Reporters in San Francisco think a Tong war has started in Chinatown, but actually a cabal of Eurasian merchants led by Sonja Rokoff has hired a fix-it man named Poten (Bela Lugosi) to get rid of Chinese competitors in the import business. Society reporter Joan Whiting tries to get mystery novelist Martin Andrews to help her find out who's behind the violence in Chinatown, hoping that breaking the story will get her a better job—and also, perhaps, hoping to land Martin as a husband though he seems to mostly find her a pest. The Eurasian Poten hates both the Chinese and Caucasians and plans to use his scientific prowess to develop plans to destroy the races and start a new mixed race (with, one assumes, himself as the "father"). Joan and Martin eventually figure out Poten's plan and also realize that he has put Sonja, who now regrets her role in the Chinatown plot, under his hypnotic power. The two follow Poten to Los Angeles and back in their attempt to stop his dastardly plan, the specifics of which are never really made clear.
This is a 70 minute version of a 15-chapter serial with the same title that ran for over 4-1/2 hours. That’s probably the reason why this story, after it gets going, makes little sense—even my general plot summary above is based to some degree on hunches rather than full knowledge of the events as played out. Clearly most of the cliffhangers and action scenes have been stuffed into this version with little regard for the niceties of narrative or character. Bruce Bennett (here acting under his birth name Herman Brix, also the name under which he won a medal at the 1928 Olympics) is disappointing as Martin, the hero; he looks the part but recites most of his lines as if he hadn’t seen a script until moments before the cameras started turning. Joan Barclay, who never broke out of B-movies, is at least energetic and appealing as the heroine. Better still is Luana Walters as Sonja—though she doesn't come off as Eurasian, she does manage to project an exotic mystique and wind up as a sympathetic character in the end. Strangely, Lugosi lets us down here; his ripe enthusiastic manner is toned down here, and the movie definitely suffers. Production values are particularly poor, lower than the average B-movie serial. Given how much of the original film is missing, I'm tempted to watch the serial someday, but I have a feeling I'd wind up asleep in the middle of chapter 2. (The pictured poster is for chapter 1 of the serial) [YouTube]