Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


 [Victor] Sen Yung and Sidney Toler
CHARLIE CHAN IN HONOLULU (1938). Director: H. Bruce Humberstone.

"What a wonderful gift for science your brain would make, Mr. Chan." -- Dr. Cardigan

"I prefer to keep it for myself." -- Charlie Chan

Back home in Honolulu with his very large family, Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is awaiting the birth of his first grandchild. His oldest son, Lee, has gone to New York to study art [!] and his love of mystery-solving has been passed on to brother Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung), not to mention little Tommy (Layne Tom Jr). When a murder occurs on a freighter with passengers, these two set off to solve it while Papa is at the hospital; eventually Charlie takes over. Suspects and other characters include secretary Judy Hayes (Phyllis Brooks of The Shanghai Gesture), a witness to the crime; seaman Randolph (John King), who has special feelings for Judy; Carol Wayne (Claire Dodd of Babbitt), who is busy keeping secrets; animal trainer, Hogan (Eddie Collins) who is transporting beasts to the San Francisco Zoo and has a pet lion named Oscar; Dr. Cardigan (George Zucco), who in a weird development keeps a "living brain" in his cabin; Joe Arnold (Richard Lane), a cop who is escorting the prisoner Johnny McCoy (Marc Lawrence); Inspector Rawlins (Paul Harvey), who is Chan's somewhat befuddled boss; and Captain Johnson (Robert Barrat), who only wants everyone to get off of his ship so he can finally set sail with his cargo. Sidney Toler took over the role of Charlie Chan after Warner Oland's death, and he is excellent, if more grandfatherly, which is appropriate as Chan becomes a grandfather in this film [Phlip Ahn plays his son-in-law Wing Foo]. Sen Yung is a memorable addition to the Charlie Chan cast, and has a lot to do in the movie. Charlie Chan films had always had comedy relief, but in this film there is so much humor that it has to be considered a comedy-mystery, and it is very, very funny at times. A notable sequence has Chan testing Cardigan's deafness by throwing a coin on the ground behind him, which Cardigan turns to pick up. "When money talks," says Chan, "few are deaf." Zucco is especially good in this, but the whole cast is on top of things. Cardigan brings up the notion that the retina of the eye retains the image of the last thing the dead person saw a la Four Flies on Grey Velvet, but Chan debunks this theory immediately. ["All I see are reflections of self."] The movie boasts consistently amusing dialogue and has a generous amount of suspense as well.

Verdict: A very auspicious debut for Toler and Sen Yung. ***.

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