Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962)

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962), produced and directed by Albert Zugsmith.

Action Vincent Price! Penetrating the opium dens and slave girl markets underneath San Francisco's Chinatown!

The first 10 minutes -- a hokey scene of landing a bunch of unhappy young women on the beach and fighting over them -- are dreadful, but it picks up in quality when Vincent Price appears, without ever turning into an actual good movie.

He's a sardonic, philosophical seaman acquainted with the secret societies of China. Without much struggling he gets pulled into a gang war and we have continuous fighting, hiding, secret passages, underground rivers, and a really long bit with dancing girls at the underground slave market. He does a moody voice-over narration during much of this.

Sort of 1962 Big Trouble in Little China (1986), it has a couple of points of interest:

There is an historical context for the tong wars:


Tongs participated heavily in importing women from China both for marriage and to serve as prostitutes. A large percentage of the "tong wars" -- disputes between the rapidly growing and powerful tongs -- of the 19th and early 20th century often centered around these women. In the early years they employed "hatchet men" or boo how doy as hired killers to fight the bloody street battles that ensued over turf, business, and women.

The score is of mixed value: we have the generically absurd action music held over from the 1950s, but also eerie theremin bits for the suspense and dope dream.

Finally, the titles read "Thomas de Quincey's classic --". I've read de Quincey and I suspect he would giggle over the association.

Warner Archive title available for rent from ClassicFlix. Variable quality, but some of the scenes are remarkably good in detail and black levels. 1.66 aspect ratio, 85m long.