Shipping magnate Cyrus Wentworth, downcast over a disaster to his ocean liner 'Wentworth Castle' (carrying, oddly enough, an illicit shipment of Chinese bonds) is shot in his office...at the very moment of kicking out his daughter's fiance Dick Fleming. Of course, Captain Street arrests Dick, but reporter Bobbie Logan, the attractive thorn in Street's side, is so convinced he's wrong that she enlists the help of detective James Lee Wong to find the real killer.
Boris Karloff ... James Lee Wong
Marjorie Reynolds ... Roberta 'Bobbie' Logan
Grant Withers ... Capt. William 'Bill' Street (Homicide Squad)
William Stelling ... Dick Fleming
Catherine Craig ... Cynthia Wentworth
Guy Usher ... Paul Fleming (Dick's father)
Henry Brandon ... Victor 'Vic' Martin (attorney)
Melvin Lang ... Cyrus P. Wentworth
Wilbur Mack ... Matthews (Wentworth's assistant)
Kenneth Harlan ... Ludlow (chauffeur)
Richard Loo ... Tong leader
Once you get past the notion of Boris Karloff as a Chinese detective, "Doomed to Die" offers a fair amount of fun. The famed James Lee Wong (Karloff) is hot on the trail of whoever pulled the trigger on shipping magnate Cyrus P. Wentworth (Melvin Lang). What initially looks like an open-and-shut case soon proves much more complex as Wong endures bullets, dead bodies and a constant questioning of his competence to get to the elusive (and completely unpredictable) truth.
Adding some welcome comic relief are hard-nosed policeman Bill Street (Grant Withers) and the ultimate thorn in his side, eager reporter Bobbie Logan (Marjorie Reynolds). Though they've been copied a hundred times in the more than 65 years since this picture was released, their antics are enjoyable and occasionally quite funny due to the duo's strong chemistry.
Overall, it's a little clichéd, confusing and at times slow, but "Doomed to Die" is perfect for a rainy night. It has a certain old movie/Scooby Doo charm even viewers who don't go for black-and-whiters can appreciate.
By now, the formula has pretty much run it's course, Detective James Lee Wong (Boris Karloff) is called upon to help solve the murder of a shipping magnate whose signature steamship, the "Wentworth Castle" has burned at sea with four hundred lives lost. This time though, it's Herald newspaper reporter Bobbie Logan (Marjorie Reynolds) who contacts Wong, playing her hunch that Homicide Captain Bill Street has once again arrested the wrong man. In this case, the suspect Dick Fleming (William Stelling) was in the same room with Cyrus Wentworth (Melvin Lang) when he died, as the fatal shot that killed him was heard in the next room by young Fleming's father (Guy Usher), and Wentworth's assistant Matthews (Wilbur Mack).
As in the famed Charlie Chan series of films, things are never as they appear when Oriental Detectives are involved. James Lee Wong's investigation takes him to the address of Wentworth servant Lem How who's disappeared; as agent Kai Ling, he's been on a secret mission for the Tong Society to return to the U.S. from China with one and a half million dollars worth of gold bonds for safekeeping. Bobbie, Street and Wong find Lem How murdered, and Wong goes on to discover that Lem How and Kai Ling of the Tong are one and the same person.
Before it's all over, Wong takes a bullet to the arm, and the elder Fleming takes a near fatal shot while trying to take the rap for his son; it was young Fleming's stolen gun that fired the fatal Wentworth bullet. It would be a misnomer to say the butler did it, in this case it was the chauffeur, specifically Wentworth's chauffeur who was fired for drinking who took out his revenge on his former employer, in league with Wentworth's attorney, who had his own objective - the gold bonds aboard the Wentworth Castle that never made it to the Tong.
This would be the fifth and final film that Boris Karloff would portray writer Hugh Wiley's character James Lee Wong. Funny, for some reason he looked more "Chinese" to me in this film than in his prior outings. Fellow horror icon Bela Lugosi appeared in 1934's "The Mysterious Mr. Wong" as Fu Wong, a totally different character, and the series ended with Asian actor Keye Luke in 1940's "Phantom of Chinatown".
Last of Monograms James Lee Wong detective series with the great Boris Karloff playing the witty and preceptive Chinese sleuth. Wong gets involved in the mass murder of some 400 passengers of a cruise ship to cover up an illegal bond smuggling operation. Nowhere as good as the much better Charlie Chan detectives movies that James Lee Wong was an obvious spin off from but Karloff, as James Lee Wong, gives the series that class that it needs to make it at least watchable.
As the president of the shipping company that owns the cruise ship Wentworth Castle Paul Wentworth realizes that he's been unknowingly involved in illegal bond smuggling and that his flagship, the Wentworth Castle, was sabotaged in order to cover that fact up, from the Maritime Commission and FBI. Wentworth is suddenly confronted by his rival in the shipping business Paul Fleming, who came over to Wentworth's office to offer his sympathies. This leads to a violent argument over Wenthworths son Dick's involvement with Fleming's daughter Cynthia.
It turns out that Dick Fleming is in love with Wentworth's daughter Cynthia and wants her hand in marriage which the mad as hell Paul Wentworth, who feels that Fleming is trying to take over his shipping company, is totally against. In no time at all with young Dick showing, as his father left, up to talk some sense into the crazy old Wentworth's head there's a shot heard, off camera, and before you know it Wentworth is dead as a door nail! Dick is seen fleeing from his office and suspected by the police for Wentworth's murder.
Seeing enough of these kind of films you just know that Dick is innocent but the cop on the scene, a captain no less, Bill Street in convinced that Dick is the killer For the rest of the movie Street makes a complete jerk of himself trying to prove it with all the evidence to Paul Wentworth's murder showing that it was someone else. Capt. Street is also hampered by this nosy and pesky reporter Bobbie Logan who, unlike him, feels that Dick didn't do it and in the end has the by them embarrassed cop, after being shown how completely wrong he was, forced to eat his hat with a little salt and pepper sprinkled on it to give it some taste.
Wong who comes on the scene late in the film is convinced that, like everyone in the audience, Dick is innocent which leads the real killer to take aim on him wounding Wong when he's out on the street looking for evidence in the case. It turns out that a passenger on the cruise ship, Kia Ling who survived, which the unlucky 400 others didn't, was involved in this smuggling operating of illegal bonds. Kia after being discovered by Wong and Capt. Street in his dockside home murdered it's also discovered that he isn't Kia Ling who we and Det. Wong were lead to believe but Mr. Wentworth's Chinese houseboy and all around handyman Lem Hou!
Hou had been working with someone very close to the late Mr. Wentworth in the smuggling operation and was himself knocked off when the real Mr. Big got a bit paranoid and wanted no one to be around to be able to finger him for one of the largest mass murder in US crime history. He didn't at all expect that Chinese/American super-sleuth James Lee Wong was to be put on the case by the Flemings. When Wong finally went to work to get Paul Fleming's son Dick off it was just a matter of time before the real killer of Paul Wentworth was apprehended. That is if the killer didn't get, or murder, James Lee Wong first.
# The images of the burning of the fictitious liner Wentworth Castle is taken from actual news footage of the burning of the liner SS Morro Castle. The Morro Castle caught fire on 8 September 1934 during a trip from Havana to New York. The heavy loss of life combined with the beaching of the gutted hulk in New Jersey made it one of the biggest news stories of the day.
# The newspaper photo of the slain detective Dan Grady is actually that of Boris Karloff himself as a much younger man. Since Karloff was in middle age by the time he made his first talkies in Hollywood, viewers would not have recognized him from this earlier photo.