(director: William Wellman; screenwriters: J. Grubb Alexander/play by Achmed Abdullah and David Belasco; cinematographer: Sid Hickox; editor: Owen Marks; music: Bernhard Kaun; cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wong Low Get), Loretta Young (Sun Toya San), Dudley Digges (Nog Hong Fah), Leslie Fenton (Harry En Hai), Edmund Breese (Yu Chang), Tully Marshall (Long Sen Yat), J. Carrol Naish (Sun Yat Ming), Blanche Frederici (Madame Si-Si), Eveyln Selbie (Wah Li ), Willie Fung (The notary, Fung Loo); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: ; First National Pictures; 1932)

White actors playing Chinese characters, who are about as convincing as a fortune cookie reading.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

White actors playing Chinese characters, who are about as convincing as a fortune cookie reading. It’s a gangster film about the Tong war, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, in the early part of the twentieth century. Action director William Wellman (“A Star is Born”/”The Public Enemy”/”Beau Geste“) raises questions about how far can friendship go if pushed to the extreme. Wong Low Get (Edward G. Robinson), a businessman belonging to the ruthless Lem Sing Tong, kills Sun Yat Ming (J. Carrol Naish), his childhood friend, on orders from his Tong gang, and then meets his obligation to raise the victim’s six-year-old daughter Toya. When a grown woman she’s played by Loretta Young, who looks about as much Chinese as do Robinson and Naish.

What follows is the well-connected Robinson becomes wealthy and following the stipulations in the will of the man he executed, marries Toya when she reaches legal age. When Robinson learns from Young that she loves one of his bodyguards, Harry En Hai (Leslie Fenton), someone she met briefly at a dance hall, for the sake of her happiness he lets her marry him and live with him in China. Unfortunately the Tong don’t share the same liberal attitude and as a result Robinson is ostracized by them and starts losing his power and his business goes under. Later Robinson learns Toya is not such a good judge of character, as Harry sold her as a prisoner to an opium den and her life is a living hell. Well, Robinson goes to China to free her and to restore his marriage to her.

It’s based on the play by Achmed Abdullah and David Belasco, and is written by J. Grubb Alexander.

I was never convinced Robinson was a Chinese gangster, that the film had much merit or credibility, and felt too much meaningful drama was missing. Otherwise it’s a hoot seeing Robinson as a Chinese gangster rather than as the Italian Little Caesar.