wong returns home to try different sounds which could possibly break the glass sphere. Nothing works until his parrot lets out a loud squawk. This pleases Wong greatly.
Wong then heads over to the home of Dayton’s partner, Christian Wilk, to question him about Dayton’s death. Before they can talk, Wilk’s guests, Olga, posing as the Countess Dubois; and Mohl, posing as Baron Von Krantz, arrive. Wong ingratiates himself with Olga. Wilk then invites Wong to join them for cocktails and Wong agrees.
Wong notes to himself that Baron Von Krantz smokes the same cigarette as the one that was found in Dayton’s abandoned car; the car that Lescardi stole in front of Wong’s home after his inept attempt at kidnapping Dayton. Russell next arrives with some papers for Wilk. He takes them into Wilk’s study in the next room. Theodore Meisel next arrives to join the little party as a delivery man also arrives with a special delivery letter for Wilk from Carl (who’s still in jail).
He opens it up to find it says he’s in great danger, and he needs to stay in his study and immediately call the police. He runs into the study, kicks Russel out, and locks the study doors behind him. He calls the police and Street immediately heads over.
Mohl slips out before Street and his men arrive with sirens blaring. They find the remaining guests (Wong included) in his waiting room oblivious to the fact that Wilk is now dead in his study. This leaves Meisel the sole owner of Dayton Chemical Works… and a prime suspect. Wong finds more glass similar to the glass found in Dayton’s office.
Street and Wong head back to the police station to question Carl. They don’t know how he could have sent the letter with him still in jail, and Carl won’t say why or how he got that letter out. Wong next leaves to the Bureau of Investigation to see if they have files on Olga and Mohl, which they do.
Back at the police station, the men continue to interrogate Carl. They bring in his wife (Grace Wood), who mailed Wilk the letter, to see if she can get him to talk. He still won’t. Meisel demands the police to let him, Olga, and Russel leave Wilk’s house after Street ordered everyone to stay there. Street has no choice but let them go. Meisel leaves with Olga for dinner.
Wong next shows up at Mohl’s place to look around in the dark, but doesn’t find anything. However, Mohl is there, and he hides behind a curtain to avoid being noticed. Later, when Mohl meets with Lescardi and Olga at his place, Olga tells Mohl that Wilk is dead, but Mohl didn’t know. He left early to get away from Wong who he says suspects them. He then says they need to pay him a visit later that night.
Wong heads to Dayton’s office to look around in the dark, but Russel shows up and takes something. Wong stops him to find he was only taking his personal contract before the authorities take it in the morning. Wong sends him home.
Back at the police station, Carl finally talks as Wong arrives. He says Theodore Meisel is the murderer. Pleased, Street has everyone head over to Meisel’s place to arrest him. They arrive with sirens blaring, but find him alone inside and dead. Wong finds the same glass found at Dayton and Wilk’s murders. Street believes his case is solved; Meisel killed himself to avoid murder charges. So he plans to release Carl now that he’s proven innocent.
Wong asks him to bring Carl over to his home later that night after releasing him to learn more about Meisel. Street asks Wong if he can bring Myra with him because he has a date with her that night too.
When Wong returns home, he finds Mohl, Olga, and Lescardi waiting for him in the dark, but he was expecting them. He tells them he doesn’t have the formula before taking q glass sphere out of a box. He says it’s full of the deadly gas, but Lescardi shoves him in the back. The sphere falls to the ground and breaks. Wong then tricks them into thinking they are about to die from the poison. This distracts them long enough for him to take Lescardi’s gun from his hand.
Just then Street arrives with Myra and Carl. Wong reveals Mohl, Olga, and Lescardi’s true identities. He asks Street to call his men at the station to arrest them for criminal activity, but he says they didn’t kill Dayton, Wilk, or Meisel.
Wong then tells Carl that he knows that Carl is Dayton, Wilk, and Meisel’s true killer. He says that Carl planted the glass spheres at each murder scene and then, when he knew the men would be alone with the sphere, tricked them into calling the police for help. (Well, Carl tricked the police into heading over to Meisel’s place.) When the police car’s sirens came blaring down the street, the glass would shatter; killing each man alone in their locked room.
To prove his theory, he takes out one final glass sphere. As Street’s men arrive with their sirens blaring to arrest Mohl, Olga, and Lescardi, the noise shatters the sphere. Satisfied, Street arrests Carl for murder, and the others for their petty crimes.
The film ends with Wong’s servant, Tchin (Lee Tung Foo) getting him a nice cup of tea.
Additional Film Information
Monogram Pictures released Mr. Wong, Detective on October 5, 1938. William Nigh directed the film starring Boris Karloff, Grant Withers, and Maxine Jennings.
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