Thursday, May 27, 2010
DARK ALIBI (1946). Director: Phil Karlson.
"Is this the shortest way to prison?" -- Birmingham Brown.
"No, the shortest way is to commit crime." -- Charlie Chan.
A bank is robbed and a guard is killed, and fingerprints on the scene match those of Thomas Harley (Edward Earle), who swears he was somewhere else at the time. Nevertheless the fingerprints are enough to get Harley arrested, convicted and sent to death row. Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler), who comes to believe in Harley's innocence, has only 9 days to prove it and save the man's life. But what about those fingerprints? Chan's investigations center on the boarding house where Harley lived with his daughter June (Teala Loring) and such suspects as the typist, Miss Petrie (Janet Shaw), the brassy blond dancer Miss Evans (Joyce Compton), Johnson, the cadaverous CPA (Milton Parsons, who always looked like Death Warmed Over), and of course, the blunt landlady Mrs. Foss (Edna Holland). Benson Fong plays Charlie's Number 3 son, Tommy, and the wonderful Mantan Moreland is Chan's associate/chauffeur Birmingham Brown. A highly gifted comic actor, Moreland gives one of his best and funniest performances in this movie. His scenes with his jailed brother Ben (Ben Carter), where both goggle Tommy's mind with the way they each seem to know what the other is talking about despite the incomplete sentences, is a scream -- even Charlie joins in at one point. However, although there's a lot of comedy relief in the picture, Dark Alibi never forgets it's a mystery. The film is well-directed, briskly edited, and the identity of the villain behind the scenes comes as a complete surprise. Dark Alibi is proof that the Chan pictures made by Monogram were not forgettable. NOTE: This film is included on the new, recommended TCM Spotlight Charlie Chan Collection from Warner Home Video.
Verdict: Prime Chan. ***.