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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > Detective > Drama > Action > Crime > TCM Spotlight – Charlie Chan Collection (Monogram/Warner DVD Set)

TCM Spotlight – Charlie Chan Collection (Monogram/Warner DVD Set)


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



It has been a while since MGM issued six films from the later Monogram Pictures version of the Charlie Chan film series, but Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. has decided to follow-up the entertaining Charlie Chanthology (reviewed elsewhere on this site) with TCM Spotlight – Charlie Chan Collection.  They have four more of those later films (after Fox dropped the series, a big mistake, Monogram took over and made out well) now on DVD for the very first time.


As I noted then about the Monogram installments, a few changes included weaker production values and screenplays, lower-still budgets, a son who was more of a cartoon and the odd addition of black stereotypes, the latter two of which were a very poor substitute for and distraction over the rest of what was missing.  Nevertheless, Toler was still in good form and it was that above all else that carried this last leg of the series as long as it did.  He died towards the end and Roland Winters was the final vintage Chan until the series folded and a Winters film (his first) is here for the first time ever on DVD.


Now for the films:


Dark Alibi (1946) has Chan onto the killer who forges and frames other people for the crimes committed.  An odd, awkward entry, Phil Karlson directed again, but even with an interesting cast (including Ray Walker, Milton Parsons, Ben Carter, Joyce Compton and John Eldredge), it seem to repeat too many of the previous entries.


Dangerous Money (1946) puts Chan and company on yet another boat with another murderer and though this has some interesting moments, it is a little uneven, though I like the look of it, it repeats previous entries too.


The Trap (1946) has Sidney Toler’s final appearance as Chan (he was very ill when he made this one) about an acting troupe in Malibu Beach being knocked off until the detective investigates.  Future Superman Kirk Alyn (from the Columbia serials Warner issued on DVD not long ago) plays a police Sergeant and it is not bad.


The Chinese Ring (1947) is essentially a remake of Monogram’s Mr. Wong In Chinatown, which was a hit series for them in the same vein.  It is also the debut of Roland Winters as a Chan not everyone likes, but in this era of deconstructing heroes, might find new favor in the Dark Knight era.  He would make five altogether and this one is interesting, even when it does not work.  B-movie legend William Beaudine (who just about used the first take all the time) made plenty of genre films, including the camp howlers like Jesse James vs. Frankenstein’s Daughter, Billy The Kid vs. Dracula, as well as other detective films (with Philo Vance, The Shadow).  He does better than usual here.



Though these are not the best entries in the series, they are ambitious for low budget films and Monogram knew they had to make them work since they had to push the franchise to survive and it helped them for a while.  It was nice to see them again after all these years, flaws and all, especially looking and sounding so good.



The 1.33 X 1 black and white full frame image on all four DVDs are up there with the best restorations by Fox of their Chan films (we have covered most of the sets elsewhere on the site) and is better than what MGM issued, with more detail, though there are some spots of rough footage as to be expected form a B movie series from a studio that disappeared a half century ago.  Video Black on all four are consistent and look really good, as well as detail in some shots on all of them.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is better than the small-sounding DVDs MGM issued and up there with the Fox restorations.  The combination will surprise fans and non fans alike.


There are sadly no extras, so we again ask, where are the trailers?



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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