Doomed to Die (1940)

doomed to die poster 1940 movie
5.5 Overall Score
Story: 5/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

Quick and simple

So-so story, Karloff cast as a Chinese man

Movie Info

Movie Name: Doomed to Die

Studio:  Monogram Pictures

Genre(s): Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  August 12, 1940

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

doomed to die murder

Yep…he’s doomed…DOOMED TO DIE!

The murder of Cyrus Wentworth (Melvin Lang) has led to the search for Dick Fleming (William Stelling).  Dick is the son of the rival shipping magnate Paul Fleming (Guy Usher) and the love of Cynthia Wentworth (Catherine Craig) who he hopes to marry against the order of Cyrus.  Fortunately for Dick, Herald reporter Roberta “Bobbie” Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) has an ace in her pocket in the form of famed detective James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff).  While Captain Bill Street (Grant Withers) think Guy is guilty, Bobbie and Mr. Wong must find the truth before it is too late!

Directed by William Nigh, Doomed to Die is a mystery-suspense thriller.  The movie is the fifth movie and final movie featuring Karloff in the James Lee Wong series and follows The Fatal Hour also released in 1940.  The movie is in public domain and frequently featured in multi-movie packs.

doomed to die boris karloff chinese

“No…Frankenstein was the scientist…not the monster”

The Asian detective genre was a strange one.  Charlie Chan was the obvious breakout star of the genre and there were a lot of duplicates.  James Lee Wong is an obvious copy of the format, and despite the name of Karloff, the result is rather bland.

The movie is short and that is a plus.  Just over an hour, the movie is a mesh of lots of cliché characters.  You have the detective, the intrepid His Girl Friday type reporter, and a mysterious underworld of the “foreigner”.  The Wong character serves as a the bridge between all those worlds, but he is oddly added to the mix a bit later and doesn’t feel involved enough in the plot.  He does solve the case but it largely feels like a showcase for the Bobbie Logan-Bill Street relationship.

The film also suffers from the problematic Karloff role.  Karloff can’t really be blamed for being a stand-in for a Chinese man due to when the film was made (it was rather common).  It is also less egregious than something like the parody in later movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Despite the race swap not being done for comedic effect, it is still a stereotype as the “wise Chinese” which doesn’t sit well in modern viewings.

doomed to die marjorie reynolds grant withers

Yeah…that crazy broad is here…and other generic 1940s cop speak

The movie also is rather cheap.  With limited sets, it largely feels like a stage play script.  It is typical mystery with limited locations.  The movie is the type of film where the characters stand over the murder scene, then move to the jail, then to another crime scene etc.  It is rather minimal look with little excitement.

If you are fan of detective films or noir films (or just classic films in general), Doomed to Die is a quick watch.  You won’t have to commit very long to it and due to its length, it is almost like watching a TV mystery like Murder, She Wrote or Matlock.  It isn’t great…it isn’t bad…it is problematic due to the time it was shot, but I do enjoy seeing Karloff in any regards.  The James Lee Wong series continued with Keye Luke taking over the role from Karloff with Phantom of Chinatown also released in 1940.

Related Links:

The Fatal Hour (1940)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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