A Runt In The "Shock!" Litter
Long-Ago Late Show That Was Chinatown Squad (1935)
Screen Gems offered a package of so-called monster movies for TV syndication in 1957 that included most of the Frankenstein/Draculas, among others, that Universal made during the 30's and 40's, but there weren't enough bonifide horrors to fill out a needed fifty-two title group, result being fill-in with mysteries and mellers that held less fascination for Shock Theatre stay-uppers. Fifty-two was the magic number needed for a fresh late show per week, or two runs per annum in the event of double-featuring (and many stations did run the package in pairs). Chinatown Squad's presence in the Shock! group is likeliest basis for interest in it today, many having sat dutifully through Universal's programmer on long-ago tee-vee in hopes a Wolf Man or Mummy might follow. Those of us who've committed monsters to memory over past fifty years can better, if belatedly, appreciate the charm of modest thrillers where no issue beyond whodunit is addressed.
Chinatown Squad is by-numbers application of formula beloved by ones (presumably most in GPS attendance) who've rifled Universal graveyards and looking now for what's less familiar from that studio. Is Chinatown Squad rare? Well, I sure haven't seen it turn up in decades, at least since Screen Gems' lease ran out on the Uni spook-lot and Squad was dumped from MCA's subsequent re-grouping of the horrors. There's renewed interest in Squad-star Lyle Talbot thanks to daughter Margaret Talbot's The Entertainer, her bio and celebration of an actor called journeyman by most, but well beloved for plying a lifetime trade well, and never condescending to work he was given (Lyle lent dignity even to Ed Wood projects that used him).
Chinatown Squad's lead woman is Valerie Hobson, scarcely grown when before cameras in 1935, for near as I calculate, Val was all of seventeen at the time. What a contrast to actresses today playing ingénues into their forties! There is comedy relief with Andy Devine; for excess hours he put in at Universal, you'd think Andy kept a sleeping bag on the lot. Story credit goes to Dore Schary, Chinatown Squad an early accomplishment. We're never certain what all of narrative fuss is about. There's a murder, and former police dick Talbot thinks "Foo-Chow Communists" are in back of it, this logical enough in context of intrigues engaged on Universal's back lot, dressed nicely to evoke