Thursday, June 29, 2017


In Mexico City, a man named Wyans is working on a top-secret atomic bomb project. After an attempt is made to steal his papers, Dorn, his secretary, asks Inspector Caverro to bring Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) in to help out, but before Chan arrives, Dorn is found at a luncheon party, sitting at his typewriter, shot to death, with just the typed-out phrase "THE$MOST" as a clue. Two oddities: there is Red Dragon brand Chinese ink on the desk; also, although one shot was heard, two bullets were fired, one into the wall, and no gun found, and no one seen leaving the room after the murder. Chan brings his son Tommy (and chauffeur Chattanooga Brown) to help him crack the case, and soon after Wyans' typewriter goes missing, Wyans calls Chan to say he knows how the murder was done, but he is killed in the same way—2 bullets, one shot, no gun—before he can talk. Among the suspects are Marguerite, who has a shady wartime past; the Countess Irena, a club singer; a smuggler, a gunrunner, and a Nazi propagandist. Chan digs up secrets and hidden relationships before another murder and a final gathering of suspects.

As Charlie Chan, Sidney Toler was the successor to Warner Oland after Oland died in 1938, and Toler made 22 Chan films, six more than Oland. However, Oland is better known in the part, perhaps because most of his Chan films were shot for major studio 20th Century Fox, whereas not long after Toler took over, the movies were done at low-budget studio Monogram.  But Toler is perfectly acceptable as more or less an Oland clone—though, of course, an actual Asian actor would have undoubtedly been more desirable. Here, Toler seems a little more lively than Oland was in his last few efforts—though Toler himself would pass away (from cancer) just two years later, and Roland Winters would get the part for last six movies in the canonical series. This is certainly not in the first rank of Chan movies, but neither is it at the bottom of the barrel. The Poverty Row production values are not distracting, though the writing is not strong—we are told at one point that no one is what they seem to be, but the characters are so surface that we don't really have a strong sense of how they're supposed to appear. I like Benson Fong as Tommy, and Willie Best does what he can with the black sidekick stereotype. Fortunio Bonanova makes an above-average policeman associate for Chan. There are better and worse Chans, but this is painless pleasure viewing. In the colorized publicity photo above are, from left, Fong, Toler and Bonanova. [DVD]

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