Tag Archives: Charlie Chan

Top 15 Monster Movies

 

The new blockbuster movie season is almost upon us, so I’m going to take this opportunity to name and talk about my favorite top 15 monster movies over the past 100 years at the movies. Now, in the cases of series, or numerous remakes of the same monster, I’ve taken the liberty of just listing it once on the list with my favorite movie in that series and that film in essence, represents the monster. Also, if I felt that it was more of a horror film instead of a monster movie, because most can be both, I didn’t mention it on this list, although it could be one of my all time favorite movies.  The Thing comes to mind, I love that movie, but I consider it to be a horror film way more than it is a monster movie, so I didn’t include it on the list. A good way of thinking of this is if they could fall under the Universal Studios monsters group of movies.  They concentrate on adventure over horror. The best monster movies aren’t that scary at all, but truly fun and thrilling, although most will have some scary moments or moments that make you jump out of your skin.

15  I, Frankenstein (2014)

This was a very under-rated movie and one that seemed to get no marketing when it was released but actually was a rather good movie. My favorite so far of all the different Frankenstein movies that are out there. A big reason is Aaron Eckert, who plays the Frankenstein monster in this one. He’s great. It’s interesting to note, that in the original screenplay, “I, Frankenstein” and its hypothetical sequels were to take place in the same universe as the “Underworld” series (placed #14 on my list) which is from the same producers and shares actors Bill Nighy and Kevin Grevioux. Kate Beckinsale was rumored to be making a cameo as Selene. Ultimately none of these ideas were used. Since the movie didn’t make much money, it’s unlikely that any sequels will be made, making the matter moot, but boy this could have been cool.

14  Underworld (2003)

Would have to go with the first one in the series as the best one. I don’t think that’s always the case. Kate Beckinsale is the reason this series is worth watching. It’s also fun to see Vampires and Werewolves going full on war. The movie was initially pitched as “Romeo and Juliet for vampires and werewolves”. It’s interesting to see the prequel and sequels of the series, also to see how things began and finish. They have gone back and changed the original, however, as for the 2017 4K High Definition remaster of Underworld, the scene where Michael sees flashbacks into Lucian’s past/Sonya’s death was actually replaced with the 2009 scenes in Rise of the Lycans instead of the 2003 flashbacks.

13  Dracula Untold (2014)

Another version that didn’t seem to do well, or wasn’t marketed properly, but that I found to be much superior than any of it’s previous movies based on Dracula. Luke Evans plays Dracula in this version, and he’s very intense.  Dracula Untold was in production before Universal decided to build a cinematic universe. The producers caught wind of it just in time to independently add a present-day epilogue that Universal could use if they wanted to, but it was ultimately decided that Dracula Untold would not be the first entry in the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe. That first film of the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe is the new The Mummy film coming out in 2017, which features Tom Cruise in the starring role and also Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll to set up his stand alone film for the new Jekyll and Hyde remake.

12 Godzilla (2014)

It’s pretty obvious by now that 2014 was a pretty good year for monster movies, you just may not have known it. It’s mainly because now technology has made it a lot easier to do special effects than ever before. The technology has finally caught up with the creative in this area. This is the latest Godzilla movie to come around and I like it because after the film gets rolling, Godzilla becomes somewhat of a hero in the film rather than the creature out to destroy everything that he was presented as at times. It’s also the first in a new set of films set in the same “universe”, the 2nd being Kong: Skull Island that just came out, the 3rd being Godzilla: King of Monsters set to be released in 2019 and the last being King Kong vs. Godzilla in 2020. On this film, according to Bryan Cranston, Gareth Edwards was inspired by the shark film Jaws (1975). “The film does not immediately show the beast, but rather build up to its appearance while still delivering an eerie and terrifying off-screen presence.” In homage to Jaws, the main protagonists have the name of Brody, after that film’s protagonist.

11  Deep Blue Sea (1999)

The sharks in this film do have a tendency to grow and shrink in size depending on where they are in the film, but if you can turn your brain off of that fact, this is a pretty cool movie.  Renny Harlin directed it and he has said that it was the hardest film he’s ever made. Samuel L. Jackson happily signed on for the film, as he had enjoyed his experience working with Renny Harlin on The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).  Renny Harlin admitted that the idea of abruptly killing off Samuel L. Jackson’s character at two-thirds of the movie was borrowed from the similar fate of Tom Skerritt in Alien (1979). Both men were the natural leaders of their respective groups, leaving the remaining survivors in utter despair, and both were the best-known actor in the cast at the time, thereby making their premature demise extra shocking and unexpected. The impact of Jackson’s sudden death scene was intensified by making his preceding speech somewhat long and corny. After watching the scene with an audience for the first time, and hearing them scream in horror and fear, Harlin said that this scene paid off for the entire movie. Just a side-note, the three sharks in this movie are killed in the same ways as the three sharks in Jaws (1975), Jaws 2 (1978), and Jaws 3-D (1983): blown up, electrocuted, and incinerated respectively.

10  Deep Rising (1998)

DEEP RISING, Treat Williams

Now this film is the best in a series of films that are about creatures from the ocean like Leviathan, Virus, Deep Star Six and The Rift. This is actually a really great film, but no-one seems to know about it. Probably because of the lower budget. Originally, Harrison Ford turned down the role of Finnegan. The production’s budget was then downsized. Stephen Sommers, the writer-director, would become known for his monster movies, and this is one of his best. He would go on to direct The Mummy, Van Helsing and The Mummy Returns. Stephen began writing this script, then called “Tentacle”, when he worked at Hollywood Pictures in the mid-90s. Go out a rent this movie, it’s a blast.

9  Lake Placid (1999)

Another film that nobody knows about.  Seemed to go straight to video, but it’s a great movie. This one has a very strange pedigree as it was written by David E. Kelly famous for Law Firm TV Shows like Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, LA Law, Picket Fences and The Practice! Then it was directed by Steve Miner, famous for giving us the real Friday the 13th killer Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2 and Friday the 13th part 3, as the first movie’s killer was his mother, Mrs Voorhees! This movie is funny but has plenty of scares to go around. It’s about a giant crocodile living in Lake Placid. The size of the crocodile in the movie is actually much larger than anything ever recorded in real life. The current largest crocodile in captivity (Guinness book of records, 2015) is 5.48 metres (about 18 ft), and although there are (unverified) reports of sightings over 20 feet in length, nothing is as large as the 30ft quoted in the movie.

8  The Fly (1986)

Now, for some reason a running theme in monster movies is the use of science to explain how a monster has been created or come about. This one has the best use of science (except for movie #2) to help build the tension for any of the monster movies. In a 1987 interview on Sinister Image (1987) Vincent Price revealed that when this remake was released, star Jeff Goldblum wrote him a letter saying, “I hope you like it as much as I liked yours.” Price was touched by the letter, he composed a reply and went to see the film, which he described as “wonderful right up to a certain point… it went a little too far.” David Cronenberg met with some opposition when he announced that he wanted to cast Jeff Goldblum in the lead role. The executive at Fox who was supervising the project felt that Goldblum was not a bankable star, and Chris Walas (Make-up) felt that his face would be difficult to work with for the make-up effects. Both, however, deferred to Cronenberg’s judgment. Cronenberg himself later had reservations when Goldblum suggested Geena Davis, his girlfriend at the time, for the other lead role, as he did not want to have to work with a real-life couple. Cronenberg was convinced after Davis’s first reading that she was right for the role. Producer Stuart Cornfeld suggested that they audition more actresses saying that it’s the “script that is brilliant”. Cornfeld relented after “nobody else even came close”. The famous tagline, “Be afraid, be very afraid!”, originated in this film as dialogue spoken by Geena Davis.

7  Tremors (1990)

If you’ve ever watched Dune and thought the best thing about it was the sand worms then this movie is for you. Writer S.S. Wilson said that he got the idea for the film while he was working for the US Navy in the California desert. While resting on a rock, he imagined what it might be like if something underground kept him from getting off the rock. Tremors was the first film directed by Ron Underwood, who would go on to direct City Slickers, Speechless, Mighty Joe Young, Heart and Souls, and tons of TV Shows.

6  Gremlins (1984)

Written by the amazing Chris Columbus and directed by Joe Dante, this was my favorite film from 1984, at the time, although since then Terminator, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dreamscape, The Last Starfighter, Romancing the Stone, The Philadelphia Experiment, Top Secret!, All of Me, Runaway, Ghostbusters, and Beverly Hills Cop have since topped that movie in that year, for me. But at 14 years old, Gremlins was my favorite. But now that I look back, that may have been one of the most incredible years for films…I mean, wow, what a list of films all released in the same year. The set for Kingston Falls, the location this movie is set in, is the same one used for Back to the Future (1985). Both movies were filmed in the Universal Studios backlot, and you could see the set for many years afterward if you went on the Universal Studios Tram Tour. Steven Spielberg had a great working relationship with Chris Columbus on this film, and he produced the next two films Columbus scripted–The Goonies (1985), based on an idea Spielberg had, and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which was Columbus’ idea. Altogether, three years was spent working on those three films.

5  King Kong (1933)

Now the new film, Kong: Skull Island is pretty fun stuff, but the original is just too iconic not be on the list. It is effectively the model for almost all of the monster movies that have followed since. The other King Kong movies are pretty great too, but the original is just one of those films, especially at the time, that people’s jaws just dropped and everyone went…wow. It’s amazing, back then and today. The project went through numerous title changes during production, including “The Beast” (original title of draft by Edgar Wallace in RKO files), “The Eighth Wonder”, “The Ape”, “King Ape” and “Kong”. Art drawn for the press book for the original release of the film was contributed by Keye Luke, who was a highly regarded illustrator before he became an actor and whose works have appeared in films themselves, such as The Shanghai Gesture (1941), and who acted in such classic films as the number 1 son of Charlie Chan in a slew of films and as the old Chinese shop owner in our #5 film, Gremlins.

4  The Mummy (1999)

Great remake, much better than the original, even though I love Boris Karloff. The remake is a great mix of monster movie and adventure movie…just brilliant. It was originally planned to open the film with the old black and white Universal logo that had been used at the beginning of The Mummy (1932) which would dissolve into the blazing desert sun. Would have given a really cool connection to the old style Universal monster movies. Brendan Fraser was cast due to the success of George of the Jungle (1997). Stephen Sommers also commented that he felt Fraser fit the Errol Flynn swashbuckling character he had envisioned perfectly. The actor understood that his character “doesn’t take himself too seriously, otherwise the audience can’t go on that journey with him”. Before Brendan Fraser, the role of Rick’ O’Connel was offered to Sylvester Stallone. That would have been a very different film. I’m glad that Stephen Sommers stuck to his vision of the film. Stephen Sommers described his vision of the film as “as a kind of Indiana Jones or Jason and the Argonauts (1963) with the mummy as the creature giving the hero a hard time”.

3  Aliens (1986)

This one almost didn’t make my list as it literally scared me half to death when I first saw it. It’s hard not to think of it as a horror film, but what James Cameron brought to this franchise is so good and so ground-breaking that it literally transcends many genres. Sigourney Weaver had initially been very hesitant to reprise her role as Ripley, especially because Cameron had cut the scene where Burke had brought Ripley the news of just missing the death of her character’s daughter (which Weaver felt would have completed the circle of the mother-daughter bond with Newt) she had rejected numerous offers from Fox Studios to do any sequels, fearing that her character would be poorly written, and a sub-par sequel could hurt the legacy of Alien (1979). However, she was so impressed by the high quality of James Cameron’s script – specifically, the strong focus on Ripley, the mother-daughter bond between her character and Newt, and the incredible precision with which Cameron wrote her character, that she finally agreed to do the film.

2  Jurassic Park (1993)

Harrison Ford was offered and turned down the role of Dr. Alan Grant, as he felt that the part just wasn’t right for him. After seeing the film, he says that he had made the right decision. James Cameron has stated that he wanted to make the film, but the rights were bought “a few hours” before he could interview with Crichton. Upon seeing Jurassic Park, Cameron realized that Spielberg was the better choice to direct it as his version would’ve been much more violent (“Aliens (1986) with dinosaurs”) which “wouldn’t have been fair” to children, who relate to dinosaurs. The special effects were directly influenced by Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Originally, Michael Crichton’s agents circulated the book to six studios and directors. Warner Brothers wanted it for Tim Burton to direct, while Columbia Pictures was planning it for Richard Donner. 20th Century Fox was also interested, and was intending the project for Joe Dante, while Universal Pictures wanted Steven Spielberg to direct. Crichton was reluctant to submit to a bidding war. He instructed his agents to put a set price on the film rights and he could decide who was more likely to actually get the film made. After interviewing all the prospective directors, he agreed to sell the rights to Universal and Steven Spielberg, who was already his first choice.

1  Jaws (1975)

Kind of fitting to me to have a Universal Studios film as my number 1 monster movie of all time, but probably not the one people would instantly think of as a Universal monster movie…Jaws. It  is, although one of the few that was a highlight on the Universal Studios Tram Tour, but not the reason why it’s number one on my list. It’s just a fantastic movie. Is it iconic that Steven Spielberg directed both of the top two films? It’s also interesting that each of these films were based on books, bought before the books were released into stores. Peter Benchley’s novel was first discovered in galley form at early 1973 by then Cosmopolitan Magazine editor and producer David Brown’s wife Helen Gurley Brown who was to be excerpting part of the novel to be published in an upcoming issue. Brown saw it by accident, having read it then a few days brought it to the attention of his partner Richard D. Zanuck, subsequently obtaining the rights to the book at the end of the year. Director Steven Spielberg said that when he first read the novel, he found himself rooting for the shark because the human characters were so unlikeable. There was a lot of sub plots in the book that was cut from the screenplay and even Peter Benchley eventually liked how cutting the subplots from the novel allowed for the characters to be fleshed out properly. Steven wanted the movie to be different. Because the film the director envisioned was so dissimilar to Peter Benchley’s novel, Steven Spielberg asked Richard Dreyfuss not to read it. Steven Spielberg always considered Jurassic Park a sequel to Jaws, but on land. People saw differences though, where the latter focused on character development as much as on its creature, while the former only used the dinosaurs to sell the film, and not the characters. As far as monsters go, the shark in Jaws is pretty scary, as it has kept whole generations from going into the ocean for decades. The shark was ranked the eighteenth greatest villain on the AFI’s list of 100 Heroes and Villains.

Top 15 Charlie Chan Films

 

There are a few movie detective series that are a lot of fun to watch over the years. The Falcon, The Saint, Mr. Moto, Mr. Wong, Bulldog Drummond, The Thin Man, and Philo Vance all come to mind as great series. But the most popular would have to be the Charlie Chan series. Charlie Chan was a Honolulu Detective of Chinese descent, created by author Earl Derr Biggers. He originally conceived of the benevolent and heroic Chan as an alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes and villains like Dr. Fu Manchu. Interestingly enough, when Hollywood started making movies on the Detective, he never stayed in Honolulu, as his investigations usually took him all over the world, dragging one of his many sons with him.

The films started in the late 1920’s but were not popular at first. Many people think it was because Charlie Chan was played by Asian actors and just didn’t catch with American audiences, but I think it’s a lot more simple than that, I think they weren’t given a proper chance as those Charlie Chan’s were only barely in the first 3 films. They all appeared late in the films, or only in several scenes or just coming in at the very end. So, I think that would be the main reason. Regardless, Charlie Chan didn’t take off until several years later for the first time when Swedish actor Warner Oland played him in Charlie Chan Carries On in 1931. It’s the first movie to include his name in the title and featured him as the main character. He became a huge hit and the studios never went back to casting the proper Asian actor for the role after that, attributing some or all of the success to the fact that the actor was Caucasian. It is however, one of the major contributions to turning OFF modern day audiences to what is otherwise a fantastic and fun series.

There were over 48 Charlie Chan movies in the series, not to mention several made in other languages. Warner Oland started playing Charlie Chan for 16 movies and then he died unexpectedly and Sydney Toler took over the role for 22 movies and then Roland Winters finished the role for 6 movies.

Here are my Top 15 Charlie Chan films:

15.  Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)Charlie Chan at the Circus

While visiting the circus with his family, Charlie is recruited by the big top’s co-owner to investigate threatening letters that he’s received.

This one has a lot of great elements with Warner Oland playing Chan and Keye Luke (my favorite) playing number 1 son. One of the only times you’ll see the entire Chan family together in the series. This one also features the actor J. Carrol Naish who would appear in other popular mysteries at the time (Mr. Moto and Bulldog Drummond) with Think Fast, Mr. Moto, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back and Bulldog Drummond in Africa. He would also go on to play Charlie Chan himself in the 1957 TV Series, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, which would go on for 39 episodes. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s great.

14.  Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)charlie-chan-i-rio-(1941)

On the trail of a singer who killed the man she loved in Honolulu, Charlie finds her stabbed to death when he ultimately catches up to her in Rio.

With Sydney Toler as Chan and number 2 son played by the excellent, Victor Sen Yung, this one is one of the first ones I ever saw. I became hooked immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the characters mentions Bulldog Drummond two times in this movie. It’s the actress Mary Ann Hughes, who would play a character a couple of times on the Thin Man TV Show years later. Also interesting is that a director early on in the series, Hamilton McFadden, who directed The Black Camel, Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case and co-direct Charlie Chan in Paris, acts as a character in this film.

13.  Dead Men Tell (1941)Dead Men Tell

A treasure map in four pieces, the ghost of a hanged pirate, a talking parrot, and a ship full of red herrings complicate Charlie’s search for a murderer on board a docked ship.

Directed by Harry Lachman, who would direct 5 of the movies from the series and my favorite director, as all 5 of his movies made my list!  The last 3 I just mentioned and 2 more to come. He was a former illustrator, painter, set designer and then director, so his design aesthetic was top notch. His artworks can be seen in such museums as Spain’s Prado and the Luxembourg Museum. George Reeves, who played Superman on TV was also in this film. He was shot to death a few years later, I write about it in a blog here>>>

12.  Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)Charlie Chan in Reno

Mary Whitman, an old friend of Charlie’s in Reno for a divorce, finds herself accused of murdering the woman her husband planned to marry after the decree became final.

Kane Richmond has a nice part in this one, he was an actor/stuntman known for the Spy Smasher series a few years later. I talk about him and the stunts in a blog post here>>> He would do 3 Charlie Chan films, and yes they all just happen to be on my list. When the series does some thing right, they do have a tendency to try and duplicate what makes them so good, hence the reason why several people work on multiples in the series. Ricardo Cortez is of note as well. He was the first one to star as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon years before Humphrey Bogart made the part his own. He also appeared in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning and 2 Charlie Chan films. Also in this are Morgan Conway (Dick Tracy in two RKO films in the mid-1940’s) and Robert Lowery (Batman in the Columbia serial The Adventures of Batman and Robin in 1948).

11.  Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-opera

A dangerous amnesiac escapes from an asylum, hides in the opera house, and is suspected of getting revenge on those who tried to murder him 13 years ago.

Warner Oland and Keye Luke are at it again, this time with Boris Karloff and William Demarest added in for good measure. Stage manager Maurice Cass vows that the opera will go on “even if Frankenstein walks in!” Audiences were well aware that this in-joke referred to star Boris Karloff, who was in the theater at the time. The unique billing listed Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff above the title. Karloff had turned down the title role in Werewolf of London (1935), which would have pitted him against his current co-star, Warner Oland, who is also in that movie. The Werewolf part was ultimately played by Henry Hull. Boris Karloff is also unique in that he also played an Asian Detective later, that of Mr Wong in 4 mysteries in 1939-1940 (The Mystery of Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong in Chinatown, The Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die).  All of these are excellent films in their own right.

You’d recognize William Demarest best for his role of Uncle Charley in My Three Sons (1965-1972).

10.  Castle in the Desert (1942)charlie-chan-in-castle-in-the-desert-poster

Charlie Chan investigates apparent poisonings at a mystery mansion in the Mojave Desert.

Back to Toler and Victor Sen Yung for this movie. To talk about Victor Sen Yung for a second, he would come into the series after Warner Oland died and after Keye Luke left as number 1 son…Victor came on board as #2 son and would reprise his role a total of 17 more times.  Goes on to portray the cook Hop SIng on the TV Show Bonanza for 109 episodes. He really was an accomplished Cantonese cook and penned the book “Great Wok Cookbook” in 1974.

9.  Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-race-track

When a friend of Charlie’s is found kicked to death by his own race horse on board a Honolulu-bound liner, the detective discovers foul play and uncovers an international gambling ring.

Now Keye Luke as Number 1 son was also an accomplished artist. He did several production drawings for the Charlie Chan movie series. Some of his work is still in Hollywood’s Graumann’s Chinese Theater (the garden fairytale setting murals on the interior of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Chinese Theater massive auditorium ceiling). He specialized in murals. Examples of his work can also be seen in the films The Shanghai Gesture (1941) and Macao (1952).

The only time that number 1 son Keye Luke and number 2 son Victor Sen Yung would be together on screen was in The Feathered Serpent (Roland Winter as Charlie Chan). Almost 40 years after he played Lee Chan to the Charlie Chans of Warner Oland and Roland Winters, he took a turn at playing Charlie Chan himself, providing his voice in the Hanna-Barbera animated CBS-TV series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (1972). Among those who provided the voices of his children were Jodie Foster and Robert Ito.motogambleluke

Interesting to note that there is another film that is not a Charlie Chan film where Keye Luke plays number 1 son Lee Chan again and that is in 1938’s Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) opposite Peter Lorre, which was intended as a Chan picture, before Oland’s absence forced the studio to hurriedly rewrite the script as a Moto feature.

Another interesting note, he had the distinction of being the only Asian actor to play a lead Asian detective in the 1930/1940s era. He played Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown (1940) for Monogram. It was the final film in the Mr. Wong Detective series and he took over the role from none other than Boris Karloff, who I mentioned in Charlie Chan at the Opera.

8.  Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)Murder cruise

Charlie tries to discover the identity of a strangler who strikes multiple times on a cruise ship bound from Honolulu to California.

This is the last of the Chan films directed by Eugene Forde, and I think his best, even though his others are very good ones in the series as well. Number 2 son Victor Sen Yung and Number 3 son Laynie Tom Jr. (just to clairify, I’m numbering the sons based on their appearances and popularity in the series, their numbers are not official, it just makes it easy to identify them) appear together in this one as well as Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), Sydney Toler’s 1st Chan movie.  Lionel Atwill is a standout in this film, and he also appeared in another Chan film, Charlie Chan in Panama (look at number 5 on this list) and he also appeared in Mr Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) and as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942) and as Dr. Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939).

7.  Charlie Chan Carries On / Eran Trece (1931)Eran-Trece-Opening-Credit

Charlie steps in to solve the murder of a wealthy American found dead in a London hotel. Settings include London, Nice, San Remo, Honolulu and Hong Kong.

I should be up front and mention that Charlie Chan Carries On is considered a LOST FILM, but the screenplay is still out there and Fox filmed a Spanish-language version of this film, using many of the same sets, using a Spanish-speaking cast, and was released under the title Eran Trece (There Were Thirteen). This used many of the same pieces of stock footage as the English-language version and the script was expanded somewhat based on the English-language script. This Spanish-language version is available as a bonus feature on the DVD release of Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), which is where I saw the film.  Eran Trece stars Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan. Interestingly enough, they did the same thing that year with Dracula (1931) and he was in the Spanish version of that film as well.  Both of the Spanish versions of these films are mentioned to be far superior than their English counterparts…Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan

This is the only Spanish-language film in the entire original Chan series and the only one that doesn’t feature Warner Oland as Charlie Chan. There were no other foreign-language Charlie Chan films made by Hollywood after this one because, shortly after this movie came out, a method of putting sound on the actual film was developed, and so voice dubbing became more practical.

6.  Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum

An escaped convicted murderer hides out at a New York wax museum where he hopes to get plastic surgery, which will help him revenge himself on Charlie Chan.

John Francis Larkin would probably be my favorite of all the screenwriters that have written a Chan films over the years, as he has written 5 of the films on this list! He has this one, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, then Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Charlie Chan in Panama, Dead Men Tell and Castle in the Desert. He comes up with some of the most unusual plots throughout the series and always has a great locale.

5.  Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)Charlie Chan in Panama

Inspector Chan investigates a group of travelers, one of whom is a saboteur.

Again, this one has a lot of the elements I love; Toler, Luke, Richmond, Atwill– all the people I mentioned before and they throw Jean Rogers into the mix.  She is most immediately known for being Dale Arden in two of the better Flash Gordon serials and had a nice role in Ace Drummond.

4.  Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)charlie-chan-on-broadway-1937

Returning from European exile where she avoided testifying against her criminal associates, a former singer with a tell-all diary is murdered to ensure her silence.

When photographer Joan Wendell (Joan Marsh) first walks into the newspaper building, a man at a desk says “you just think you can”. That man is horror icon Lon Chaney Jr, in an un-credited cameo. Also, of interest to filmmakers, an early example of product placement, a bottle of Bayer aspirin is shown on a table.harold-huber-Mr-Motos-Gamble

A notable entry in this one is character actor Harold Huber, who pops up in several mystery movie series at the time including 4 Charlie Chan movies; Charlie Chan on Broadway, City in Darkness, Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo and Charlie Chan in Rio.  He also appears in the first The Thin Man movie as well as 2 Mr. Moto films with Mr Moto’s Gamble and The Mysterious Mr. Moto. Although, he never plays the same character twice in any of his movies. He’s great, and he also played Hercule Poirot and Dr. Fun Manchu on the radio!

3.  Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)charlie-chan-at-treasure-island

Charlie’s investigation of a phony psychic during the 1939 World Exposition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island leads him to expose a suicide as murder.

Cesar Romero appears in this one!  He’s a very well known actor, but if you need me to jog your memory just think of The Joker from the Batman TV Show. The Treasure Island referred to in the title is a man-made island in San Francisco Bay that was built in 1936 & 1937 in anticipation of it hosting the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 & 1940. After the fair closed the U.S. Navy used the site for many years. Since the 1980’s the site has been used by many film & television production companies with aircraft hangars 2 & 3 converted to sound stages. I love the atmosphere of this entry.

2. Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)Charlie-Chan-at-the-Olympics-Laynie Tom Jr

When a strategically important new aerial guidance system is stolen, Charlie traces it to the Berlin Olympics, where he has to battle spies and enemy agents to retrieve it.

The only time that Number 1 son Keye Luke and Number 3 son, Laynie Tom Jr. would appear together, making it so that all 3 of the main sons worked together at least 1 time each throughout the series.

This one is very interesting as the Olympics in the movie is in Germany, during the Nazi reign. The film features actual footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. There is also a scene where Charlie crosses the Atlantic in the Hindenburg. Stock footage of the dirigible Hindenburg was retouched, frame by frame, to blot out the swastikas emblazoned on the airship’s tail.

1  Murder Over New York (1940)Murder-Over-New-York-Charlie-Chan

When Charlie’s old friend from Scotland Yard is murdered when they attend a police convention in New York, Chan picks up the case he was working on.

This one is written by Lester Ziffren, who wrote only 4 Charlie Chan movies and yes, as expected, all 4 made it on my list. Like I said, I seem to like certain elements in the series. He also wrote Charlie Chan in Rio, Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise, and Charlie Chan in Panama.  Before he wrote screenplays, he was reporter for United Press. Was among the first journalists to report the start of the Spanish Civil War. He sent a coded message past Spanish censors to break the news of the Spanish Civil War to the rest of the world; after leaving Spain just ahead of the troops of Francisco Franco, Ziffren went to Hollywood where he got a job writing movie screenplays through the influence of his new bride’s uncle, Sol M. Wurtzel.

Now, you are probably wondering why I left out Mantan Moreland, a very notable character actor who appeared as Birmingham Brown in 15 Charlie Chan films. Just to set some history: Birmingham Brown is a character from the Monogram Pictures entries of the Charlie Chan series of films introduced between 1944 and 1949. He was a combination chauffeur, side-kick, and trusted assistant. Oftentimes jittery, sometimes bug-eyed, and always superstitious, Birmingham Brown was forever warning the members of the Chan clan to stay away from an obviously dangerous case or situation. The character was brilliantly portrayed by the creative, comedic actor Mantan Moreland.charlie-chan-service-secret

Now with that said, none of those 15 movies made my list, so I wasn’t able to talk directly about him, but he’s such a standout in the series, I thought he should at least be mentioned in the blog. He’s very good, but at times, I thought those films just got to be a little too silly for my taste and I prefer the earlier entries. He plays especially well with Victor Sen Yung, although, so they are still fun to watch.

Another great actor from the series that hasn’t gotten a mention yet is the awesome Benson Fong. I’ve loved him as an actor over the years and he appears technically as Number 4 son, even though he would be older than Laynie Tom Jr., but is Number 4 on appearance in the series. He appears in 7 Charlie Chan films, only 6 of them as a Chan clan member, as in Charlie Chan at the Opera, he only appears as an extra in the background. You can see a picture of Benson Fong in the picture I posted from Charlie Chan in the Secret Service.