Mandarin Mystery

Director: Ralph Staub

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Mandarin Mystery (1936) is loosely based on Ellery Queen's Chinese Orange Mystery (1934). There are four authors credited on the script which to me implies a lot of trouble getting the script to a merely filmable state, though I'm surprised they'd go to such effort on a low budget B picture.

Mandarin MysteryThe world's most valuable stamp, called "the Chinese Mandarin," is being transported cross-Atlantic in the handbag of Josephine Temple (Charlotte Henry) who expects her parents to retire wealthy on the sale of this one stamp.

Her ship reaches stateside to quite a lot of attention, stamp collecting having been so very important in those days. Miss Temple flashes the stamp about like there wasn't a chance in hell anyone would try to steal it, which of course someone promptly does.

Josephine meets a young amateur detective, Ellery Queen, who Eddie Quillan plays as a rather dandified playboy. When the stamp thief (Walter Merrill) turns up dead, Josephine's a primary suspect, so Ellery sets out to defend her & find the real culprit(s), assisting his annoyed daddy, Inspector Queen (Wade Boteler).

Eventually there'll be a second murder & in the end Ellery will get all the primaries in a room to reveal all the particulars of the case & in the classic mystery fiction mode point a finger at the guilty party. The "clever" method beind the "locked room mystery" was a shade less than clever, but the revelation of who precisely dunnit was nicely hidden until the very end.

The mystery is standard fare, ornamented with interesting stuff about philatelic counterfeiting. What makes the film reasonably entertaining is Quillan's recreation of Ellery Queen as a jolly chap in a handsome chapeau. Actual Ellery Queen fans may find his boyish ditziness an offense to the character, as he seems more a college kid joking around with daddy rather than a skilled amateur detective constantly solving crimes.

Most of the rest of the cast turns in forgettable & workmanlike performances, but character actor Franklin Pangborn does a nice turn as his signature pansy, this time named Mr. Mellish, rhymes with Nellish. He's the distraught hotel manager who likes to faint into the arms of big men.

This recurring Hollywood image of the sissy is part of the history of homosexuals in the cinema, & despite that it's as stereotypical as black maids & stepinfetchits or Mexican banditos & drunken Irishmen, there's yet something daring about Pangborn's "furtive overtness" which has caused him to be embraced even by the gay community as an early icon more than as an offensive caricature.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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