Thursday, November 9, 2017
Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)
This is a spy mystery rather than a straight murder mystery although of course there will be murder as well.
Charlie Chan is working undercover in Panama City (although why he should be involved in counter-espionage work is never explained). The city is full of spies and the US fleet is about to pass through the Canal. Those spies are certain to try to sabotage the fleet!
A US government agent is murdered just as he is about to give Charlie vital information. The agent had just flown in and the circumstances make it almost certain that the killer was a passenger on that sea-plane.
Everyone in Panama City is in the grip of spy fever. And anyone expressing even the mildest interest in the comings and goings of the American fleet can find himself very quickly arrested as a spy - and this includes not just Charlie Chan but his exasperating offspring Jimmy Chan as well!
The only way Charlie can trap the spy is to set a trap for him, but he will have to use himself and all the other suspects as live bait.
The identity of the master spy seems obvious right from the start but to their credit screenwriters John Francis Larkin and Lester Ziffren do manage to spring a surprise on us in the last reel.
Sidney Toler is in fine form. The support cast is pretty good, with Lionel Atwill being enigmatic and possibly sinister and Jean Rogers making a fairly effective European Woman of Mystery while being rather sweet and helpless as well. Victor Sen Young’s comic relief is bearable.
Charlie Chan in Panama is a solid enough entry in the Chan cycle, with a touch of exotic glamour (naturally all done in the studio or the backlot) and some excitement. Recommended.