“You know, the woman not made for heavy thinking. But should decorate scene like blossom of plum”
- Charlie Chan wisdom
This sequel to Charlie Chan’s prior outing, The Trap (1947), pokes a little fun at gender issues, and the screenwriter riffs on the archetypal characters of His Girl Friday (1940): wise-cracking reporter Walter Burns has been reformulated as street-wise Sgt. Bill Davidson (Warren Douglas), and Peggy Cartwright (Louise Currie) is a blending of Burns and Hildy Johnsonan – an intrepid, meddlesome, scoop-hungry reporter who trails subjects and persistently gets in the way of ‘rival’ sleuth Davidson.
Woven into this tale of murder and blackmail is Charlie Chan, now played by American actor Roland Winters, who carries on with Sidney Tolder’s physical performance of the character, albeit looking a little younger, and less reliant on custom makeup. The only Asian affectations are the familiar broken English and winged eyebrows, but Winters ends up looking more Indo-China French than pure Chinese in his interpretation.
Back is No. 2 son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung) and chauffeur Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland), with the latter this time actually doing a lot of driving (something quite absent in other films), since Chan must visit multiple locations after a Chinese princess was killed in his home before she could impart details of a nasty blackmail scheme.
Chan’s hunt for clues takes him to the princess’ swanky apartment, where a boy and a maid are later killed); the local bank where the princess doled out nearly a million dollars to buy airplanes for her unnamed country; the office of the plane’s factory owner, Captain Kelso (Thayer Roberts, in his film debut); the banker’s estate; and the docks, where greedy Captain Kong (Philip Ahn) later attempts to dump unwanted witnesses and meddlers into the ocean.
The film’s final scene has Chan quipping of how it was everyone else who found clues that led to solving the murder case, and one suspects that may have been a deliberate ploy by Monogram to introduce their new Chan: craft a brisk story where the hero is seen but infrequently heard, but brought back in the last reel in the hopes audiences have warmed up to newcomer Winters.
Because the case takes place over a day or two, reporter Cartwright sticks to her patterned outfit, which isn’t all that different from the clothes worn by Hildy Johnson – perhaps a deliberately discrete effort to evoke His Girl Friday beyond the snappy dialogue.
There’s also a number of scenes between Cartwright and Davidson, including one at the police station where he’s just annoyed enough that he grabs her by the shoulders and rattles her; when she punches shim in the face, he realizes the cookie’s pretty hot, and gives her a big kiss before running off again on official business, slamming the office door in her face.
At the present time only The Chinese Ring is available on DVD, so it’s hard to say whether Winters was able to reinvigorate the franchise in this and five sequels before the theatrical series was finally folded. The other films in the series are Docks of New Orleans (1948), The Shanghai Chest (1948), The Golden Eye (1948), The Feathered Serpent (1948), and The Sky Dragon (1949), after which the character went into a long hiatus before reappearing on TV as The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (1957-1958), with J. Carrol Naish donning the winged eyebrows.
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