Charlie Chan – Volume One (20th Century Fox)
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: B Films: B+
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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