Tuesday, May 03, 2011


On a ship about to arrive in San Francisco, astrologer Anna May Wong does a quickie horoscope reading for passenger Lola Lane and predicts that she will have good luck; she promptly wins the shipboard lottery. The message isn't so good for James Stephenson: he only has 48 hours to live. Sure enough, a day later, Stephenson, a wealthy importer of exotic goods, is found dead in his apartment. It appears to be a suicide but the cops soon discover it was murder, and they ask Wong for help in the investigation. The suspects include his fiancée Margaret Lindsay (who is also an old college pal of Wong's), his butler, his business partner, and the man that Lindsay was actually in love with (Anthony Averill), all of whom were in the apartment at one time or another the night of the murder. Wong goes about asking everyone when they were born, and from that she is able to spin a remarkable amount of information. Drug smuggling and bad investments play parts in possible motive theories. Wong tells the cops that two more people will die before the killer is found, and that's what happens.

This is a fairly routine B-mystery, worth seeing for its two novelties: the astrology angle and the appearance of Anna May Wong, Asian-American actress of the 20s and 30s who has become something of a cult star. She has the lead role, though she unfairly gets only second billing to Lindsay. The film opens with a short lecture by occult philosopher Manley P. Hall about the astrological signs--I'm guessing that horoscopes weren't quite as solidly a part of pop culture then as they are now. The predictions Wong makes based on birthdays and birth hours are, of course, always right, but also always ridiculous; she's like Sherlock Holmes, except instead of noticing physical and psychological details, she notices what sign the moon was in when a suspect was born. Her consistent correct predictions get tiresome, and honestly, Wong gives a rather lifeless performance, but it's still interesting to see her in a leading role. Charles Wilson does a nice job as the inspector, who becomes a convert to Wong's ways a little too easily, Jeffrey Lynn plays a reporter, and John Ridgely, a personal favorite B-actor, has two lines as a cop who calls in a tip which ends up helping to break the case open. [TCM]

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