Item AAAA2699 - Secrets of Chinatown

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Title proper

Secrets of Chinatown

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  • moving images

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Northern Films Ltd.

Title notes

  • Variations in title: The black robe

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Dates of creation area


  • 1933-1934 (Creation)
    1935 (copyright date)

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Custodial history

Scope and content

Feature film. ". . . dealt with a murderous gang of opium smugglers operating in Victoria's Chinatown and the efforts of the local police to track them down. Two men disappear -- Doverscourt, a detective investigating a murder in Chinatown, and Brandham, a ship's chandler involved in the drug trafficking who has offered to tell the police all he knows because things are going too far. Completely baffled by the disappearance, Police Commissioner Parkins reluctantly turns for assistance to Donegal Dawn, a Sherlock Holmes style private detective. Meanwhile Robert Rande, a young friend of Dawn, has been threatened by the Chinese after he has shown an interest in Zenobia, a pretty blonde girl working in a Chinese curio shop, and has discussed the matter with Dawn. The Chinese villains, who invariably wear hoods and long robes, are operating from a temple and Rande now goes to this temple where Zenobia is taking part in a religious ceremony, believing herself to be 'the Eye of Lao-Tsee', and attempts to rescue her. Just as Rande is about to be knifed Dawn appears and shoots the hooded attacker. Rande soon returns for another try, only to be attacked by the missing Brandham who is acting under the influence of drugs. Dawn appears yet again and saves his life but rescues only Brandham, leaving Rande behind. Brandham quickly recovers from the effects of the drug but can remember nothing and so a visit to a yogi is arranged -- to unlock the 'subjective' half of the poor fellow's mind. Brandham reveals another hideout further up the coast of Vancouver Island. Dawn rapidly penetrates this new stronghold, hoping now to extricate both Rande and Zenobia, but this time he is captured. Fortunately Victoria's finest are not far behind and arrive in the nick of time. When the leader's hood is removed he is revealed to be Chan Tow Ling, the owner of the curio shop and a secret police operative to boot. Chan Tow Ling takes poison and Rande gets Zenobia." (Colin Browne, citing D. John Turner)

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A digital copy is available.
A VHS reference copy is available for this item.

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Copyright expired. Based on information supplied by British Columbia Archives, the NAC has classified this film as being in the public domain.

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General note

"SECRETS OF CHINATOWN was begun in [1933?] by Kenneth Bishop's Commonwealth Productions Ltd. with the same leading players as THE CRIMSON PARADISE. . . . Unfortunately, the financial problems which were beginning to hamper THE CRIMSON PARADISE finally paralyzed SECRETS OF CHINATOWN, and before the film could be assembled for distribution, Bishop was forced to declare bankruptcy. . . . A new company, Northern Films, Ltd., was created, and managed to complete SECRETS, which premiered at the Empire Theatre in Victoria on March 8, 1934 [actually 1935]. . . . SECRETS OF CHINATOWN, which was called THE BLACK ROBE in Victoria and Vancouver so as not to offend members of the Chinese community, was not even able to draw large crowds after it provoked a scandal. The original version was seized by the British Columbia Provincial Police after the Chinese Consul in Vancouver requested that the Provincial Censor, J.A. Smith, withdraw it from circulation because of racist slurs. The Consul charged that the film portrayed Sun Yat-Sen as the head of a large smuggling operation, and Chinatowns as the repositories of dark, sinister secrets. Although Harry Hastings, the actor who played the head of the smuggling gang Chan Tow Ling, prefaced each showing in Victoria with the reminder that the film was purely fictional, the picture was not released again until one section showing a 'Chinaman with knife in back' was cut. Apparently no material which might be considered offensive to the Chinese community was discovered or eliminated by the censor. The Consul's reaction to this is not known." (Colin Browne)

General note

References: Listed in Browne, "Motion Picture Production in B.C.", entry #0799.

General note

Accession number(s): V1997:01; 93-2370

Cast note

Nick Stuart (Robert Rande); Lucille Browne (Zenobia); Raymond Lawrence (Donegal Dawn); James Flavin (Herbert Brandham); Harry Hastings (Chan Tow Ling); James McGrath (Commissioner Parkins); Reginald Hincks (Dr. Franklin); John Barnard (Doverscourt); Arthur Legge-Willis (The Yogi of Madrada)

Credits note

producing agency/company: Northern Films Ltd.; producer: Kenneth J. Bishop; director: Fred Newmeyer; technical director: Li-Young; script: Guy Morton (from his book "The Black Robe"; photography: William Beckway; sound: Wally Hamilton; editor: William Austin

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