Friday, November 19, 2010

Charlie Chan in London (1934)

After reading the first of Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan novels I was anxious to see some of the movie versions. In fact, since Biggers only wrote a handful of Charlie Chan novels most of the movies are not actually based directly on the books.

Disappointingly, the Hawaiian settings of the novels appear to have been abandoned and the movies seem to place the detective in just about every imaginable location except Hawaii. Charlie Chan in London is obviously set in London, and it’s your basic English country house murder.

A young man, the master of the hunt at the country house in question, is facing execution or the murder of a house guest. His sister is convinced if his innocence but everyone else seem to think he is guilty, even his barrister played by a very young Ray Milland. Inspector Charlie Chan is in England in connection with another matter, and the sister prevails upon him to investigate her brother’s case.

There are the usual plot twists and red herrings. It’s very much a B-movie, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else and it provides solid entertainment.

Warner Oland makes a very good Charlie Chan. He doesn’t overdo the oriental mannerisms, he’s smart and it’s a fairly dignified performance. Surprisingly perhaps Oland’s Chan isn’t dramatically different from the Chan of the books.

The supporting cast is solid enough. The production values are reasonable for a fairly low-budget movie and in general it's very competently executed.

As long as you’re not expecting more than a thoroughly enjoyable B-movie mystery there’s not much to complain about here.

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