It’s refreshing to be able to obtain a clean print of an old movie. I watched this on Amazon Prime Video. For some reason the film was retitled Meeting at Midnight for television. This according to Wikipedia. This is Black Magic, which came out in 1944, featuring famous crime detective Charlie Chan. Chan is played here, as in many of the series, by Sidney Toler, who, despite being given the task of impersonating a Chinese, seems to have had no Chines ancestry whatsoever. In fact, he was Scottish more than anything else.
Anyhow, the opening scene is at the home of W. Bonner, who is conducting a seance in a darkened room. Get a good look at him, because it’s the last time you’re going to see him. After contact is made with the spirit world, somebody asks a question about what happened in London on October 5, 1935. The lights go out, and when they come back on Mr. Bonner is found to have been shot dead.
In the meantime, there is a change in the Bonner household. One Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland) arrives to take over the position of the exiting butler, who has decided he can no longer put up with the spooky goings on. Brown is later revealed to be Charlie Chan’s chauffeur, stepping in to investigate the seance business.
Also present, as one of those participating in the seance, is Frances Chan, oldest daughter of Charlie Chan and also an aspiring detective. She is played by Frances Chan of all people. The police arrive, and Frances recommends they contact her father.
Charlie Chan, on vacation, is persuaded to help with the investigation. Speaking of miracles, Frances has magically changed her dress between scenes.
Frances teams with Birmingham to investigate the case.
The plot thickens. The widow Bonner goes into a trance and steps off the roof of a tall building.
Charlie Chan suspects a chemical agent has been employed, and this is confirmed by the police crime lab. There is an antidote. Charlie Chan pockets a sample of the antidote and allows himself to be given the drug by the suspected murderer. The antidote kicks in just as Charlie is about to follow in Widow Bonner’s footsteps.
And the mystery is solved. It’s nothing more than a revenge killing. There was some marital infidelity leading to an automobile accident in London, and a person died. Another person recovered from his injuries, had re-constructive surgery, assumed a disguise, penetrated the seance group, and committed the murder using a gun that fired bullets made of frozen human blood. Simple.
That alone should attest to this as a bad movie. Frances Chan appears to be the only Chinese in the movie, and she appears to have just stepped off the street to speak her lines and to look attractive. Moreland exhibits talent, playing the stereotype black footman, typical for the motion picture industry 70 years ago. We were holding our collective breath waiting for somebody like Sidney Poitier to come along. That had to wait another 11 years for Blackboard Jungle. I have a copy and will someday do a review.
Toler died three years after this movie came out. No Chinese ever played the part of Charlie Chan in these movies.