Dr. John Benton (Charles Miller) is an archaeologist that has just returned from an expedition in the Mongolian desert. He is presenting a film of his findings to his colleagues. His expedition found a long missing tomb of an Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. In the tomb was a scroll talking about a secret Temple of Eternal Fire. If the temple is discovered it would be worth a fortune to the Chinese people.

Part of the team on the trip with Dr. Benton were his associate Dr. Norman Wilkes (Huntley Gordon), camera man Charlie Frasier (John Dilson), Dr. Wilkes’ daughter Louise (Virginia Carpenter), pilot Tommy Dean (Robert Kellard) and co-pilot Mason (John Holland) who unfortunately died during the expedition. The death of the co-pilot was attributed to him getting lost in a horrible wind storm. Some believe the storm was part of a curse guarding the tomb. As Benton is about to discuss the contents of the scroll found in the tomb he starts to choke and falls over. He soon dies.

One of Benson’s students was James Lee Wong (Keye Luke). He is late to the presentation only arriving as Benson is taken out. Once Benson dies the doctor determines that he was poisoned. The police are called and Captain Bill Street (Grant Withers) from homicide arrives. The occupants of the house when Street arrives are Louise, Tommy, Charlie, Wong, Wilkes, the butler Jonas (Willy Castello) and Dr. Benton’s secretary Win Len (Lotus Long). Street questions everybody. When the scroll is mentioned Street has Wilkes open the safe. The scroll is missing.

Wong begins to investigate the death of his mentor and the theft of the scroll on his own. With so many suspects Street decides that in order to keep an eye on Wong he needs to team up with him and investigate the murder together. Wong proves to be a valuable asset.

Together they must not only find the murderer, but the sacred scroll that is vital to China. With the scroll in the wrong hands it could be used against any country. What is the scroll? It is a clue to the temple of eternal fire. Legend says there was a shrine where burned an undying column of fire. Where the temple is no one knows. What replenished the flame was oil. It is believed that if this shrine actually exists that it is the largest oil deposit in the world. It is worth a fortune.

“Phantom of Chinatown” was released in 1940 and was directed by Phil Rosen. It is based on the character created by Hugh Wiley for Collier’s Magazine. It is also the sixth Mr. Wong film done by Monogram Pictures. Technically the film is a prequel since the story initiates the introduction of Captain Street to Mr. Wong.

The movie is the first of the Monogram pictures to star a real Asian, Keye Luke. Luke was Cantonese, born in Guangzhou, China and raised in Seattle. It is also one of the first films to cast an Asian as the main character. As a matter of fact, all the Chinese characters in the film are played by Chinese actors. Unfortunately people were so used to having Boris Karloff play the Chinese detective that they didn’t warm up to having Wong played by a much younger actual Chinese actor. Keye only played the detective in one Monogram picture. After that Monogram stopped making Mr. Wong films.

The movie has a scene at a place called The Chinatown telephone exchange. The Chinatown telephone exchange was a real place. According to Thomas Chinn, one of the founders of the Chinese Historical Society of America, the Chinatown Exchange or the Chinese Telephone Exchange was created in 1894 in the heart of Chinatown San Francisco. Loo Kum Shu, the editor of one of Chinatown’s first Chinese newspapers established the first exchange. When the exchange first began it had three male operators and thirty-seven subscribers. The exchange first started in a building at Washington and Dupont streets. It later moved to its permanent location at 743 Washington Street. It was rebuilt after the San Francisco earthquake and fire. At its height it had over three thousand subscribers. They even had their own directory, in Chinese. The exchange closed in 1949 after dial phones were introduced.

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