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Top 15 Val Kilmer Movies

 

Over the years I’ve really enjoyed Val Kilmer and his movies.  I find him to be very funny in person, as you can see from any interview he’s ever done or if you’ve ever seen any of his blooper reels…but his acting is top notch too. He’s gotten a bit of a bad rap over the years, but I can appreciate that he acknowledges that he could have been easier to work with at times over the years. He’s mellowed a lot with age and by all accounts a real joy to be around for the most part, engaging, funny and authentic.

Here’s my top 15 movies that feature Val Kilmer:

15 – Comanche Moon (2008)val-kilmer-comanche-moon

Great cast, interesting western.  Kilmer once said that he would play in a bad western on a great horse any day and this mini-series can live up to that assessment. It’s a Larry McMurtry story, with his characters from the Lonesome Dove series and stars the ever likable Steve Zahn as well as Karl Urban, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Linda Cardellini, and Rachel Griffiths. Some of the scenes were filmed on Val Kilmer’s ranch in New Mexico. Val Kilmer’s work with the New Mexico Film Investment Program over the years fueled a nearly 40-fold growth in the state’s annual film production revenue, from $3 million in 2002, up to $117 million in 2006.

14 – Top Gun (1986)val-kilmer-top-gun

This film would probably be in the top 5 on most people’s lists for Val Kilmer, but I’ve never liked it over some of his other movies.  Besides, I’m not sure if you would consider, Top Gun to be “his” movie…but he sure is cool in it.  Originally, Kilmer did not want to be in this film, but was forced to as he had contractual obligations. However, it became one of his most iconic roles in his career. His humor shines through and his perchance to improv while on the set, when the guys, as students, were first being spoken to by Charlie in the hanger, Maverick explains that he gave “the bird” to a MiG. She asks how he saw the MiG up close, and he says he was flying inverted. Right then, Val Kilmer as Ice coughs “bullsh*t” and the guys laugh. The “bullsh*t” line is ad-libbed. According to co-star Anthony Edwards, “A lot of the humor was discovered at the moment. The script was skeletal.”

13 – Batman Forever (1995)val-kilmer-baman-forever

Some people don’t like this Batman movie, but I loved it. How can you go wrong with Val Kilmer as Batman and then a cast that includes Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Chris O’Donnell and Drew Barrymore. (most people at this point, go, “Drew Barrymore?”, yep, she’s in there, take a closer look.) Most of Val Kilmer’s bad press comes from this movie as he didn’t get along with director Joel Schumacher that well. I think the moments where he could have been a little more helpful in the filmmaking are blown way out of proportion over the years. He has said later, “I probably complained more when I was younger. The movie industry can be frustrating but I think sometimes I could have been more helpful, approaching a film as a partnership rather than being critical of a director’s ignorance. I wasn’t sensitive to the fact that it’s very hard to direct.”

12 – Heat (1995)val-kilmer-heat

In this film, there is a huge shootout in the middle of the city between Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer and their crew and Al Pacino and the cops. They had to do a lot of training to be able to shoot the guns realistically. Kilmer was thrilled to learn that the moment in the gun battle scene where he runs out of bullets and rapidly changes his magazine is regularly shown to Marine recruits as an example of how to perform the action properly. Also, in order to prepare the actors for the roles of McCauley’s crew, Michael Mann took Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Robert De Niro to Folsom State Prison to interview actual career criminals. It helped that Danny Trejo, who plays a member of the crew, had in real life been an inmate at Folsom Prison. It’s interesting to note, before Danny Trejo was cast, both Edward Bunker, a writer, and Trejo were hired to be armed robbery consultants, since they both did time for these crimes and knew the ins and outs of performing such crimes. After meeting Trejo and talking with him at length, Michael Mann would later offer him a role in the film.

11 – Mindhunters (2004)

MINDHUNTERS, Val Kilmer, Will Kemp, Kathryn Morris, Jonny Lee Miller, Patricia Velasquez, Clifton Collins Jr., Christian Slater, LL Cool J, 2004, (c) Dimension

This little gem, directed by Renny Harlin, was caught in a studio’s bankruptcy and held for release up to two years later, even then it was silently released straight to video…but it’s actually a really fun film. Has some really good moments and has Jonny Lee Miller, LL Cool J, Christian Slater, Patricia Velasquez, Clifton Collins Jr, and Eion Bailey in it.  It reminds me of an FBI training version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which I love a lot. This one would be on the top of the list of films that were made with her plot device of people dying one by one in a remote place, trying to figure out which one of them is the killer. You can see my blog post on that by clicking here.

10 – At First Sight (1999)

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

This one has Val Kilmer playing a blind man that regains his sight. His sister is played by Kelly McGillis, his co-star from Top Gun. The cast is excellent with Nathan Lane, Steven Weber, Mira Sorvino, Bruce Davison and Ken Howard.  Val Kilmer prepared for his role by studying with a sculptor friend of his in New Mexico who had lost his sight in Vietnam. At 49:30 (NTSC) he is admiring a sculpture when he first visit’s Amy’s flat. Now, if you want to see how good an actor Kilmer is then watch this movie as he’s very good in it. There are a few times when I think he really should have gone up for an Oscar nomination at the very least and this is one of those performances. Other performances where he deserved recognition would be as Doc Holliday in Tombstone and as Jim Morrison in The Doors.

9 – Top Secret! (1984)kilmer-top-secret

Kilmer’s first movie and it’s flat out hilarious! My brother and I love this movie. He’s so funny in this.  It’s done by Jim Abrahams and David Zucker right after they did Airplane and Police Squad…so they were really on a roll. You can thank his casting in this film to Kilmer’s first Broadway acting role in 1983 in a play called Slab Boys which also starred Kevin Bacon, Brian Benben, Sean Penn, and Jackie Earle Haley. Kilmer would sing all of the Nick Rivers songs in the film himself, which would help him later when he decided to do The Doors.

8 – Ghost and the Darkness (1996)val-kilmer-ghost-and-the-darkness

This is based on a true story and is quite a good thriller. It’s about 2 lions that start to hunt and attack construction workers on a railroad track in Africa. The title of the movie is the nicknames for the 2 lions. Michael Douglas’s character Remington is fictionalized for the movie. In real life, Val Kilmer’s character John Patterson killed both lions (both nearly nine feet long). The real Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson published a book about his experiences, titled “The Man-Eaters of Tsavo“, which the movie is based on. The book is still available after nearly 100 years, and well worth reading.  Originally, the movie was only to be produced by Michael Douglas, with Kilmer as the lead character, but somewhere in pre-production he insisted on having the Remington character created for him and as filming progressed his part was widened to what is in the film now. He eventually got top billing. Despite having top billing, Douglas still doesn’t appear on screen until 45 minutes into the movie.

7 – Red Planet (2000)sizemore-kilmer-red-planet

This is a really good sci-fi thriller that again seemed to be released straight to video, but is definitely worth finding, if you haven’t seen it. It has another fun cast with Tom Sizemore, Carrie-Anne Moss, Benjamin Bratt, Terence Stamp and Simon Baker.  It didn’t help the release of the film that another Mars movie was in production at the time and often gets confused with it; Mission To Mars. It also didn’t help that the movie’s release date was pushed back twice. The original release date was slated March 31, then it was pushed back to June 16, and again it was pushed back to November 10. Studio officials said it was due to the movie’s extensive, expensive special-effects work.

6 – Real Genius (1985)val-kilmer-real-genius

Now, here’s a movie that my brother and I just love, but if you were to take Val Kilmer out of the movie, then we wouldn’t even like it probably, he’s that good in it. He really stands out and it’s this movie that convinced us that he was going to be a big star. I think the studio knew it too, that why the title seems to refer to him and all the posters feature him by himself, when he isn’t even the main character. The marketing strictly pushed him as the whole film.

5 – The Doors (1991)val-kilmer-the-doors

The singing that Kilmer does in the film is so close to the real Jim Morrison that even the real band members of the Doors couldn’t tell a version of a song sung by Morrison than that of Kilmer. In one scene during the filming of the movie, Kilmer broke his arm badly when he performed a jump from the stage into the crowd. The stuntman failed to catch him, leaving Kilmer with an abnormal growth on his right elbow. The growth is clearly visible in Heat, when McCauley discovers Shiherlis sleeping in his living room and begins briefing him on their itinerary. Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan were also in Top Gun together. Incidentally Kilmer worked with director Oliver Stone on this film and Tom Cruise worked with Stone on Born on the Fourth of July.

4 – The Saint (1997)elizabeth-shue-val-kilmer-the-saint

I just like this movie, even though a lot of people who loved the Saint TV show was disappointed with it. Val Kilmer got to use several disguises in the film, which I thought were a lot of fun.  Plus it had, Elizabeth Shue…what’s not to like?  Fun Fact – the poetry written by Simon Templar’s disguised-long-haired artist character, Thomas Moore, was actually written by Val Kilmer himself.  Kilmer decided to do this movie instead of Batman and Robin. It was the first big-screen Saint film since the 1950s. Plans for a Saint film date back to the 1980s, when Pierce Brosnan was reported to be a leading contender for the Templar role in a Saint movie that was to be produced by Roger Moore, the original TV Saint. This project never materialized. The Saint (Simon Templar) over the years has been played by Vincent Price (over the radio), Roger Moore on TV, Louis Hayward, George Sanders, Hugh Sinclair, Felix Marten, Jean Marais, Simon Dutton, and Ian Ogilvy at the movies.

3 – Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)val-kilmer-robert-downey-jr-kiss-kiss-bang-bang

Anyone who wants to see how truly funny and spontaneous Val Kilmer can be should watch the blooper real to this movie. Robert Downey Jr., who is incredibly witty in his own right has a hard time keeping up to the laughs Kilmer produces. Val Kilmer met Robert Downey Jr. for the first time at a Hollywood party. A week later he received the screenplay for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and agreed to do it before he’d even finished reading it. Upon agreeing, and much to his delight, he was informed that Downey Jr had already been cast. As a sign of support to Robert Downey Jr.’s recovery from alcohol and drugs, Val Kilmer refused to drink during the entire production. I’m a big Raymond Chandler fan and I learned that Shane Black read several stories by Raymond Chandler when writing this script. As a result, the story is divided into chapters and the chapter titles come from Chandler works. Specifically: 1. “Trouble is My Business”, 2. “The Lady in the Lake”, 3. “The Little Sister”, 4. “The Simple Art of Murder”, and Epilogue: “Farewell, My Lovely”. The title makes reference to James Bond, Thunderball where a song was produced and recorded for the film called, “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” has since become a slang description of the James Bond-style spy genre. The film’s original title was “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again”. When Harmony is seen on the bus leaving Indiana at age 16, she’s asleep with the Johnny Gossamer book, “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again” in her lap.

2 – Willow (1988)marmartigan-2

Here’s pretty much his only fantasy movie, but it’s a great one. He plays a swordsman Madmartigan, a rogue and a really fun character. He had a real fun time working on this film with George Lucas, Ron Howard and Warwick Davis and met his future wife Joanne Whalley on. His comedy really came into play again on this one, and it’s documented that a lot of his dialogue is improvised. willow-poster

1 – Tombstone (1993)tombstone-val-kilmer-kurt-russell

This movie flat out rocks with a great cast of Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Booth, Charlton Heston, Michael Biehn, Jason Priestley, Dana Delaney, Billy Bob Thornton, Thomas Haden Church and Stephen Lang. Kilmer would go on to say, “I liked being Doc Holliday. It’s fun to be insightful and aristocratic, to stand up for your friend and make sacrifices for him. It was fun to be arrogant like he was and have the goods to back it up. He was a very noble character. Although, let’s not forget, he did kill a lot of people.” Val Kilmer has also been quoted as saying that screenwriter Kevin Jarre insisted the actors wear real wool costumes, in accordance with the time period. In the Birdcage Theater scene, Val Kilmer says, a thermometer was placed on the set, and it read 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Kilmer suggested jokingly that this was the reason Doc Holliday killed so many people: “It’s just, like, he wore wool in the summer, in the Arizona territory, and that made him mad.”

Val Kilmer practiced for a long time on his quick-draw speed, and gave his character a Southern Aristocrat accent. The expression “I’m your huckleberry” spoken by Doc means “I’m the perfect man for the job.” It could indeed be a reference to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, then known as the sidekick of Tom Sawyer before Huck got his own book. The phrase also refers, rather ominously, to the pallbearers who carry a coffin or casket to the actual grave site & specifically the one elected to sit, completely sober, in case the grave bell rings. So saying, “I’m your huckleberry ” could also be a threat like “I’ll put you in your grave.” It’s interesting to me that this would be attributed to Mark Twain as later on Twain would be an inspiration to Kilmer and he would go on to write and star in 2 plays about the writer, and star as Twain himself.

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.