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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Detective > Thriller > Charlie Chan - Volume One (Fox)

Charlie Chan – Volume One (20th Century Fox)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Films: B+



Despite some of the most misguided idiocy in the history of political correctness to date, Charlie Chan continues to be one of the greatest fictional detectives of all time and the B-movie Mystery series began by Fox Films and running long into the 20th Century Fox era remains the most successful such B-movie series ever.  Only six novels were written from 1925 to 1932, but the series lasted 41 films, including 13 with Warner Oland who immediately hit it big in the role.  After seeing later Monogram films issued by MGM as the Charlie Chanthology (reviewed elsewhere on this site), Fox has been hard at work restoring the better original films and their Charlie Chan – Volume One is a better volume than any fan could have expected.


Four early films have been lost, including the English-language version of Charlie Chan Carries On, Oland’s debut as the detective, but Fox unearthed a Spanish version of the film and included it here as an extra.  It is a decent first outing for Oland, but the series picked up quickly and was exceptional from the start.  The films featured here are:


Charlie Chan In London (1934) – Ray Milland is a young unknown among a great cast as Chan tries to solve a murder that took place during the very English tradition of foxhunting.  The great detail from the sets to the details of the clues and dual cases taking place makes this remarkable and endures shockingly well over 70 years later.  This is the longest of the four at about 80 minutes.


Charlie Chan In Paris (1935) – This fan favorite and classic has Keye Luke debut as Chan’s terrific #1 son Lee as their visit to the city of lights leads to a counterfeiting operation that uses some clever tricks to keep things highly profitable, but could murder be a next step?  The chemistry between Luke and Oland is classic and one of the most underrated in all of the Classical Hollywood era.


Charlie Chan In Egypt (1935) – Despite the odd addition of the stereotypical comic figure Stepin Fetchit as supposed comic relief, an archeologist goes missing while on an expedition, so Chan is called in.  It gets more bizarre with supposed supernatural happenings, some eccentric characters and a fun, exotic locale.  Rita Hayworth is here in an early role under her former name (Rita Cansino) and the mystery is so multi-layered that Fetchit is a thankfully temporary distraction.  This is another ace installment.


Charlie Chan In Shanghai (1935) – Chan takes on an opium ring (!) in the middle of China as he is being honored for his great work and one of the guests is murdered.  This one has more action than usual as a result of the opponent and makes for a very interesting entry considering China then and now alone.  Running just long enough, it is typical of the surprises the series always offered in Fox’s hands.


Watching the films again after a while and having been a fan for a few decades, the efficiency, skill and tempered energy with which these films were made are truly incredible and something any filmmaker could learn something from at this point.  It also is amazing how the B-movie unit of a major like Fox could produce top-rate product that puts so many overproduced and overbudgeted event tentpoles cannot come close to.  Since a studio like Fox did not do serials, that energy and excitement went to their B-film units.  Many will still complain that Mr. Oland was not the “right” race, but he was the right actor and his work here is so great, he may never get full credit for how excellent he really was in the role.  This great DVD set can only being to change that and hopefully will.



The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on all five films have been nicely restored and transferred to the point that the only limit seems to be regular DVDs 480 lines versus more in higher HD formats.  None of these films had been issued on anything other than VHS, if that, except for the Paris installment.  That was also issued as part of an Oland double feature in the old 12” LaserDisc format, but this looks better and sounds a little better.  That brings us to the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, which sounds pretty good on all the films, except a bit on the London installment, which is just older and shows it.  These are films from the Fox Films era before the merger with 20th Century Pictures and remain early gems from their vintage output.


Extras include restoration pieces on the London installment, a trailer for the London installment, the Spanish language version of Charlie Chan Carries On called Eran Trece (1931) with English subtitles and three excellent featurettes that set the record straight on the character and its history.  The Legacy Of Charlie Chan, In Search Of Charlie Chan and The Real Charlie Chan.  You learn about the greatness and influence of the character, the rise of the character with its strange and awkward journey to big screen immortality and the real life Hawaiian detective Chang Apana that would make it won great biopic.  They run about 20 minutes each on average and are produced by the great team of John Cork and Bruce Scivally.  Fox has given these films the same respect MPI gave the Universal Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and the packaging is also exceptional.  18 more Chan adventures lie in the Fox vault and I hope we get them all in sets this great.  If you really love mystery stories and think you are smart enough to solve the best, don’t miss this set!



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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