The Thursday Horror Picture Show is having a double bill of Harold Young’s The Frozen Ghost (1945) and William Nigh’s Mysterious Mr. Wong (1934). (The combination barely crosses the two-hour mark.) The Frozen Ghost was scheduled a while back, but was cancelled for snow that never materialized. It’s one of the better of Lon Chaney, Jr.‘s “Inner Sanctum” series with Chaney playing stage and radio hypnotist who goes into a tailspin when he thinks he’s killed an abusive drunk through the power of hypnosis — prompting him to find solace by hanging out in a supremely gloomy wax museum (no, it doesn’t seem like a great idea). I’ll warn you upfront: There’s no actual ghost, frozen or otherwise. You can find a more detailed review here: http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/frozen_ghost_invisible_ghost
That brings to the special delight that is Mysterious Mr. Wong. Though Bela Lugosi is well known for appearing in what I dubbed “The Monogram Nine” in the 1940s, this ultra-low budget offering represents his only film made for the original Monogram Pictures. (There was a complete reorganization of the studio in 1938 — so complete that they almost might be two different studios. The only downside to the change being the loss of one of the coolest logos ever.) When this was made, Monogram was even more poverty row than its later incarnation (yes, that’s hard to believe). Even though Wong was made in late 1934, it comes across as a hangover from the early talkie era. That actually adds to the movie’s…unusual charms.
Lugosi stars as, of course, the Mysterious Mr. Wong, a significantly deranged Chinese gentleman who is obsessed with collecting the 12 coins of Confucius, which — according to the screenplay — will give their owner complete power over the province of Keelat (one assumes this is in China). Why anyone would want this power is unexplained. Similarly unexplained is why Wong feels the need to masquerade as the kindly, pidgin English speaking seller of herbs, Li See — apart from the fact that it affords the opportunity for him to engage in a lot of chit-chat with casually racist nosy reporter Jason H. Barton (Wallace Ford). Then again, it’s never made clear just how no one notices that this unassuming herb shop is attached to a palatial residence complete with torture chamber dungeon. I suppose it’s a case of of “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.” And after all, as Wong’s niece (Lotus Long) so cleverly deduces, “This madness of Wong’s is driving all reason from his brain.”
Mostly, the film is a chance for Lugosi to be sinister and say things like, “A few hours with the rats will loosen his tongue.” Really, that’s enough by itself, though it’s also a treat to watch him do a “take” every time the household gong (which presumably he had installed) goes off. There’s more to love, however, including a wild sequence where Wong’s endless parade of henchmen attempt (rather ineptly) to dispose of Barton and his girlfriend (Arline Judge). The topper, though, may be the fact that evil “mastermind” Wong manages to imprison his enemies in a dungeon with a telephone. Only at Monogram.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Frozen Ghost and Mysterious Mr. Wong Thursday, May 16 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.