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What An Ending!
Derutterj-120 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
SLIGHT SPOILERS Finally I get to see one of those early Chinese-themed dramas with Hollywood actors made up like Orientals. I'm not talking about a blockbuster like The Good Earth or Dragon Seed, but one of the early sound potboilers. When The Hatchet Man begins, I'm a little leery. A lengthy printed prologue spells out the story premise. I suspect while reading it that this is OK because the cultural norms to be depicted are alien and unfamiliar to a 1932 American movie audience. Edward G. Robinson, always superb, is fine as always; at first I can't recognize Loretta Young though, while on the other hand, Leslie Fenton doesn't initially strike me as Chinese. I'm wondering if the movie is going to be a lot of stereotyped bunk, full of coincidences and contrivance.

Before long, it soon wins me over, getting better and than better still. The Hatchet Man approaches racial dynamics with more insight than expected. Director William Wellman applies intelligence, handling this thriller's more lurid aspects with needed detachment, as in less worthy hands it could've all gone melodramatically out of control. It's pre-Code, so I'm not really surprised that drug use is important to setting up the film's climax, and that one figure, formerly an assassin, is unpunished at fade out. Meanwhile, good character actors handle themselves convincingly (except for Charles Middleton, who is too much like Charles Middleton, and there is still the question of Fenton's casting, although he performs well). Also, I'm starting to come around to the realization that Loretta Young's acting range is limited,something her doll-like beauty has been distracting me from noticing through numerous films of this period.

But the corker is the clever, shocking, coolly ironic surprise ending. People, you have got to see this. Few movies have ever ended with such a jolt!
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They couldn't make this movie today...or could they?
starstruck21 November 2003
Naturally, the casting of Caucasian actors in Asian roles (see also "The Good Earth," "Dragon Seed," Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, etc.) is a thing of the past. Casting Edward G. Robinson as a Chinese hit man is equivalent to doing a revival of "Flower Drum Song" with Hugh Jackman and Britney Spears. However, the plot of "The Hatchet Man" is well-thought out and surprisingly respectful of Chinese culture in America. Okay, they're killing each other, but is that any worse than, say, "The Godfather" series as relates to Italian-American culture? At least that don't have the Chinese characters saying things like, "Oh, me velly solly." Plus, the ending (which I won't spoil) is absolutely right and decidedly welcome.
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Hatchet Job
howdymax3 May 2002
A hatchet job is what I fully intended to do to this movie until I found some quiet time in the afternoon to watch it. In fact I gave it an 8/10 for novelty as well as pathos. The casting is preposterous. Can you imagine Edward G Robinson and Loretta Young as Chinese?

Eddie G plays a well respected Tong assassin who is forced to kill his childhood friend and blood brother (played by J Carroll Naish) witch was no surprise. He inherits the friends business and 6 year old daughter for his effort. He prospers and when the girl grows up, he marries her. I should mention that Loretta Young was only 19 when she made this movie and she was remarkably sexy and seductive. Along comes another Tong War and Eddie is pulled out of retirement to do his stuff. Meanwhile his young wife falls for the bodyguard and runs off with him. Loretta and her lover are deported to China for messing about with opium. Although Eddie is initially shamed by her betrayal, he eventually redeems himself and his reputation. After all, he is a hatchet man!

This is one of EGR's lesser known movies, but if you can get over the bizarre casting, the story really is gripping and the cast turns in a bravo performance.
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A true classic that needs to be preserved on DVD
FishIM2 January 2008
Yes as many have stated, by today's standards, the casting of this movie seems ridiculous, but please keep in mind the time period that this movie was made. All things considered, even with the period specific "whites for ethnic minorities" casting mentality, respect for a certain amount of cultural authenticity was in this movie to a greater degree than in previous films of this era, and so I feel that in that respect this movie was ground breaking and helped slowly pave the way for minorities to eventually take center stage in great theatrical releases. Most other films before and since (until the late 70's early 80's) stereotyped Asian characters as clownish and comical to an absolutely racist degree. Not so here. Robinson (although he did use some stereotyping) created a character who was not only mysterious, but both an anti-hero as well as deep & complex the likes of which would not be seen for a great long time after. His acting ability was amazing and truly well showcased here. He was able to show what really made his characters great and not just the mugging gangster stereotype that became so exaggerated over time. Often people forget what a true talent Robinson was, and if you need to know why... See this one if you ever get the chance!!!
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Another Astonishing Performance from Edward G. Robinson!!!
kidboots17 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The tough no nonsense directorial style of William Wellman put together an exciting and unusual movie from a rather old fashioned play. The picture had a few play dates as "The Hohorable Mr. Wong" before a title change to the more sensational "The Hatchet Man". Edward G. Robinson had replaced John Barrymore as First National's top character actor and proved it with searing portrayals in films like "Five Star Final" (1931), "Two Seconds" (1932), and "The Hatchet Man".

1916 in Chinatown, the honorable hatchet man, Wong Low Get (Edward G. Robinson) is given orders to kill Lam Sing Tong (J. Carroll Naish, another splendid character actor) who has been found guilty of murder. They have been best friends since boyhood and Wong swears before Buddha that Tong's little daughter, Toya San, will know only happiness.

Sixteen years later, Chinatown has changed and Wong is now a legitimate merchant. Toya San (Loretta Young is simply stunning) has also embraced Western ways - cutting class and going dancing, where she meets Harry Hai (Leslie Fenton), a smooth talking Chinese American. Meanwhile, humbled by Wong's devotion and love, Toya consents to be his wife, even though Wong only wants her hand with love, not duty.

Harry is one of the new breed of Chinese hoods ("Boys, just boys" comments Wong, to which Harry gives him a particularly filthy look) who has been hired by Wong to be a bodyguard to Toya after the Tong Wars have been declared. The usual happens and before Wong returns from San Francisco (he has had to settle a score on traditional terms when peaceful methods fail) Harry and Toya are having a torrid affair. Rather than kill both Harry and Toya, which is the Tong duty, he now charges Harry with Toya's happiness and because of his peaceful ways is banished from the Tong. Wong falls on hard times, at last finding a laboring job in the rice fields and it is there that a letter reaches him from Toya. She and Harry have been deported to China, he has been caught selling opium, not only that but he then sells Toya, as a maid, to the local brothel owner. Wong, who is now penniless, works his passage to China off as a stoker - he is determined to find Harry and make him pay, which he does in an absolutely chilling finale!!!

J. Grubb Alexander's adaptation is a lot more sensational than the original play. An assortment of fine old villainous character actors were on hand to convincingly play Chinese American roles - Dudley Digges, Charles Middleton, Noel Madison and Tully Marshall. There doesn't seem to be much information about on Art Director, Anton Grot, but he had a mammoth career at Warners from 1938 to 1950. In 1940 he won an Academy Award for his invention of a "ripple machine" which created weather and light effects on water.

Highly, Highly Recommended.
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The oddness and the dated politics aside, it remains a bit stiff and contrived
secondtake22 September 2014
The Hatchet Man (1932)

So burdened with ethnic slandering—most of it "unintentional" at least—this movie is almost impossible to watch fairly. The basic story of inter-clan fighting and murder in the Chinese community (in San Francisco) is meant no doubt to have echoes in Italian mobster killings, and therefore have a wider appeal. But when the main characters are played by very non-Chinese talents (a product of the prejudice in Hollywood at the time), there is a constant woe and disbelief on many levels.

Of course, these problems are exactly why a "student' of early Hollywood should watch this. This is a way to get some sense of the problem these movies present. And there are additional reasons to see this—mainly the two really famous actors of the period doing their best to be Chinese. Edward G. Robinson is of course one of the greats of the era, an odd but searingly talented actor, and he plays well the head of one of the Chinese clans (or tongs). His wife has a smaller role but important —and so Loretta Young, a rising, fresh star, does what she can.

Nothing can redeem all this. The title refers to the violence of the subculture, where the solution for dishonor is death (by hatchet, literally).

There is the simplest of attempts to show how the Chinese were assimilating at the time. In a way the movie shows some shred of real life for the Chinatowns of America. The secondary theme here is love, and a kind of arranged marriage. This conflicts in different ways and Robinson, playing a Westernized immigrant, faces one aspect of this New World he can't quite understand. There are a couple of turns of plot to keep you alert, and a crazy ending worth seeing.

It's great to see Warner Archive put this out there in a clean copy, ready for all our various social biases. Maybe that's why it's worth it on some level. Never mind that it is often stiff and slow. Judge it as you can.
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Good Stuff
Michael_Elliott28 February 2008
Hatchet Man, The (1932)

*** (out of 4)

Entertaining crime picture has Edward G. Robinson playing the title character, a hit man for a tong gang in Chinatown who must murder his best friend. Before the murder the man gives his daughter to Robinson so that he can marry her when she gets older. Years pass and Robinson and the girl (Loretta Young) are about to be married when another tong war breaks out. Director Wellman knows how to handle this material and does so very well and the film moves very fast and is over before you can blink. The fact that whites are playing all the Asian roles might bother some but nothing ever gets too offensive. Robinson gives a very good, quiet performance even though he's never believable as an Asian. He speaks with his normal voice so there's really never an attempt to come off Asian. Young is also very good in her role, although she isn't given a whole lot to do. I'm not sure if this is wrong or not but in her Asian make up she comes off as one of the most attractive Asian women I've seen. The supporting cast are all fine in their roles with J. Carrol Naish having a bit part. The story is pretty light weight but it remains entertaining through its 74-minutes.
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Pre-Requisite Apologies to the Politically Correct…Violent and Seductive Oddity
LeonLouisRicci29 September 2014
This is a Hard-Hitting, Mysterious Looking, Gaudy Movie that Exudes Enough Oriental Charm and Tong Gangsterism to Make it an Oddity Well Worth Seeing. It's a Pre-Code Entry and Therefore has some Welcome Violence and Drug Doings.

Of Course, it Seems a Prerequisite to Mention that the Two Leads Playing Chinese are Not Chinese, but Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young, both with the Help of Makeup and Silks can Pull this Off.

So with Apologies to the Politically Correct, this is After All a Time Capsule and Cannot be Faulted for being what it is. A Racist Industry Reflecting a Racist Society Without Such Sensitive Concerns, So We have to Make Our Amends in Retrospect.

This is a Gripping Story of Tradition and Circumstance and is a Darn Good Yarn. The Ending is Cutting Edge and the Film has Many Aspects that make it an Interesting Look Back on Hollywood and the Way it Presented Pictures to the Public.

Overall, a Must See for Film and Cultural Historians. The Movie Looks Fantastic and is Shadowy and Sultry, Violent and Seductive.
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If it weren't for the odd casting, this film would rate even higher!
MartinHafer1 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Okay, let's take a quiz. What do the actors Paul Muni, Agnes Morehead, Henry Travers, Warner Oland, Katherine Hepburn, Luise Rainer, Walter Huston and Boris Karloff have in common? Well, isn't it obvious?! All have played Chinese people in films!!! While none of these people remotely looked Asian, and there were plenty of Asian actors available (such as Keye Luke, Victor Sen Young, Anna May Wong and others), Hollywood stupidly decided to have very White looking actors play Chinese characters again and again in the 1930s and 1940s--and in some cases, even up through the 1970s! So in this context, it isn't all that surprising that Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young play Chinese-Americans in this exceptional and exceptionally strange movie. Now I was actually surprised to see that underneath the makeup, Loretta Young didn't look too bad as an Asian, however Robinson looked about as Chinese as Scatman Crothers!! In fact, apart from a silly hairstyle he only sported at the beginning of the film, he looked like Little Caesar throughout the movie!!! Because of this ludicrous casting, I felt pretty irritated with reviewers that gave this movie a 10 (one going so far as calling this "one of the best movies ever made")!! Sure, it is a really cool movie, but to me a 10 implies a perfect film. Casting a Jewish man (Robinson) as a Chinese person has to automatically knock off a point or two! In addition to him and Young, ALL the rest of the major Chinese parts were played by White actors--such as J. Carrol Naish and Dudley Diggs!! Now once you get past the stupidity of the casting, what you have left is an exciting Pre-Code film. Pre-Code means that the film was released before the strict Production Code was adopted in 1934. As a result, the film had a few adult themes (such as adultery and violent murders) that you just wouldn't have seen a few years later--or they would have been severely censored--lessening their impact.

The film is called THE HATCHET MAN because Robinson is literally a hatchet-wielding assassin who does his tong's bidding. Tongs were secret Chinese-American societies--much like the gangs of today. And, when someone offends the tong, it's Robinson's job to kill--even when he is ordered to kill his best friend! Ironically, upon killing this friend, Robinson inherited the man's fortune AND custody of his young daughter--with the intention that Robinson later marry the girl! Now THAT'S ironic!! While everything seems just fine after they marry 20 years later, eventually this lady (Young) is seduced away from Robinson--not a smart move considering Robinson is a skilled assassin with a hatchet!! Despite his rage upon discovering the affair, he forgives her and allows her to leave with her lover--much to the dismay of the tong. The secret society is angered that Robinson acted so weakly and lost face, so they threw him out of the organization and his life went downhill fast.

What happens next is just too exciting to reveal, but the film has one of the most interesting and lurid conclusions I have seen in a long time. Thanks to a fantastic script, it's well worth seeing--plus, the plot is so bizarre and creepy, that it's a real guilty pleasure. See this one--and try to look past the ridiculous casting.

By the way, if you are so inclined, try counting the number of times the "Chinese" characters say the word "honorable". My bet is that it must be at least 100! So, according to old time Hollywood, a White guy can squint and say "honorable" at the end of every few sentences and he becomes instantly Chinese! Wow...I gotta try that!
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William Wellman Directed a Film Classic !
whpratt121 November 2003
It is very surprising to see great actors like Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and J. Carroll Naish performing as Chinese. However, in the 1930's, actors had no choice to refuse the casting director's wishes. Most of these actors were under contact to act and portray characters of different races other than themselves which is not practiced in this century in Hollywood. Edward G. Robinson (Wong Low Get), "The Red House" '47, was a sort of hit man for the Chinese community of San Francisco. Loretta Young (Sun Toya San)," The Stranger",'46, played a very outstanding role, who charmed Wong Low Get. It was also surprising to see J. Carroll Naish,(Sun Yat Ming), "The Beast with Five Fingers"'46, who often played roles of Italian subjects in most of his films. I am grateful for all these great actors who acted as Chinese citizens and made it possible for us to view this great film TODAY ! William Wellman, director of this film also created "Public Enemy" '31 with Jimmy Cagney.
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One Of The Best Movie Ever Made
zoundz18 October 2005
I Saw This Movie Many Many Years ago,And I Still Remember Whar A Great Movie It Was. The Hatchet Man Has Without A Doubt, The greatest Ending of Any Movie That I Have Ever Seen, And I've Seen A Few In My Day,Being 80 Years Young///It's Hard For Me To Believe That The Hatchet Man Has Never Been On TAPE OR DVD////I Will Order It The Minute That It Is On DVD///Why Edward G Robinson Was Never Nominated Or Won An Academy Award Is Beyond Reason//Hollywood Must Have Been Blind And Deaf,For Edward G.Robinson Was Truly A Great Natural Actor//I'm Even Amazed That Hollywood Has Not Tried To Remake This Movie,And As I Have Said Before/ This Movie Has The Greatest Ending Of All////So Please You People Out There Who Make These DVDS//Please Please Put The Hatchet Man Out On DVD Thanking You In Advance

Stanley Cooper / Jupiter Florida
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Edward G. goes Oriental
kapelusznik1829 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** Hard to take movie about a Chinese hit man Wong Low "Get it" Get played by Romanian/Jewish American actor Edward G. Robinson heading an all non Asian cast. It's Wong who has to prove his worth to his Chinese Tong higher ups by following orders in icing, with a hatchet, anyone they feel is a threat to their power in the San Francisco Chinese/American community. That has Wong dispatch by hatchet his best friend who sailed together with him as a boy to America, from Shanghai, on the same boat Sun "Not" Yet Ming played by Irish/American actor J. Carroll Nash.

Sun knowing that his best friend Wong is to do him in leaves all his earthly possessions including his six year old daughter Toya, Played by Luxenbourgian/American actress Loretta Young, to Wong as a gift to their life long friendship before Wong, off camera, hatchet-ed him to death. Now 15 years later Wong had become Americanized as well as a successful businessman in the export/import business and is ready to take the grown up and beautiful Toya as his lawfully wedded wife. But things start to heat up with a number of Chinese mobsters from New York's Chinatown together with local Irish mob boss J.C Malone, Ralph Ince, planing to muscle in on the local Tongs', in San Francisco, turf that touches off a full scale Chinese Tong war.

***SPOILERS*** It's the Chinese bodyguard Harry En Hai,played Englishman Leslie Fenton, who's assigned to look after Toya who gets under Wong's skin by secretly romancing her causing him to lose face among his fellow Chinese gangsters. After a period of deep soul searching and facing disgrace, as well as bankruptcy, Wong gets back to his role as a Chinese hit or hatchet-man to even up the score with the back-stabbing bodyguard. Not willing to do Harry En Hai in after promising his estrange and cheating wife Toya he'll spare his life Wong almost by accident,in trying to porously miss him with his flying hatchet, hits his target from behind. Thus putting Harry away, with a hatchet in the back, for good while he was busy getting himself high in Mme.Si-Si's, Blanche Frederici, Chinatown opium den.

P.S Despite his great success a few years earlier as an American gangster in "Little Caesar" Edward G. Robinson couldn't duplicate that role playing a Chinese one. In fact Robinson was far more convincing plying an American businessman then a Chinese hit or hatchet-man in the film. Which was a lot more then can be said about the cast of non-Chinese or Oriental actors and actresses who were stuck playing Chinese characters in the movie.
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Chinese take out.
st-shot2 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It's Occidentals playing Orientals in this dare I say choppy tale of a Tong hit-man that employs hatchets to perform his tasks. Edward G Robinson makes for an odd looking Asian Eastwood but he still manages to give a powerfully emotional performance while Loretta Young as his wife has never looked more exotically alluring.

Robinson as Wong Low Get is dispatched to kill his best friend to settle a Chinatown dispute and stave off a war between rival factions. He hesitates at first but it becomes a matter of honor and duty. Ironically the victim wills all he has including his daughter to Wong Low with the intent of having him marry her when she is of age. She consents to marriage but soon becomes involved with an old beau and runs off with him in turn ruining the now respectable business owner Wong. Taking up the hatchet he sets out for China to get her back.

Hatchet Man's episodic structure moves at a lightning pace allowing little time for smooth continuity and character development. While some of the characters have a stereotypical Fu Manchu demeanor Wellman shows respect for the culture and tradition by juxtaposing it against the crass western (gangsterism) ways being embraced by a new disrespectful generation of Chinese. Conversley he points out unrealistic archaic attitudes that are out of touch in the twentieth century which contribute to Wong's dilemma as he attempts to change with the times but maintain a balance of the honorable tradition as well. It is this tradition that brings him back to China to attempt to rescue Sun Toy in a grisly climax that's the equal of Wellman's earlier Public Enemy.
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Dreadful mess
jjnxn-127 September 2014
This is just awful especially coming from a talent like Wellman. Miscasting doesn't even begin to cover the ridiculous sight of Eddie Robinson and Loretta Young as orientals especially against some true Asians in the cast. Robinson although never believable for an instant at least attempts some depth in his characterization but Young is wretched. She's heavily made up but she lets the makeup do whatever acting she puts forth. She could just as well be at the sock hop as an opium den for all the shading she gives her role. I suppose they were trying for something unusual but if they really wanted to do that they would have cast Sessue Hayakawa and Anna May Wong in the Robinson and Young parts. As it is their complete unsuitability continually distracts from the story.

The story itself is routine and with the terrible casting this is one old chestnut best forgotten.
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The Chinese: A Great Bunch Of Lads
mmallon43 May 2019
In the beginning of The Hatchet Man, the Chinese community ("Yellow residents" as the opening crawl refers to them as) of San Francisco circa 1918 are a parallel society to the majority of America. However, fast forward to 1932 and the community has moved beyond the Tong wars of the past to a more Americanized and western way of life in which many of the old ways are dismissed such as foot binding and women having less freedom. - Meanwhile, elders in the community hold onto their more old fashioned ways. Instead, we see a community which is becoming integrated into wider society and there are even signs of interracial relationships with mixed couples seen in the dance hall sequence in one of the more insightful films about the oriental to come from this era.

The Hatchet Man is another pre-code William Wellman gem in which the production values, extensive camerawork, and detail in the sets are second to none. The graphic ending is one of the best in pre-code cinema but the scene which I feel best shows of the craftsmanship present in The Hatchet Man is that early in the film in which Wong (Edward G. Robinson) has to kill his best friend and blood brother Sun Yat Ming (J Carroll Nash). At the beginning of this lengthy and slow-paced scene, Sun is finishing writing a will to Wong under the fear that he will be killed by a Tong ("The one I am expecting comes through doors without knocking"). Sun is leaving Wong all his worldly goods and his daughter to become his wife when she is of legal age. Soon Wong arrives and after many gaps in the slowly delivered dialogue with calming Chinese music in the background, the camera does an epic zoom on Robinson as he delivers the fatal line "I am the hatchet man of the Lem-Sing Tong".

The one drawback of The Hatchet Man is the casting of Edward G Robinson; he isn't fully convincing in the role of Wong Low Get. Sometimes he looks Asian which his epicanthic fold but not always, not to mention he doesn't sound particularly Asian which his Eastern European accent. That said if you can suspend your disbelief at Robinson playing an oriental, you're still left with a performance with the intensity you would expect from Robinson. Otherwise, it's hard to tell in the cast who is Asian and who is a white actor in makeup. Loretta Young is far more convincing in her role as Wong's adopted daughter Sun Toya San. Wong's romantic relationship with his adopted daughter raises many eyebrows from today's standards not is it ever made clear if she knows this is the man who killed her own father, but this just makes the odd relationship all the more fascinating. Leslie Fenton, on the other hand, is the film's big scene-stealer as the slim ball villain Harry while Toshia Mori (who was originally to play Loretta Young's role) as Wong's secretary is a very striking screen presence.

There is much less focus in Hollywood cinema of Chinese-American gangsters as opposed to Italian-American gangsters; a shame since it's a fascinating underworld with it prevalent theme of honor.
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A Fascinating Tale Of Tradition And Honor
venusboys314 December 2017
I'm sure everyone has to mention the most obvious thing about this movie, that nearly all the characters are Chinese played by non-chinese actors. But this is no Charlie Chan with silly accents. None of the actors engage in cheap stereotypes. There's nothing here that's anywhere near as embarrassing as Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's... or, much more recently, Johnny Depp's version of Tonto in The Lone Ranger. The story itself depicts the Chinese American community in a generally favorable light... despite its focus being on the Tongs of San Francisco's Chinatown. Robinson's Tong assassin is an honorable and admirable man, despite his profession.

So with that out of the way, this was a pretty great story and Robinson's character is complex. He wants to be free of his violent past as an assassin for the Tong, he wants to acclimate to life in the U.S. and be a good citizen... but he's also tied to tradition and sworn oaths. It's was less formulaic than I'd expect, I wasn't quite sure where it was leading till I was 3/4 through it. Seeing as it's pre-code it's not as overtly moralistic as later films. It looks great too. There are some nice sets and costumes and Ms. Young was particularly elegant. It's not a happy story, but it's entertaining and unusual. I'm kind of surprised someone hasn't remade it, with a less controversial cast.
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Chinese Hit Man
bkoganbing21 January 2010
The film The Hatchet Man is based on an unproduced play written by one Achmed Abdullah and theatrical impresario David Belasco. Belasco had died the previous year and I'm sure Warner Brothers must have bought the right to this play from his estate. The play was entitled The Honorable Mr. Wong and it was an outsiders view of what life was like within the Chinese ghetto on the Pacific coast. It's important to remember that when trying to rationalize the yellow peril attitudes that are in this film.

Edward G. Robinson did not look fondly back on The Hatchet Man. I imagine neither did his heavily lacquered co-star Loretta Young. Both look positively ridiculous and neither attempts any kind of Chinese accent. I guess they didn't want to sound ridiculous as well.

Robinson is in the ancient an honorable profession of Hatchet Man or more precise he's a Chinese contract killer for the Tongs. He's been given a contract on J. Carrol Naish by one of the Tong heads, Dudley Digges. Though Naish is an old friend and has even made him prime beneficiary in his will which includes his daughter who grows up to be Loretta Young. Naish says do the deed quickly and Robinson does.

Fifteen years passed and Young's now married to Robinson, but the Tong Wars are heating up and he's not giving her the attention she needs. Leslie Fenton is around and he's a Chinese gigolo and opium addict.

Although the plot takes a few surprise twists in the end it does come out as one might expect. The Honorable Mr. Wong never got produced by David Belasco and I suspect for good reason. The Hatchet Man feeds into all kinds of attitudes prevalent in the day about the Yellow Peril. And it's just not a terribly good or even terribly bad film. Just bad enough.
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Film Buffs have always known that Edward G. Robinson . . .
tadpole-596-91825613 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
. . . was born in some far-off foreign land such as Hungary, Australia, Romania, or Canadia. THE HATCHET MAN reveals that the LITTLE GIANT's native shore actually was some place in China. Several times during this documentary from the early 1930s Robinson (nee Wong Low Get) spews forth a string of Asiatic Lingo that would do President Xi proud. Many have said that Robinson always looks uncomfortable in the various double-breasted Western Gangster suits in which many of his movie roles doll him up. The explanation for this ill-ease becomes apparent during the opening scenes of THE HATCHET MAN. "Eddie" has never looked more at home than in his Native Tong garb. As he shares with us the ins and outs of a Chinese Sharia Law Variant, Americans can pick up on the many nuances that separate Our way of thinking from the Oriental Mind. Eddie's a hitman who never has to wonder if he's brought enough bullets before the battle begins, or if he's washed off all the GSR when the war has waned. After all, who would bring a gun to a hatchet fight?
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Calling Mr. Wong! Time to take down the Tong!
mark.waltz7 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Hideously silly dialog just makes the Caucasian actors in Chinese get-up in this thriller about Tong wars in San Francisco look all the more ridiculous, starting with the execution of a traitor by the titled "hatchet man" (Edward G. Robinson, no less!) and his promise to the friend he's been ordered to kill that he'll look over his daughter and marry her when she is of age. None other than Loretta Young is the grown-up daughter, with Robinson now a respectable businessman and the Tong pretty much gone, even though the head man (Dudley Digges in a ridiculous role) is still roaming around in his Fu Manchu get up like nothing has changed. When local rackets demand protection money from the Chinatown businesses (this is "Little Caeser"/"Public Enemy" era still), King Tong demands revenge and Robinson must pull his hatchet out of storage. Wife Loretta falls in love with the bodyguard Robinson has hired to protect her and when they are discovered, Robinson's reaction causes him to be drummed out of the Tong forever.

Played oh, so seriously, this leads to even more melodramatics when Robinson discovers that his cheating wife has been turned into a prostitute in China and heads there to rescue her. This leads to a confrontation with a Madame Gin Sling like character and a horrifying plot twist involving Robinson's hatchet. The melodrama of this pre-code drama is like something out of a cheaply made serial and all the talent in it seems wasted because of the ridiculous words coming out of their mouths. Even if you can get past the evil stereotypes and the fact that Robinson doesn't even come close to looking Asian let alone sound Asian and that even with over-the-top eye make-up Young too is obviously an all-American girl, this movie truly takes bad taste to a new level. At least with Myrna Loy in "The Mask of Fu Manchu", you knew she was going for camp even though it was obvious she hated the part.

Visually, this movie is gorgeous to look at, but it lacks the subtlety of Von Sternberg's "Shanghai Express" and Capra's "The Bitter Tea of General Yen", even with the great William Wellman directing. Of course, Willie Fung is present for a bit part (as he was in most of the movies which featured the dark side of the Asian culture) and Blanche Frederici, the plump character actress who often wore men's clothing to portray stereotypical butch women, makes the most of her small part as Young's companion. Watch at your own risk, and keep your eyeballs in front. You may end up seeing out of the back of your head from rolling them too much.
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