Wednesday, April 20, 2022

CHINATOWN AT MIDNIGHT - "Caught Like A Rat In A Police Trap" (1949)

This Wednesday's Wild and Wacky feature is a short flick from 1949 titled "Chinatown At Midnight," starring "Hurd (Picture Of Dorian Gray) Hatfield as creepy killer Clifford Ward.

The story takes place in San Francisco, so naturally they shot the film in Los Angeles!

Then they insert stock footage of the city by the bay, and a tour guide informs us that San Francisco's Chinatown is only 20 square blocks, but is the most densely populated area in the entire United States.

Clifford Ward is a Class A jerk. He has a demanding girlfriend named Lisa Marcel who doesn't seem to care for him at all, and tells him what to do. She told him she needs a specific vase that can be found in a shop in Chinatown. This young man tells him that the vase is not for sale, but that's okay with Clifford because, he didn't plan to buy it anyway, and shoots and kills the guy instead.

The proprietor's girlfriend was in the next room, and she's next. She tries to call the police, but Clifford takes the phone and tells the cops in Chinese that there has been a robbery, after he shoots her too.

Back in the good old days, the call was actually listened to by one of the operators.

Clifford brings Lisa Marcel back the vase, and she's so happy! Lisa was played by Jacqueline deWit who can also be seen in "The Twilight Zone" episode titled "Time Enough At Last."

The rest of the movie is all about the police trying to find out who and where Clifford is, but they are off to a bad start thinking he is Cantonese because of the dialect of the voice on the phone.

The police publish a photo of the stolen vase and Lisa Marcel freaks out when she sees it, because she didn't know the whole back story on how the vase was obtained by Clifford.

The lady who bought the vase from Lisa is equally appalled that the vase is stolen, and tells Lisa she is going to call the police, which causes Lisa to decide to get out of Dodge, or San Francisco, as it were.

This film has a narrator that I can not find credits for, but his narration gives a lot of details that the film can leave out, and make it a much faster production, so this movie is only a little over an hour long. What they failed to do is make even a vague attempt at explaining Clifford and Lisa's relationship. They seem to be a couple, but she just bosses him around mostly, so I guess it should be no surprise when she tells him that she needs to get out of town, he does her a favor, and puts a slug in her!

They almost catch Clifford a number of times, but since they don't know who he is, or what he looks like yet, he is sometimes right under their nose and they don't even know it. Here, he disposes of his overcoat and gun in an incinerator in an alley, then gets in line with guys in a line for food handouts.

Meanwhile, at the "Technical Research Laboratory" they have matched up the bullet from the gun found in the incinerator with the one that killed the girl.

Investigative police work back in the forties was intense. They find a laundry tag inside the overcoat, then they figure out who the manufacturer is, contact them, and get a list of all the laundromats in town that use this particular tag. At that point one of the officers is assigned to visit each one and see if anybody recognizes the coat.

The owner of one of the laundromats recognized the coat, but says the guy paid cash, but he was pretty sure the customer lived within a two block radius of the laundromat, because he walked there. They find his apartment, and while he's nowhere to be found, they find some sound recordings of his voice from when he was practicing languages. 
They take one of the recordings, and send it to Los Angeles, and have a couple hundred records made, and delivered back first class.

The records are then distributed to a group of officers with instructions to deliver them to anybody in town who might be able to recognize the voice of the killer, waitresses, stewardesses etc. 

And, of course, all the telephone operators in town.

Clifford takes prescription medicine for malaria that he has had for seven years, and since he's on the run, he is desperately in need for some more, so when the pharmacist won't give him any, he goes to a phone booth and calls the pharmacy acting like he's the Doctor. That was all it took, and this gal recognizes his voice immediately.

He goes back to his room to rest, and lay low for a while.

Since they now have his position narrowed down, the cops come up with a plan. They will go to each and every door in the area, and act as census takers, and it doesn't take long for them to locate Clifford!

From there, it's only one last chase scene to finally pin the bastard down!
And you can check it out for yourself right HERE!

1 comment:

kd said...

Oh my...Jacqueline deWit! The ever-lovely "I say it's doggerel!" wife to Burgess Meredith's mousy, bank teller and coke-bottle glasses reader fame!


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