Wednesday, March 15, 2017

VISITING PARIS WITH INSPECTOR CHAN: Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) and City in Darkness (1939)

"Many strange crimes committed in the sewers of Paris."

Paris, the city of light, is the scene of dark crimes which require that master of deduction, Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department. Earl Derr Biggers' creation is an international sensation after his dramatic solving of the Stable Murder Case (Charlie Chan in London, 1934) and his arrival in Paris does not go unnoticed by the criminal element he has been sent to unmask.

A warning to get out of Paris.
Warner Oland

Inspector Chan was not the only one becoming an international sensation. Since 1931s Charlie Chan Carries On, Warner Oland had been playing Charlie Chan and this was his sixth outing as the great detective. His popularity among film fans increased with each outing until he was known and revered the world over.

Together again - for the first time.
Keye Luke, Warner Oland

Charlie's confederate in the search for a gang of bond counterfeiters, a beautiful Apache dancer named Nardi played by Dorothy Appleby, is murdered before revealing the results of her undercover work. The nefarious gang can try to cover their tracks, but Chan is on the case. Actually, two Chans are on the case as this is the film that introduced the world to number one son Lee as played by Keye Luke. What a brilliant idea and what marvelous casting for the series!

Convivial company for a night on the town.
Mary Brian, Warner Oland, Thomas Beck
Ruth Peterson, Erik Rhodes

Charlie's entry into the world of finance is arranged through an old friend's son played by Thomas Beck (Charlie Chan in Egypt, Charlie Chan at the Race Track, Charlie Chan at the Opera). The young man's fiance is played by pretty Mary Brian, whose career went from playing Wendy in 1922s Peter Pan to TV mom in the 1950s to Corliss Archer. The daughter of a bank owner, this character will get mixed up in the murder of a bank executive. A playboy friend of the couple played by Erik Rhodes is an obnoxious drunk with a talent for sketching. Surely we couldn't suspect him of any wrongdoing.

Detectives do dinner.
Warner Oland, Minor Watson

"Optimist only sees donut. Pessimist sees hole."

Charlie's old friend Inspector Renard played by Minor Watson is willing to listen to any input Chan may have on the current investigations, but he is a skeptical sort. A policeman in a strange city may need others to open closed doors. Is Charlie being as good a friend as he can be when he withholds information?

Charlie Chan in Paris is based on a story by Philip MacDonald, the British novelist whose screenplays include The Body Snatcher (Hugo winner), The Lost Patrol, Rebecca, Bride of Frankenstein, Sahara, The Princess Comes Across and 23 Paces to Baker Street. He also wrote the earlier Charlie Chan in London which launched the character into his international phase.

You go where the clues take you.
Thomas Beck, Warner Oland

This was one of the Chan that films that were "lost" for many years with a print discovered in the 1970s. There is a story we may never know about the making of this movie as Hamilton MacFadden, who directed The Black Camel, Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (the last two also lost) began directing with cinematographer Daniel B. Clark (The Black Camel, Charlie Chan in Egypt, the Circus, the Olympics, Monte Carlo). The pair was replaced after only one week's shooting. The movie was completed by Lewis Seiler (The Winning Team, Guadalcanal Diary) and cinematographer Ernest Palmer, Oscar winner for Blood and Sand, in their only contribution to the series.

Charlie Chan in Paris has a fine, just-intricate-enough plot and delicious atmosphere in the dark streets and noirish nightclubs. Plausible red herrings abound in a cast of sterling character actors including Henry Kolker, Murray Kinnell, John Miljan, and (yes, that's him!) John Qualen.

NOTE: Gino Corrado as a waiter.

"A wise man once said, "Beware of spider who invites fly into parlour".

Twentieth Century Fox was not ready to lose the profitable Chan series when Warner Oland passed away in 1937. Sidney Toler, at age 65, stepped into the shoes previously filled by the popular Oland. Certainly an unenviable task, but one the veteran actor handled successfully. The Toler films brought Chan into the next decade with poise and a sense of modernity that was just enough to reboot the series in a way to please old fans and gain new ones.

Created in the 1920s by Earl Derr Biggers and fostered on-screen during the 1930s, the first great film Chan was an old school gentleman who, for the most part, dealt with crimes and criminals in the manner of the Golden Age of detective fiction as created by Christie, Sayers and the like. The real-life friendship between Oland and screen son Keye Luke added a gentle warmth to their scenes within the films.

Comrades from the Great War.
Sidney Toler and C. Henry Gordon lead the group.

Chan moved into the 1940s as a spry and more overtly sarcastic character; a professional who would brook no nonsense. Keye Luke was unwilling to continue in the series with another actor so talented Victor Sen Yung was cast as number 2 son, Jimmy Chan. Here too was a more modern second-generation youngster with Sen Yung giving his all in comic support.

City in Darkness was Toler's fourth release as Chan. The first, Charlie Chan in Honolulu introduced the character on his home turf and about to become a grandfather. The second took him to the mainland in Charlie Chan in Reno in a terrific movie that could easily be paired with The Women for a great movie night. Next up is one of the greatest of Chan features, Charlie Chan on Treasure Island. In our film, Toler's Chan makes his first foray to the continent to reunite with friends from WWI and watch as the world again spins toward disaster. Germany is itching for a fight and Paris is preparing with gas masks and blackouts.

Aha! Marcel sees it all.
Harold Huber

Sen Yung is not in this film as Jimmy. The timeline suggests he may have been busy giving his outstanding performance in William Wyler's The Letter. Comic support is herein provided by Harold Huber as Marcel Spivak, a police trainee eager to please. Huber literally throws himself into the unaccustomed comic relief duties as a character that comes off like Inspector Clouseau's grandfather.

Our hero is in trouble.
Leo G. Carroll, Sidney Toler, Lon Chaney Jr.

Charlie is inadvertently involved in the murder case which, it will be discovered, is connected to spies and illegal munitions. A new type of criminal has crossed the border. There are passport counterfeiters, blackmailers, housebreakers, and profiteers. How does it all fit together?

A couple caught in a web of lies.
Lynn Bari, Richard Clarke

"Truth is only path out of tangled web."

Our good inspector is also in mortal danger from the likes of Leo G. Carroll and Lon Chaney Jr.  The elegant Pedro de Cordoba is a proud veteran of the Great War. Douglass Dumbrille a wealthy ladies man. C. Henry Gordon a harried police official. Lynn Bari is a desperate woman, Dorothy Tree a spy and Noel Madison a shady operative.

A man of many explanations.
Pedro de Cordoba

This entry was directed by Herbert I. Leed, a studio editor turned director who had a nice hand with keeping the pace up and the characters interesting in B movies. Check out his Michael Shayne pictures Blue, White and PerfectThe Man Who Wouldn't Die, and Just Off Broadway. You'll wonder why he wasn't given another Chan assignment. The screenplay by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan was the eighth of nine Chan scripts from the then married pair starting with Charlie Chan in Egypt through to Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise.

War was coming. The world knew it and the movies knew it. Like Sherlock Holmes over at Universal, Charlie Chan would find spies and war profiteers in his sphere more often as the series and its popularity continued.

NOTE: Gino Corrado as a tavern keeper.


  1. PARIS was the CC movie I wrote about! I won't go into what I said about it again, but I will say I also liked Keye Luke and he did seem to be simpatico with Oland.

    1. As I recall that was your first experience of the Dance Apache. Those wacky Parisians! One man's art is another man's head-scratcher.

      Chan traveled the globe without leaving 20th Century Fox. Oland traveled the globe and never returned.

  2. I love your Charlie Chan reviews and, as you know, Warner Oland is my favorite CC (though I like Toler, too). I didn't know that CHARLIE CHAN IN PARIS was lost for several years! I agree that it's a fun outing and Key Luke was a great addition to the series. In hindsight, Toler continuing as CC was one of the smoothest lead actor transitions ever!

    1. Oland owns my heart, but I have grown to genuinely appreciate what Toler brought to the role. Also, Sen Yung gave 100% to his comic support and deserves all our applause.

      Glad you enjoy my look at the Chan features. I like to think I'm only mildly obsessive.

  3. I have not seen City in Darkness. In truth, I am not even familiar with the title. Going to have to go on the hunt for it. Charlie in Paris is a good one. I agree how the inclusion of Chan's sons adding a nice sense of warmth as well as humor.

    1. Charlie didn't pull any punches in City in Darkness about the danger approaching Europe. It seemed to be a big deal when an A picture went that route, but the B unit could slip it under the radar, so to speak.

  4. Nice to know Charlie Chan was in Paris too, a city I have often visited (though later). The movie ssounds intriguing, and with Erik Rhodes! He no doubt lost his Italian accent from the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, which I always found entertaining. Thanks for the review of these two Charlie Chan movies.

    1. Rhodes tries to pull a faux Chinese accent on our great detective and gets oh-so-nicely slapped down.

      Rhodes character displays a talent for sketching and I can't help but wonder if they used Keye Luke's work for those scenes. A mystery.



Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...