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DVD: Charlie Chan in Dark Alibi (1946)
Film:  Very Good    
DVD Transfer:  Very Good  
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1 (NTSC)

June 8, 2010



Genre: Charlie Chan / Mystery  
Charlie Chan must prove an ex-con didn't commit a crime to save him from the death penalty.  



Directed by:

Phil Karlson
Screenplay by: George Callaghan
Music by: Edward J. Kay
Produced by: James S. Burkett

Sidney Toler, Mantan Moreland, Ben Carter, Benson Fong, Teala Loring, George Holmes, Joyce Compton, and John Eldredge.

Film Length: 62 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.33:1
Black & White
Anamorphic DVD: No
Languages:  Engllish Mono
Subtitles:  English, French Spanish
Special Features :  


Comments :

The follow-up to Red Dragon (1945), Phil Karlson’s second Charlie Chan film (after The Shanghai Cobra) was another thinly drawn plot, this time involving an ex-con framed for murder, and the irrefutable fingerprint evidence left at the crime scene. When Chan is brought onto the case – purely because he overheard the desperate pleas of a friend’s client from a hallway – he bullies his way into the rooming house where the condemned man once lived, eyeballs everyone from borders to the owner, and eventually discovers the key to the mystery is someone working inside the prison where the ex-con spent considerable time.

A poodle could finger the culprit early into the film, but that’s hardly the point, since the star attraction is the world’s most clever detective (Sidney Toler), and his two bumbling assistants: son Tommy Chan (Benson Fong), and man-servant/chauffeur Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland).

As Chan sifts through the clues at the prison and urges its fingerprint expert to do some double-checking, Tommy and Birmingham wander through the prison without any escort, eventually getting dragged into a small melee because they figured the best way to find out who was trying to muck up the case was to follow them into general population – unescorted, and plainly dressed in civilian clothes.

The dynamic dimwits eventually escape, and aid father Chan in a warehouse visit where they trap the killer amid a wealth of strikingly weird, hand-crafted and hand-drawn theatrical props and backdrops.

Unlike the prison and rooming house sets, the warehouse is all dark and gloomy, and director Karlson has fun setting up wandering sequences with creepy noir lighting, and having props often peering over or poised to attack the lost characters. As with most of the Chan films, Birmingham is the goofball of the lot, and typical of the era, as the big-eyed black character, he’s also afraid of ghosts, and needs to coax his wobbly legs into moving when danger is lurking inches away.

Birmingham’s clichéd racial persona gets a bit rich in the ‘spooky warehouse’ scenes, but Moreland has a great trio of interconnected scenes at the prison with brother Benjamin Brown (fellow comedian Ben Carter, in his final film), incarcerated for some unidentified crime, but able to wander around the prison freely enough times to encounter brother Birmingham.

To the increasing frustration of Tommy Chan, the Browns engage in a routine of indefinite talk, finishing each other’s sentences, and turning the conversation into a nutty exchange of undercooked ideas and fragmented statements that even detective Chan manages to follow in the film’s finale. They’re short sequences, but they reveal Moreland’s precise comedic timing, and show he could do more than bumble around in scenes designed to fill out the film’s running time.

Among the hefty batch of Monogram Chans, Dark Alibi is one of the better efforts, and the variety of sets give the production an above-average value compared to prior films where virtually the same house set was used, film-to-film. Sequel: Shadows Over Chinatown (1946).

This title is part of TCM’s Spotlight Collection, which includes Dark Alibi (1946), Dangerous Money (1946), The Trap (1946), and The Chinese Ring (1947).

A previous boxed set from MGM, The Charlie Chan Chantology, featured Charlie Chan In The Secret Service (1944), The Chinese Cat (1944), Meeting At Midnight / aka Black Magic (1945), The Jade Mask (1945), The Scarlet Clue (1945), and The Shanghai Cobra (1944).


© 2010 Mark R. Hasan

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