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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Detective > Thriller > Charlie Chan – Volume Five (20th Century Fox DVD)

Charlie Chan – Volume Five (20th Century Fox DVD)


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



Charlie Chan – Volume Five concludes the releasing of Fox’s entire holdings of the original Chan films, a series that at one time they were not yet ready to issue on DVD.  The series was at its peak and to the shock of the entire film industry, pulled the plug on thinking it had gone as far as it could.  This turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes in Hollywood studio history when the low-budget Monogram Studios took it over and turned it into one of the biggest hits they ever had.


Sure, the series suffered with far lower budgets, but that is how popular Chan was and can be seen as the first truly successful ongoing franchise in film history not counting the many short series and one-shot films made from great characters like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan.


This set features seven films including:


Charlie Chan In Panama (1940) – Chan goes to South American and lands up taking on an Axis plot in ruin The Panama Canal, but he is secretly undercover to stop it in this energetic, smart entry directed by Norman Foster and co-staring Jean Rogers, Kane Richmond (who also played The Shadow), Lionel Atwill, Mary Nash and Jack La Rue.  It is one of the best.


Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940) – Chan goes on a cruise and has to sink his wits into an investigation of a murder by an old friend.  When that friend also turns up dead, Chan intends to make sure they will never reach port without reaching a conclusion to who is guilty of murder.  Remake of 1931 film Charlie Chan Carries On has a good atmosphere and supporting cast including Lionel Atwill, Charles Middleton (the original Ming The Merciless) and Leo G. Carroll.


Charlie Chan At The Wax Museum (1940) – This is the all-time classic installment where Chan is threatened by a vengeful gangster (Marc Lawrence) who escapes after a court death sentence and threatening death on Chan.  Great sets, mystery, suspense and tight script make this a true home run for the series.


Murder Over New York (1940) – In a now-haunting installment, terrorists intend to sabotage an airplane in the Big Apple and only Chan can stop them in this terrific, clever film that was always charming and is now ironic.  Some great shots of Manhattan are also here and Harry Lachman’s directing is a plus as usual.


Dead Men Tell (1941) – George Reeves is among the cast on what turns out to be a deadly hunt for $60 Million once again helmed by Harry Lachman, with more great atmosphere, though it should be noted that these films never repeated their look or feel to the point that it became formula or phony.  In that respect, this is one of the most interesting films as Chan need to monitor the scavenge hunt before more people get hunted down.


Charlie Chan In Rio (1941) – Chan goes to Panama in this solid remake of the 1931 Chan film The Black Camel as a nightclub singer is murdered, leading to something more deadly and disturbing.  Watching these again, it is remarkable the roll the makers of this series were on; the kind few blockbuster film series could ever hope to claim.


Castle In The Desert (1942) – The final Fox/Chan film has Toler’s detective at a haunted mansion in the Mojave Desert where people are “suddenly just” dying.  It reminds us how exceptionally well the series was always able to richly conjure up supernatural Horror films, then switch to their rich real-life mystery tale.  So ended a great era!



In my opinion, this are the later peak of the series and some of the greatest mystery films ever made, loaded with wit, energy, darkness, suspense, comedy that works, intelligence and underappreciated performances that have all stood the test of time.  Too bad Fox dropped the series, but they went out on a high note and that is all that counts.



The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on all seven films have been nicely restored and transferred to the point that the only limit seems to be regular DVDs 480 lines versus more in Blu-ray High Definition.  None of these films had been issued on anything other than VHS, except for the Rio and Wax Museum installments.  Those were also issued as part of a Toler double feature in the old 12” LaserDisc format, but this looks better and sounds a little better except that the Video Black was a tad richer on the old Laser.  That brings us to the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, which sounds pretty good on all the films.  The combination is terrific and a real pleasure to watch and rewatch.


Extras include trailers and stills for all seven films, plus Desert adds a final Fox featurette entitled The Era of Chan that concludes a remarkable set of such programs the studio has made doing justice to what will always remain one of the great film series of all time.  For more Charlie Chan, try these links:


Volume One



Volume Two



Chanthology (MGM/Monogram)





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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