Thursday, February 22, 2024

Murder Over New York (1940)

Murder Over New York is a 1940 entry in 20th Century-Fox’s incredibly prolific Charlie Chan B-movie cycle.

I watched this one immediately after watching Charlie Chan at the Opera (made four years earlier). I wanted to watch a Warner Oland and a Sidney Toler Chan movie back-to-back. I’ve always had a preference for Sidney Toler in the role and watching these two movies confirmed my view that Sidney Toler was a much better Charlie Chan. He’s just slightly harder-edged. Chan after all is not a gentleman amateur detective. He’s a cop. I can buy Sidney Toler’s Chan as a policeman in a way that I can never quite buy Warner Oland’s version. And Warner Oland tries a bit too hard to make Chan too likeable.

Murder Over New York
involves spies and sabotage but those elements are really just there to give the movie a topical flavour, and to justify some aviation action. The plot is mostly just a standard murder mystery tale.

Inspector Drake of Scotland Yard is now working for British Military Intelligence. He and Charlie are old friends. Drake is investigating a sabotage ring, and more precisely he is investigating the sabotage of a new bomber prototype. 

When Drake is murdered Chan naturally is determined to be involved in the case. Number Two Son is also determined to be involved, whether Charlie likes it or not.

There will be more murders, and the murder methods involve poisons and poison gases.

There’s an array of possible suspects but the prime suspect is nowhere to be found. He’s a notorious spy named Paul Narvo and Drake was on his trail but even Narvo’s ex-wife has no idea where he is.

There’s some gee-whizz technical stuff, with detailed explanations of the equipment used to send photographic images over long distances and there’s a secret chemical laboratory that plays a part in the story. There’s another high-tech element but I can’t mention it without revealing a major spoiler.

There’s a tense climax aboard the second new bomber prototype, with Charlie (as so often) setting a trap for the killer.

At least it’s supposed to be a bomber prototype but it’s clearly a civil aircraft, in fact I’m fairly sure it’s a Lockheed 12 airliner. I guess they figured that the audience at the time wouldn’t notice or care. And really it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we get suspense and terror in the air and that’s always fun.

The plot is quite serviceable with the usual red herrings.

There’s some humour but it’s not too intrusive.

The supporting cast is solid. Look out for Shemp Howard of the Three Stooges in a bit part as a phoney Hindu fakir. I enjoyed Charlie’s gentle affectionate mockery of Number Two Son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung). And as I mentioned earlier I really enjoy Sidney Toler as Chan.

Director Harry Lachman does a good job and keeps things moving along.

Mostly this movie follows the established formula but it’s entertaining and it’s highly recommended.

This movie is included in Fox’s Charlie Chan volume 5 DVD boxed set. The transfer is very good.

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