Maedez of Font and Frock and Ruth of Silver Screenings are once again hosting the popular Reel Infatuation Blogathon on June 8th - 10th. Those fictional crushes can be so real! Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
My tween years were devoted to sneaking up late at night and watching whatever old movie I could find. One momentous night I was introduced to Inspector Charlie Chan, 60 summers young and 60 winters old, and his number one son, Lee in Charlie Chan in Shanghai. Warner Oland played the internationally known crimefighter and Keye Luke his assistant.
Here's Lee's entrance joining his Pop at the dock in Shanghai. The first scene in the movie had introduced me to Inspector Chan who seemed a movie detective worth following. Lee immediately impressed me with his good looks and enthusiasm. It's even more fun to solve a fictional crime if you have a crush on one of the detectives!
Lee, looking spiffy in his pajamas and robe, always has a theory or two to help his Pop wrap up his current case. It seemed to me Pop was too quick to dismiss some of these theories.
A Scotland Yard compatriot of Inspector Chan's has been murdered. A fiendish dope ring is behind the business and they want to get rid of Chan. Lee realizes his Pop has been kidnapped and is hot on the trail of the crooks. He'll do anything, face any danger to save his Pop.
The Chans find themselves in a very risky situation, but fans need never fear. Together they are more than equal to any enemy.
The element of surprise!
Quick reflexes and a quick escape.
Check it out! That clever and good looking Lee Chan is also a master of disguise.
The Chans are happy with the conclusion of the case. I was happy watching this movie for the first time and looked forward to seeing more of Lee Chan ... and, his father the venerable Inspector.
Charlie Chan in Shanghai was the second Chan movie to feature Keye Luke as Lee. The first, also released in 1935, was Charlie Chan in Paris.
The earlier 1935 feature, Charlie Chan in Egypt hinted at Stepin Fetchit possibly joining the series as Chan's assistant. However, someone had the bright idea to find a sidekick in Chan's legendary large family. Lee made his first appearance with his head in a towel as the Inspector hears an intruder in his Paris hotel room.
Ta-da! Here you go, girls. Um, I mean, here you go, general audience. A new, fresh, young character for you to enjoy. The popularity of this actor and this character helped sustain the Charlie Chan series.
Immediately, we can sense the bond of affection between Charlie and his firstborn. Warner Oland and Keye Luke became close, with Oland a mentor to the young man, and Luke a fond protector to his often troubled older friend.
Charlie Chan at the Circus in 1936 has Lee going incognito as a child's nurse to tail a suspect. He's teamed up with little person entertainer George Brasno to solve the murder and save the circus. Lee's costume does not impress a pretty contortionist played by Shia Jung. Lee's romances often conflict with his detecting.
Here's another disguise as Lee drives a laundry truck and sets off a distraction of fireworks in Charlie Chan at the Race Track in 1936.
Charlie Chan at the Opera is a favourite of mine featuring Boris Karloff as a mad baritone. Lee goes undercover in the ensemble of an Opera Company plagued by threats, secrets and murder.
In 1937s Charlie Chan at the Olympics, Lee Chan is on America's team going to Berlin. Here on shipboard, the athletes observe the Hindenberg Zeppelin unaware that Inspector Chan is flying above them on the way to Berlin as well. The Inspector is not after medals, but spies.
Actual footage of the Berlin Olympics is incorporated into the movie, and in our fantasy portion, Lee Chan is a medal winner. Only after his kidnapping by spies and a most harrowing time for Pop.
Another 1937 release, Charlie Chan on Broadway has Chan and Son dealing with the newshounds and big shots who populate The Big Apple. Here Lee startles and then charms (naturally) a pretty girl played by Toshia Mori, who works at a nightclub.
Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo is the last feature we have starring Warner Oland with Keye Luke. Here the helpful Lee used his supposed proficiency at French, and managed to get them thrown in the clink!
Charlie Chan at Ringside was in production in 1938 when Warner Oland, experiencing physical and mental problems, walked out of the production. A few months later he would pass away in his native Sweden of bronchial pneumonia.
Keye Luke, Harold Huber, Peter Lorre
Charlie Chan at Ringside found a home with another Fox series and became Mr. Moto's Gamble starring Peter Lorre. The connection to the Chan series is kept alive by Keye Luke as Lee taking a criminology course being taught by Mr. Moto. Moto, Lee, and a pickpocket classmate played by Maxie Rosenbloom help Lt. Riggs played by Harold Huber with a case involving big-time gamblers and the murder of a boxer.
Maxie Rosenbloom, Keye Luke
At one point Mr. Moto lets a rural sheriff lock the overly helpful Lee and Maxie up. When Maxie wonder why, Lee tells him that Pop used to do that to him all the time. It's a cute line, and Lee looks swell in that fedora, don't you think?
Twentieth Century Fox was continuing the successful Chan series and, of course, popular Keye Luke was asked to stay on as Lee Chan. Keye Luke, however, could not see himself in the series without Warner Oland.
Sen Yung, Sidney Toler
Jimmy: "Say Pop, I've been thinking ... I wish you'd let me be a detective. Now that brother Lee is in the New York Art School I can take his place."
Charlie Chan in Honolulu in 1938 featured the changing of the guard. Sidney Toler, at 64, took over the role of Inspector Chan and 23-year-old Sen Yung played Number 2 son, Jimmy.
Keye Luke was a trained professional artist whose work was sometimes mentioned or used in his films. In Charlie Chan in Shanghai Lee used his talent to woo the pretty object of a shipboard romance. Here is an excellent article on Keye Luke's career as an artist from Silver Scenes.
Victor Sen Yung, Carol Forman, Keye Luke
Ten years later, Keye Luke returned to the role of Lee Chan at Monogram Studios where Roland Winters was playing the Inspector. The Feathered Serpent also features Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy. Sky Dragon was Keye Luke's last go around as #1 son. Trivia buffs like to point out that Winters and Luke playing father and son were both born in 1904.
Van Johnson, Keye Luke, Lionel Barrymore
Keye Luke played other continuing roles in the movies. He played Dr. Lee Wong How in the Dr. Gillespie series for MGM. Dr. How even makes an appearance in Andy Hardy's Double Trouble. He played detective James Wong in The Phantom of Chinatown, as the younger version of the character played by Boris Karloff in a series. Unfortunately, "Phantom" did not become a series for Keye Luke. He was also Kato in the 1940 serial The Green Hornet Strikes Again!.
Keye Luke's movie credits total the nice round number of 99 with his final role in 1990s Alice. His television work lists 119 titles on the IMDb beginning with 1950s Mysteries in Chinatown and including Star Trek, Gunsmoke, General Hospital, Night Court, Adam-12, Kung Fu as Master Po, and the voice of Charlie Chan in the Saturday morning cartoon show The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. He also starred on Broadway and on the road in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song.
Keye Luke played many roles and played them well. It makes me happy every time I see him in a movie or on a classic television program. My admiration and affection for the actor runs deep, but my crush, the crush of that tween girl up late when she was supposed to be sleeping on a school night, is only for Lee Chan, #1 son.
Please have a look at KEYE LUKE on Vimeo, a short film from 2012 directed by Timothy Tau. It is a charming and thoughtful piece of work.