Turner Classic Movies (TCM), a subsidiary of Time-Warner (still known as Warner Bros. among old-timers) has been kind enough to send me their newest release, a boxset comprising of 4 Charlie Chan movies – Dark Alibi, Dangerous Money, The Trap, and The Chinese Ring, for review at my site. For the uninitiated, Charlie Chan, the character created by Earl Derr Biggers, is a Chinese-American detective who has featured in over a dozen low-budget, noir-ish crime/mystery films.
Dark Alibi (1946) has Chan trying to save a former convict who, he’s convinced, is innocent of the bank robbery charges for which he’s been sentenced to death. In Dangerous Money (1946), set mostly aboard a ship and on an island, Chan tries to uncover a trail of hot money that results in a series of inexplicable murders. The Trap (1946), the last movie to star Sydney Toler as the investigator, has Chan trying to solve the strangulation murders of pretty young showgirls on vacation. And finally, in The Chinese Ring (1947), Chan gets busy uncovering the mysterious murder of a Chinese princess at his very home, that almost gets him killed.
Dark Alibi, without doubt, is the best of the lot, and might even be categorized as a film noir. The films go downhill from here, despite the presence of Sydney Toller as the deadpan, wisecracking detective, courtesy some one-dimensional plots and characters. The series is, however, saved in the end by The Chinese Ring, what with its fine noirish atmospherics and shady characters, though Roland Winters, cast as Charlie Chan in this film, never really managed to hold a candle to Toller’s Charlie Chan. Mantan Moreland, as Chan’s chauffeur and sidekick Birmingham, is absolutely hilarious and provides enough comic relief.
The Charlie Chan suite has been presented by TCM Spotlight in a very well designed pack worth the buy. Though the dvd-s do not boast of any extra features, the important aspect is that the print quality – both picture and sound, of all the four films is exceptional and the transfer too is stunning, despite the films being over 60 years old. The boxset should be a collector’s item for all you Charlie Chan aficionados out there.
Directors: Phil Karlson/Terry O. Morse/Howard Bretherton/William Beaudine
Genre: Crime Thriller/Mystery/Film Noir