AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Hatchet Man
Director: William A. Wellman (Dir)
Release Date:   6 Feb 1932
Production Date:   ended late Nov 1931
Duration (in mins):   74
Duration (in reels):   8
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Cast:   Edward G. Robinson (Wong Low Get)  
    Loretta Young (Toya San)  
    Dudley Digges (Nog Hong Fah)  
    Leslie Fenton (Harry En Hai)  
    Edmund Breese (Yu Chang)  
    Tully Marshall (Long Sen Yat)  
    J. Carroll Naish (Sun Yat Ming)  
    Charles Middleton (Lip Hop Fat)  
    E. Allyn Warren (The Cobbler, Soo Lat)  
    Eddie Piel (Bing Foo)  
    Noel Madison (Charles Kee)  
    Blanche Frederici (Madame Si-Si)  
    Otto Yamaoka (Chung Ho)  
    Evelyn Selbie (Wah Li)  
    Willie Fung (The notary, Fung Loo)  
    Anna Chang (Sing girl)  
    Toshia Mori (Miss Ling)  
    Gladys Lloyd (Fan Yi)  
    Ralph Ince ("Big Jim" Malone)  

Summary: In the early part of the twentieth century, Wong Low Get, the hatchet man for the Lem Sing Tong in San Francisco, is responsible for dispatching justice with the stroke of his hatchet. When a Tong war erupts, he is ordered to kill his best friend, Sun Yat Ming. Though Wong tries to refuse, he knows his duty to the Tong and goes to visit his old friend. Before he dies, Sun makes his will in favor of Wong, giving him guardianship over his six-year-old daughter Toya and pledging her in marriage to Wong when she comes of legal age. Wong rears Toya in both traditional Chinese and modern American ways. When she is a grown woman, he asks her to marry him, rather than forcing her to honor her father's will. She agrees, out of respect for her father's wishes, and because Wong has been so kind to her. Soon after their marriage, another Tong war breaks out. Wong, now a successful businessman, calls for negotiation, but, as a precaution, Nog Hong Fah, the head of the Lem Sing Tong, hires some young Chinese gangsters from New York to act as bodyguards. One of Wong's bodyguards is Harry En Hai, a young man close to Toya's age who she had briefly met at a dance hall before her marriage to Wong. While Wong is in Sacramento killing "Big Jim" Malone, the white gangster who started the war, Harry and Toya go dancing together and fall in love. When Wong returns, he finds them in each other's arms and plans to kill Harry. Because he had vowed to Sun always to make Toya happy and she says that Harry will make her happy, Wong goes against tradition and lets them go after making Harry promise before Buddha to keep the same vow. Nog, who has observed Wong's actions, reports them to the Tong, and Wong is ostracized by his fellow Chinese. Soon his business fails, and he is forced to become a field worker. Some years later, Wah Li, Toya's old nurse, brings Wong a letter from China from Toya. In the letter, Toya says that she has been enduring a living death and begs his forgiveness, and also says that she has always loved him. After working his way to China shoveling coal on a steamship, Wong learns the location of the opium den where she is held prisoner after Harry sold her to the owner, Madame Si-Si, to pay his debts. When Wong and Toya are reunited, he is challenged for her by Madame Si-Si, but he tells her that ancient Chinese law commands that a wife belongs to her husband. When he reveals that he is a hatchet man, she does not believe him. Wong then throws one of his weapons at a dragon painting on the wall to demonstrate his hereditary skill, and does not realize that he has inadvertently hit Harry, who is sitting behind the wall. Free from their past, Toya and Wong leave to resume their marriage. When Madame Si-Si goes to berate Harry for the loss of Toya, he blankly nods his head, then falls dead, as the hatchet, which her servant has been removing from the wall, is revealed to have lethally struck Harry in the skull. 

Production Company: First National Pictures, Inc. (Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.)
Distribution Company: First National Pictures, Inc.  
  The Vitaphone Corp.  
Director: William A. Wellman (Dir)
Writer: J. Grubb Alexander (Scr)
Photography: Sid Hickox (Photog)
  Richard Towers (2d cam)
  Wesley Anderson (Asst cam)
Art Direction: Anton Grot (Art dir)
Film Editor: Owen Marks (Ed)
Costumes: Earl Luick (Gowns)
Music: Leo F. Forbstein (Vitaphone Orch cond)
Sound: Robert B. Lee (Sd)
Production Misc: John Ellis (Still photog)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play The Honorable Mr. Wong by Achmed Abdullah and David Belasco (production undetermined).
Authors: Achmed Abdullah
  David Belasco

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
First National Pictures, Inc. 28/1/1932 dd/mm/yyyy LP2815

Physical Properties: Sd:

Genre: Drama
Subjects (Major): Chinese Americans
  Cultural conflict
  Tongs (Secret societies)
Subjects (Minor): Bodyguards
  Drug addicts
  Farm hands
  Gang wars
  Sacramento (CA)
  San Francisco (CA)--Chinatown
  Wards and guardians

Note: MPH incorrectly credits Nat Pendleton with the role of "Big Jim" Malone. Some contemporary reviews incorrectly call J. Carroll Naish's character "Sun Yat Sen," the name of the actual Chinese revolutionary hero who died in 1926. In the film, Naish's character's name is both written and spoken as "Sun Yat Ming". Modern sources add James Leong to the cast. The film was released in Britain as The Honourable Mr. Wong

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   30 Nov 31   p. 1.
Film Daily   7 Feb 32   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Dec 31   p. 3.
International Photographer   Mar 32   p. 34.
Motion Picture Herald   13 Feb 32   p. 35.
New York Times   4 Feb 32   p. 25.
Variety   9 Feb 32   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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