The Fatal Hour (1940)

fatal hour poster 1940 movie
6.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

Fun for fans of Karloff

Karloff playing an Asian detective is not PC today

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Fatal Hour

Studio: Monogram Pictures

Genre(s): Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s): January 15, 1940

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

fatal hour mr wong boris karloff

…so…what part of Chinar are you from again, sir?

The murder of an undercover police officer has his friend Captain Bill Street (Grant Withers) seeking answers in his death.  As dogged reporter Roberta “Bobbie” Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) looks for her own big scoop, Street teams with detective James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff).  When more murders occur, Wong, Street, and Bobbie find themselves on the trail of a smuggling gang and the obvious killer might not be who it seems.

Directed by William Nigh, The Fatal Hour is a mystery-suspense thriller.  The film is the fourth entry in the Detective James Lee Wong following Mr. Wong in Chinatown from 1939.  The film can often be found in movie multipacks.

I got a number of multipacks of movies in a short period of time.  This meant not getting to see many of the movies…and detective films are often lower on my interest.  The James Lee Wong films are pretty standard mystery movies, but as a fan of horror and Karloff, they are fun.

fatal hour grant withers marjorie reynolds

You crazy broad…I love you…I hate you

The mystery involves a lot of false accusations and yelling.  As a mystery, the core mystery isn’t bad, but like many films and stories of this type, the obvious red herrings are plentiful.  There are a number of “definite murders” before the real murderer surfaces.  It is tired in that sense and a bit tedious…you know that they are going to have to go through multiple accusations before the ending (fortunately, the film isn’t very long).

The elephant in the room is Karloff.  While Karloff is good in the role, the inclusion of Karloff (a white Englishman) playing a Chinese detective is off-putting today.  At the time, the practice wasn’t uncommon and probably wouldn’t even be considered a distraction to most white audiences.  Karloff is good in the role (which is the typical outsider detective), but the film also relies heavily on Marjorie Reynolds and Grant Withers combative relationship which doesn’t feel very realistic.

fatal hour red herring

You’re guilty…and I’ll keep yelling it at you to prove it!!!

The movie does have that nice noir style that modern films frequently try to emulate, but movies like this get it so easily.  It feels like a combination of the stark visuals, the clipped audio, and of course the thematic nature of the crimes and murders.  With frequently copies, the movie often is a bit rough and junky, but cleaner versions can be used.

The Fatal Hour like the other films in the series feels a bit like an extended TV mystery from the early age of TV.  It doesn’t feel as big as some of the major movies of 1940s, but probably would be a better than many 1950s TV mysteries.  Detective James Lee Wong returns in Doomed to Die released in 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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