Broke my own "Lightning Review" rule and viewed this twice, plus looked up a little background ... early dialogue film from Paramount and director William Wellman ... anything with distance, long shots and tracking shots, is dubbed ... remaining scenes appear to be inside early sound studio where only the dialogue is heard ... otherwise, not even a pin drop ... a simple musical score fills some of the silence, but overall a very eerie quality about Chinatown Nights ... style of a silent film, but with healthy amount of dialogue ... advertised as Wallace Beery's first sound film, though his voice was recorded for portions of previous Wellman outing Beggars of Life (1928) ... period fan and trade magazines seem disappointed that Beery appears to have now given up comedy ... this change works well out for Beery soon enough, when he moves from Paramount to MGM ... Florence Vidor's final film and only talkie ... she was criticized for a poor voice and her acting during drunken scenes ... none of this stood out as particularly poor by my eyes or ears ... Vidor didn't return for dubbing, so we often hear someone else's voice anyway ... Swedish-born Warner Oland plays Beery's Chinatown rival, Boston Charlie, predating his Fu Machus and Charlie Chans ... don't worry, Beery is not in "yellow-face" ... Beery is Chuck Riley, white leader of Chinatown gang ... it appears many real Asian actors are on hand in bit parts and as extras ... thought I saw Willie Fung, and sure enough, IMDb lists him ... Jack Oakie lousy as stuttering reporter ... the harder the consonant, the more forced his stutter ... Jack McHugh won raves as Beery's shadow, kid who worships and follows big Chuck around Chinatown ... McHugh billed on IMDb/TCM sites as "The Shadow," but listed in opening credits as "Jerry" ... he's good, but most effective in silent pantomime ... Beery's Chuck Riley is boss of the Won Pings Tong ... Oland's Boston Charlie is boss of rival Ho Yen faction ... Vidor's Joan Fry is uptown socialite exploring seedy Chinatown underbelly ... Joan held captive overnight by Chuck, protecting her after gang war breaks out on streets below ... while locked alone in Chuck's room, Joan discovers he's deeper than she had suspected ... many books, Shakespeare, an inscription naming Chuck as 1908 graduate of anonymous institution ... Joan departs next morning once safe ... Oakie's reporter sets up movie-house showdown between Chuck and Charlie just so he can get scoop ... Joan and her uptown "rubberneckers" arrive and get in way of shootout ... she follows Chuck home ... barbarian masculinity of the day wins Joan over — Chuck smacks her, she follows him up to his room ... he's hurt when she goes to leave next morning ... "Head uptown. Body Barbary Coast," Chuck says. "Which are you?" ... uptown she says, preparing to leave ... "For once in my life I wanted to be a real woman." ... As Joan exits a prostitute across the hall spots her and asks "Going my way?" ... Chuck laughs at her; Joan hurt by laughter; Joan decides to stay ... She's Chuck's kept woman in Chinatown now ... can't even leave apartment ... gives up everything for Chuck, wants him to get out ... "You belong to Chinatown now," he tells her ... after Chuck reveals Tong members are susceptible to deportation, Joan uses the information to try to stop the war and free Chuck ... he physically throws her out ... McHugh's Shadow character follows Joan, now an alcoholic ... boy takes her home after she's tossed from seedy dive bar ... war escalates ... will Chuck save Joan from what she's become so she can in turn save him from Chinatown ... poor reviews in its day ... while transitional silent-sound style is awkward, also effective ... I thought it was much better than its contemporary critics did ... my IMDb rating: 6/10.
Lightning reviews are first impressions of movies I've yet to research for more detailed articles. Unlike my more polished full reviews there is little to no research here; sparse images and links; a more relaxed writing style. These are movies I'd love to eventually cover with a more fully developed article, but until time permits, here's the short version: