A straight-up “B” picture in the very best sense of the word, CHINATOWN AT MIDNIGHT offers up 67 minutes of pure melodramatic hokum infused with a surprising amount of dark cynicism.
Suave Hurd Hatfield stars as Clifford Ward, a smooth jewel thief working out of San Francisco’s Chinatown who uses Lisa Marcel’s (Jacqueline De Witt) interior design store as a fence for his stolen loot. But when a hold-up goes seriously wrong and two innocent victims are killed, Ward goes on the run. With the local cops in hot pursuit, Ward hides out in a seedy San Francisco hotel, fending off the law as best he can. What ultimately distinguishes this obviously cheap “B” noir is its curiously nasty tone, given considerable heft from Hatfield’s coolly amoral performance.
One shouldn’t expect miracles from this modest little potboiler. It delivers the requisite goods in a manner most befitting its style and content. Everyone in the cast pulls their weight, especially Hatfield (usually known for more erudite roles) who manages to etch a singularly unique villain out of relatively little motivation. Eschewing logic for atmosphere, director Seymour Friedman (a veteran of the “B” units) keeps it all moving along very nicely, creating a fairly realistic San Francisco Chinatown on Columbia’s backlot.
A well-used B roll of San Francisco exteriors helps enhance the proceedings — which will no doubt send the Castro Theatre audience into a frenzy of appreciation!