A Movie A Day: Quint on TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961) The Red Dragon knows only one reward for failure, Mr. Harcourt.
Published at: Aug. 16, 2008, 2:29 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Hammer regular screenwriter Jimmy Sangster bridges us from yesterday’s not-Hammer BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE to today’s TERROR OF THE TONGS from Hammer Studios.
I came into this one a little apprehensive. It had Christopher Lee so I knew there’d be something to enjoy, but as you can see from the DVD cover it’s the fourth film of a 4 movie collection (on 2 discs) and I had visions of THE HELLFIRE CLUB (the 2nd of a double feature collection) running through my brain.
So count me pleasantly surprised to find a really enjoyable crime flick presented in a gorgeous transfer that captures Arthur Grant’s beautiful color photography. Grant shot the great little British Noir HELL IS A CITY that we discussed last week.
Essentially we have a crime film taking place in 1910 Hong Kong as the people are terrorized by an organized crime organization called The Red Dragon Tong whose members are fast with the hatchets if anybody refuses to pay for their protection.
Geoffrey Toone stars as a British Captain returning to Hong Kong (a British colony at this time) and his lovely young daughter. On his way home he transported an enemy of the Tong who is killed upon his arrival. He was carrying an important document that could comprise the Tong and when they don’t find it on his person they begin killing anyone he would have had contact with.
This leads them to Toone’s house. Rightly, actually. The document was hidden in a gift to Toone’s daughter, intercepted by one of the underground resistance who works as housekeeper.
It was about this time that the movie really grabbed me. Here they introduce an adorable girl (Barbara Brown), give us a few scenes to like her in all her innocence and then these dudes show up to look for the note. Sure, here’s where she’s kidnapped and strong jawed Toone has to destroy the Tong to get her back.
Nope. The bitch is stabbed in the tit and she’s dead before the first reel is over.
You see how this made me sit up and really take notice.
Add on to that Christopher Lee playing Chinese (with some f’n awesome make-up), the evil leader of the Tong, years before his iconic turn as Fu Manchu and you have a damn fine movie.
Sure, Toone is… well, British. He shows no emotion, even when his daughter is killed. It reminds me of the Eddie Izzard bit about a completely British Star Wars. “It’s the rebels, sir. They’re here.” ‘Good God, man! Do they want tea?’ He’s one note through the whole movie, but he does his job, acting as the catalyst to get the poor impoverished Hong Kong citizens to stand up to the horrible gang.
And Lee has enough charasma to fill five movies.
Once you get over the mainly British cast with make-up Chinese eyes (speaking in their natural accents, no less) you get a real fun story of a man on a mission to avenge his daughter, taking on a power much bigger than himself.
Director (and actor) Anthony Bushell does a fine job keeping the camera moving and the film pace lively. Despite the one-note performance of the lead, there is some very good performances throughout the movie, including the beautiful Yvonne Monlaur as the Tong woman who helps Toone, Charles Lloyd Pack as a killer doctor and Marne Maitland, a leader of the resistance disguised as a beggar. I’d wager the strength of these performances is due in no small part to having an actor for a director.
Final Thoughts: Lee steals the show, as expected, but thankfully some gorgeous photography, fast pace, interesting story and some genuine thrills keep the film having to rest solely on his shoulders. If the rest of the movies in this collection are as good as this one, then count me happy. If you’re a Hammer fan, a Lee fan or just like a good little crime flick then definitely seek this one out.