I have had feedback from readers. Charlie Chan movies are not Bad Movie of the Week. I admit I was a great fan of Charlie Chan movies, although I never saw one on the big screen. They came and went before my time. Today I am a pretend movie critic, so I have to judge these on their technical and artistic merits. Hence, this week’s Bad Movie of the Week.
It’s Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, starring Sidney Toler in the title role, as most often. Toler, a boy from Missouri, played the Chinese detective from the death of Warner Oland in 1938 through the remaining 11 releases. My guess is there was a scarcity of Chinese in California, forcing studios to dip into the pool of European stock. This production does feature two actors of Chinese ancestry: Marianne Quon as Iris Chan and Benson Fong as Tommy Chan, two of Detective Chan’s grown children. By the time this was made Twentieth Century Fox had dropped this and other low-budget work, due partly to a paucity of available talent during the war years. Toler picked up the rights and continued the series with Monogram Pictures, culminating in 1944. He died in 1947. Readers of these reviews will recognize Monogram as the king of low-budget films during the time.
Police Detective Chan was typically with a metropolitan police force, but for the war effort he now joins the Secret Service. Opening scenes show two Secret Service agents, Inspector Jones (Arthur Loft) and Inspector Lewis (Eddy Chandler), doing personal security for George Melton (John Elliott), inventor of an advanced torpedo. Does anybody beside me notice two grown men wearing hats inside a building?
Melton excuses himself and tells the Secret Service to mind their own business while he attends a gala for some acquaintances downstairs. Within seconds Melton is dead. The Secret Service arrives, stunned, as the guests look on.
Charlie Chan is called in. He must take over the case.
Shortly, a copy of the secret plans for the torpedo are discovered. Melton had the only copy in his pocket when he left to greet his guests. Now detectives have found it stuck inside a book on a shelf in the room where Melton died. It’s an obvious hoax. Even movie goers in 1944 would realize you cannot represent a serious torpedo design in such a lame fashion.
Chan’s two children show up, uninvited. They want to help with the investigation. Already present is a character named Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland). Brown is a recurring presence in Charlie Chan movies, previously in the role as an employee of Chan’s. Here he is a limo driver who happened to be present and got caught in the crime scene clamp down. He and the two Chan children are injected into the plot for comic relief.
After that it’s an Agatha Christie plot. One more person gets killed, it’s one of the spies. What remains is for Chan to gather all suspects (all the guests) into one room and play out a charade before revealing the remaining culprit, also the one who killed the other spy.
Not a lot of dramatic staging was wasted on this production. Charlie Chan leaves the Secret Service office in Washington D.C., gets in the cab, goes to the Melton mansion, gets out of the cab, and walks inside. The movie shows him walking out of the office, getting into the cab, getting out of the cab, and walking up to the front door of the Melton mansion. I could have done that.
There’s an outside shot of the Secret Service offices. In front flies the California state flag. Little effort was wasted on continuity, either.
Chan’s two children are his number three son and his number two daughter. My knowledge of Chinese culture is hazy, but I recall that the sons of your wife are your number one sons. Your number two sons are your nephews. Similarly with daughters.
This print is in excellent shape. See it if you can. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video, but you can also catch it free on YouTube: