The follow-up to Shadows over Chinatown (1946) is this pretty incoherent piffle that has Charlie Chan, No. 2 son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung), and servant Chattanooga Brown (Willie Best, last seen in the Chan film The Red Dragon) taking a Polynesian cruise. Soon after a knife show, a mysterious passenger is killed, and Chan is immediately put in charge of the case.
As the ship makes its way towards an island retreat, No. 2 son and Chattanooga attempt to fingerprint passengers (a rather impossible task) and match whatever may be left on the murder weapon. When not doing pseudo-criminal science voodoo, Chattanooga is also trailing passengers, and keeps in contact with No. 2 son using a massive military mobile phone. (To call it a brick is an understatement.)
“Poppa Chan” takes a quieter approach, watching, waiting, deducing, and hypothesizing until the ship docks for a 24 hour layover on an island. By then a shiphand has jumped into the ocean after the knife-thrower and a travelling salesman attempt to kill him for learning of their blackmail scheme; and Chan’s life has also been threatened by the mysterious killer, seen only in GIANT close-up of eyes and a wrinkly, sweaty forehead.
During their layover, Chan eyeballs the passengers (about 10 or 15 are the total passengers on the full-sized liner), and his bumbling son and servant follow the ship’s cook into the jungle, where they find a hut and some suspicious objects related to the first killing.
Or not, because halfway through the picture, screenwriter Miriam Kissinger has Chan, the ship’s captain, and the blackmailed victims – a pair of lovers with falsified papers – engaging in an expositional scene where the woman mentions hidden art, her skills as an art historian, and a disreputable father trying to make good. None of it makes any sense then, nor later when the jungle hut’s contents are tied to the hidden art, as well as a number of potential crooks doing a double-cross that either made sense in a deleted scene, or was tossed in because by then filmmakers had thrown the kitchen sink into the story, too.
Dangerous Money is a lesser, weaker, and end-of the line Chan that lacks some of the amusing nuances, comedic and hokey fun, in prior Monogram efforts. With anywhere from 2-4 Chan films cranked out per year, there had to be a few duds along the way. Chattanooga may share the same leg-shaking habit and fear of spooks as Chan’s other chauffeur, Birmingham Brown (it’s a ‘Hollywood black’ thing, right?), but actor Mantan Moreland managed to be a bit more creative with his otherwise cliched role.
The filmmakers also tracked in edited loops of Edward J. Kay’s stock music from the series’ music library, and in spite of director Terry O. Morse’s background as an editor, the brisk pacing doesn’t make up for the jumbled plotting that might be of chief interest only to Chan fans.
Most amusing oddity: one character is seen reading a book on the ship with great interest. It’s title? “Fish,” which does prove to be portentous in the end, but as a book, it couldn’t possibly have been thrilling. Sequel: The Trap (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