Over the years, there have been a number of popular cinematic detective programs.
I’m thinking of wonderful shows like “The Falcon,” “The Saint,” “The Thin Man,” and “Philo Vance,” among others. The Charlie Chan series is, by far, the most popular. Author Earl Derr Biggers based his fictional Honolulu Detective Charlie Chan on a real-life person of Chinese ancestry. When he first came up with the idea for Chan, he envisioned him as an antidote to the preconceptions of the Yellow Peril and monsters like Dr. Fu Manchu. He never stayed in Honolulu when Hollywood started making movies about him since his investigations typically carried him around the world, with one of his many sons accompanying him.
When they originally began in the late 1920s, the movies weren’t very well-liked. Many people believe that Charlie Chan’s failure to connect with American audiences was due to the fact that the role was played by an Asian actor; however, I believe it was due to the fact that those Charlie Chans were very briefly featured in the first three films. They all appeared toward the end of the films, either in a few scenes or all at once. That, I believe, is the primary motivator. Regardless, it wasn’t until 1931 that Warner Oland’s portrayal of Charlie Chan in Charlie Chan Carries On finally made him a household name. It’s his first film with his name in the title, and he plays the lead role. Because of his popularity, the studios never again cast the part with an Asian actor, blaming it on the fact that he was a non-native American. One of the most significant factors in modern-day audiences turning off to what is otherwise a terrific and enjoyable series is this.
As many as 48 Charlie Chan films have been made, as well as others in other languages. Charlie Chan was first played by Warner Oland, who died unexpectedly after 16 films, and Sydney Toler continued the part for 22 films before Roland Winters ended it for 6 films.
List of Charlie Chan’s best-known films:
Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)
Charlie is asked by the co-owner of the big tent to look into some threatening letters that he has received while there with his family.
Warner Oland as Chan and Keye Luke (my fave) as number one son make this one of my favorites. This is one of the few instances in the series that you’ll get to see the entire Chan clan all at once. Think Fast, Mr. Moto, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back, and Bulldog Drummond in Africa all feature actor J. Carrol Naish, who would go on to star in other well-known mysteries of the era (Mr. Moto and Bulldog Drummond). As Charlie Chan, he would go on to star in the television series The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, which ran for 39 episodes in 1957. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard amazing things about it.
Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)
When Charlie finally tracks down the singer responsible for the murder of the guy she loved in Honolulu, he discovers her stabbed to death.
This was one of the first movies I ever saw, starring Sydney Toler as Chan and Victor Sen Yung as Chan’s second son. I was immediately sucked in. In this film, a character mentions Bulldog Drummond two times, which is unusual. When Mary Ann Hughes later appeared on the Thin Man TV show, she was portraying a character that she would later play herself. Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case also has Hamilton McFadden as a character, a director who worked on several of the series’ earlier films, including The Black Camel.
Dead Men Tell (1941)
Finding a killer aboard a docked ship becomes more difficult when Charlie encounters the spirit of a hanged pirate, as well as a talking parrot and an entire ship full of red herrings.
Harry Lachman, the director of five subsequent films in the series and my personal favorite (all five of his films made my top ten list), is behind the camera.
The last three I’ve just stated, plus two more to follow. Because he had previously worked as an illustrator, painter, set designer, and director, his eye for aesthetics was particularly keen on filmmaking. Museums around the world display his work, including the Prado in Madrid and the Luxembourg Museum in Luxembourg City. George Reeves, the actor best known for his role as Superman on television, also appeared in this film.
Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)
Charlie’s old friend Mary Whitman is getting a divorce from her husband in Reno when she discovers that she is being investigated for the murder of his future wife.
Kane Richmond, an actor/stuntman best known for the Spy Smasher series that followed a few years later, plays a good role in this one.
He’d make three Charlie Chan films, all of which are on my wishlist. There is a tendency for the series to attempt to replicate what makes them so excellent when anything goes right, which is why numerous persons work on multiples in the series. He’s also worth mentioning: Ricardo Cortez Years before Humphrey Bogart made the role his own, he was the first actor to play Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. In addition, he appeared in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning and both Charlie Chan movies. Both Morgan Conway and Robert Lowery, who played Batman and Robin, are also featured in this film, which is based on two RKO films from the mid-1940’s.
Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
Amnesiac who escaped from a psychiatric facility and took refuge in the opera house has been accused of seeking vengeance on people who attempted to murder him 13 years earlier
Boris Karloff and William Demarest join Warner Oland and Keye Luke once more in this new adventure.
In the words of stage manager Maurice Cass, “even if Frankenstein steps in!” the opera will continue. The joke was aimed at actor Boris Karloff, who was there at the time and was well-known to the audience. Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff was stated as the film’s distinctive billing above the title. Werewolf of London (1935), in which Karloff would have faced off against his present co-star Warner Oland, was a role Karloff turned down. Henry Hull ended up playing the Werewolf in the end. Apart from this, Boris Karloff was one of the only actors to play an Asian detective in a series of four films between 1939 and 1940 (The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Fatal Hour, and Doomed to Die). In their own way, they’re all wonderful films.
Castle in the Desert (1942)
Charlie Chan is called in to look into a series of suspicious deaths at a remote estate in the Mojave Desert.
For this film, we’re going back to Toler and Victor Sen Yung. He would join the series after Warner Oland’s death and Keye Luke’s departure as number one son… Victor joined the cast as the son of the number two position and would go on to play the part 17 more times. For 109 episodes of Bonanza, he portrays the cook Hop SIng. True to his word, the author of the “Great Wok Cookbook” was an outstanding Cantonese chef who wrote the book in 1974.
Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)
Charlie discovers foul play and an international gambling ring after a buddy of his is found dead after being kicked to death by his own racing horse while aboard a Honolulu-bound cruise ship.
Now He was likewise a talented artist as his father’s first son, Keye Luke. He contributed to the Charlie Chan movie series with a number of production designs. There is still some of his work on display at the Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood (the garden fairytale setting murals and the vast auditorium ceiling in the Chinese Theater). Murals were his specialty. The Shanghai Gesture (1941) and Macao (1942) are further examples of his work (1952).
The Feathered Serpent was the only occasion that Keye Luke and Victor Sen Yung appeared on screen together (Roland Winter as Charlie Chan).
The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, a Hanna-Barbera animated CBS-TV series that ran for nearly 40 years, saw him reprise his role as Charlie Chan, lending his voice to the character (1972). Jodie Foster and Robert Ito provided the voices for his children.
In 1938’s Mr. Moto’s Gamble, Keye Luke reprises his role as Lee Chan, the number one son of Charlie Chan, in a film that was originally planned to be a Charlie Chan film but was reworked as a Peter Lorre production due to Oland’s absence.
Among other things, he was the only Asian actor in the 1930s and 1940s to play a lead Asian detective. For Monogram, he portrayed Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown (1940). After Boris Karloff appeared in Charlie Chan at the Opera, he was cast as Mr. Wong Detective for the final film in the series.
Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)
Charlie is on the lookout for a strangler on a cruise ship sailing from Honolulu to California who has struck many times.
Eugene Forde’s final Chan film is also his greatest, despite the fact that his earlier films in the series are excellent as well. No. 3 son Laynie Tom Sr. and No. 2 son Victor Yung appear together in this one as well as Sydney Toler’s first Charlie Chan movie, Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), which is the second Chan film. Besides Charlie Chan in Panama, Lionel Atwill appeared in Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939), Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942), and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1943) as Dr. Mortimer and as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942). (1939).
Charlie Chan Carries On / Eran Trece (1931)
An American millionaire was found dead in a London hotel room, and Charlie is called in to help investigate the case. London, Nice, San Remo, Honolulu, and Hong Kong are some of the locations used.
Although Charlie Chan Carries On is considered a LOST film, the screenplay is still available and Fox produced a Spanish-language remake of this film, using many of the same sets and actors, and renamed Eran Trece (There Were Thirteen). Many of the same stock material was used, and the narrative was enlarged slightly based on the English-language version’s original script. The DVD edition of Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935) includes a Spanish-language version of the film as an additional feature. Manuel Arbo portrays Charlie Chan in Eran Trece. Dracula (1931) also had a Spanish-language adaptation that year, and the same thing happened with that film as well. The Spanish versions of both of these films are often regarded as superior to their English equivalents…
This is the only original Chan series film that does not feature Warner Oland as Charlie Chan, and it is the only one in the entire original series that is not in English. There were no more Charlie Chan films in foreign languages following this one, as soon after this picture was released, a way of putting sound on the real film was invented, making voice dubbing more practicable.
Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)
To exact his vengeance on Charlie Chan, an ex-convicted murderer hides out at a New York wax museum in the hopes of getting reconstructive surgery.
John Francis Larkin has written five of the Chan movies on this list, making him my favorite screenwriter of all time. He has Charlie Chan in the Wax Museum, Charlie Chan on Treasure Island, Charlie Chan in Panama, Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Castle in the Desert all in his collection. He also owns this one. Throughout the series, he’s come up with some of the most creative ideas and fantastic locations.
Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)
During his investigation, Inspector Chan uncovers a saboteur in the party of passengers he’s investigating.
This one features a lot of the characters I enjoy, including Toler, Luke, Richmond, and Atwill, as well as Jean Rogers.
Dale Arden in two of the best Flash Gordon serials made her famous, but she also had a wonderful appearance in Ace Drummond.
Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)
A former singer with a tell-all diary was slain after returning from a European exile to avoid testifying against her criminal associates.
“You just think you can,” a man at a desk tells Joan Wendell (Joan Marsh) as she enters the newspaper office. In an uncredited cameo appearance, horror star Lon Chaney Jr. is seen. On the other hand, a bottle of Bayer aspirin is shown in an early example of product placement.
An interesting name in this one is character actor Harold Huber, who appears in four Charlie Chan films: Charlie Chan on Broadway, City in Darkness, Monte Carlo, and Rio. Harold Huber is a significant entry in this one.
With Mr. Moto’s Gamble and Mr. Moto’s Mystery, he also features in the first Thin Man picture. In spite of this, he has never played the same role in any of his movies. He’s fantastic, plus he also portrayed Hercule Poirot on the radio!
Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)
For his investigation of the fake psychic at the 1939 World Exposition on Treasure Island, Charlie discovers that the suicide was in fact murder.
This one features Cesar Romero!
A well-known actor, just think of The Joker from the Batman TV Show if you need to recall his name.
Located in San Francisco Bay, Treasure Island is a man-made island erected in 1936 and 1937 ahead of the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 and 1940. After the fair ended, the United States Navy occupied the location for several years. Many film and television production companies have used the site since the 1980s, and aircraft hangars 2 and 3 have been converted to sound stages. This post has a great vibe to it.
Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)
Charlie has to fight spies and hostile agents to recover a strategically important new aerial guiding device that was stolen from the Berlin Olympics.
When Laynie Tom Jr. and Keye Luke appeared together, it was the only occasion in the series when all three of the major sons worked together at least once.
This is a fascinating film because it takes place during the Nazi regime in Germany, where the Olympics are held. Real footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics is shown in the video. It’s also shown that Charlie travels across the Atlantic on the Hindenburg. The swastikas inscribed on the tail of the Hindenburg airship were removed from stock video frame by frame.
1. Murder Over New York (1940)
During a police convention in New York, Charlie’s old acquaintance from Scotland Yard is murdered by a hitman. Chan takes over the investigation.
Lester Ziffren, who authored only four Charlie Chan movies, has written this one and all four of them made my list. Certain aspects of the show appear to appeal to me, as previously stated. Other works by him include “Charlie’s Murder Cruise,” “Charlie in Rio,” and “Charlie in Panama.” He was a reporter for United Press before he began writing screenplays. Early on, he was one of many journalists to report on the outbreak of civil war in Spain. When Francisco Franco invaded Spain in 1936, Ziffren sent a coded telegram that passed through Spanish censors, alerting the world to the conflict. Ziffren then fled to Hollywood, where his new bride’s uncle Sol M. Wurtzel gave him a job writing movie screenplays.
So you’re probably wondering why I didn’t include Mantan Moreland, who played Birmingham Brown in 15 Charlie Chan films and is a well-known character actor. To set the record straight: Between 1944 and 1949, Birmingham Brown was a character in the Charlie Chan films made by Monogram Pictures. He served as a chauffeur, a sidekick, and a trusted aide in a variety of roles. As anxious as Birmingham Brown was, he was always superstitious and warned the Chan family to keep away from harmful situations or cases. Mantan Moreland, a creative and funny actor, did an excellent job portraying the character.
That being said, none of those 15 movies made my list, so while I couldn’t directly discuss him, I thought he deserved a mention because of how prominent he is in the series. At times, I found the flicks to be a little too goofy for my liking, and I preferred the older ones. Nevertheless, he and Victor Sen Yung make very entertaining viewing.