Category Archives: william wellman

The Hatchet Man

The Hatchet Man ~ This 1932 Warner Bros. classic, from the heart of the pre-code gangster era, has an all star cast – Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young in the leads, along with J. Carroll Naish and a pre-Ming the Merciless Charles Middleton. In fact, it may have been his performance here in Asian make-up that won him the villainous role in the “Flash Gordon” serials.

Even with the terrific cast, a script based on the popular play The Honorable Mr. Wong, and the brilliant direction of William Wellman, there is much to shame this film by today’s standards. Besides the non-code depictions of narcotics and adultery, the politically incorrect use if the word Oriental, and violence typical of this era, there’s the fact that this is the equivalent of an Asian minstrel show – the majority of the actors are whites portraying Asians.

Nevertheless, the direction and performance of the cast are exemplary. Loretta Young shines through her make-up, and we see both the hard side and the little seen soft side of Robinson. Edward G. plays the ‘hatchet man,’ the fist of justice among the tongs in Chinatown, San Francisco. While some of it is misperception, much is a tale of the old ways giving way to the new world.

When the tongs go to war, it’s not like a John Woo or Ringo Lam flick, but it does match up to the gangster films of its day, and you do get to see some fancy hatchet work. If you can get past the make-up and the stereotypes, this one’s worth watching.

Lady and the Bandit

Stingaree (1934) – Richard Dix plays the classic charming Ausssie outlaw Stingeree to Irene Dunn’s feisty wannabe opera singer in this forgotten William Wellman directed flick. The dashing swashbuckler and highwayman, Stingaree, had appeared in two previous silents in 1915 (of which this is a remake) and 1917. He was one of two serial characters created by screenwriter E.W. Hornung (brother-in-law to Arthur Conan Doyle), along with Raffles, the amateur cracksman, who was also brought to film and later television. This movie features a wonderful Max Steiner score as well as an appearance by a young Andy Devine, Mary Boland as the monster who treats Dunn as her slave, and the talents of the always incomparable and endlessly entertaining Una O’Connor. Well worth hunting down and checking out.