Continuing with the 1940s movie series featuring master detective Charlie Chan, here is one produced after the time lead actor Sidney Toler acquired the theme from Twentieth Century Fox. Opening credits list United Artists, but that’s just the video, which I’m watching on Amazon Prime Video. Once the film credits start rolling we see “Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors (Ltd).” I’m getting details from Wikipedia, which lists the production company as Monogram Pictures. Monogram was famous at the time (1945) for low-budget entertainment. Toler was the second actor having no Chinese ancestry to play the detective. Since the original was released without a copyright notice, it has fallen into the public domain and can be viewed for free on YouTube. The MGM Lion appears first, followed by the United Artists logo.
This production is characteristic of movies produced during World War Two. Viewers will find it loaded with patriotic references. The theme is wartime, and it involves a spy ring attempting to steal radar secrets being developed at a laboratory located in the same building with a radio/television studio.
Opening scenes show police following a suspect. He stalks a fog-bound waterfront street, doubling back, hiding momentarily inside a parked car, then taking refuge aboard a docked boat. Charlie Chan appears and meets Captain Flynn (Robert Homans). Chan has instructed Flynn and his men to keep an eye on the culprit, and he is dismayed to see they are about to apprehend him. Chan only wanted to follow the person, hoping he would lead to bigger fish.
Too late on multiple levels. The suspect is found to have been eliminated by a person unknown. Meanwhile, the killer has escaped in the car previously mentioned. But Chan has noted the plate number, and it tracks to a radio actor. They will turn their investigation toward the radio/television studio.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Chan’s son, Tommy Chan (Benson Fong), and recurring character Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland). They are at the police station, poring over mug shots, where Brown’s photo shows up unexpectedly.
Arriving at the radio studio, Chan meets the cast of characters:
- Virginia Brissac as Mrs. Marsh
- Jack Norton as Willie Rand
- Janet Shaw as Gloria Bayne
- Helen Deverell as Diane Hall
- Leonard Mudie as Horace Karlos
It was Diane Hall’s car that was mysteriously borrowed to commit the killing.
Mrs. Marsh is indignant at the interruption and stalks off.
Levity is introduced when Birmingham meets up with Ben Carter, playing himself.
Carter appeared in Gone With the Wind (1939) as well as casting all the other African American actors and actresses in it, Maryland (1940) and Tin Pan Alley (1940). Carter often performed in comic roles and in scenes which allowed him to display his singing ability such as in The Harvey Girls (1946) and A Day at the Races (1937). Among his most prominent roles were in the Charlie Chan movies The Scarlet Clue (1945) and Dark Alibi (1946).
The two play a comedy skit that involves each finishing the other’s line of thinking. This is one of those funny movies where lots of people die.
The Hamilton Laboratory, where secret radar technology is being developed.
At this point Gloria drops in to pay a visit on Ralph Brett (I. Stanford Jolley), her boss and also the killer. She announces she knows Brett is the one who “borrowed” Diane’s car for the previous night. She wants more significant roles in the radio show and more money. She is signing her own death warrant.
Brett makes the mysterious phone call and receives a teletype response to not worry about Gloria.
And that’s the end of Gloria. She sniffs something suspicious during a radio performance, asks for a cigarette, collapses and dies. Very strange.
Brett eventually outlives his usefulness. He receives a teletype to take the elevator, check for anything at the seventh floor, then proceed to the tenth floor. A mysterious hand throws a switch, and the elevator floor swings open, dropping the unfortunate Mr. Brett down the shaft. The only dramatic special effect in the movie.
A laboratory connects the mysterious odor and cigarette smoke with a deadly poison thus generated, which killed Gloria and subsequently another member of the radio cast. This before the unfortunate is able to tell Charlie Chan critical information about the case.
In the end the spy mastermind is undone by the trick elevator. It’s a playback from a Sherlock Holmes movie that has Holmes’ nemesis falling for his own dead fall trap.
In this case, the kingpin turns out to be the disagreeable Mrs. Marsh, and the cleaning woman, Hulda Swenson, turns out to be Janet Carter (Victoria Faust), a counter-espionage agent working with Chan. They examine the remains of the unfortunate Mrs. Marsh.
And that’s the end of the movie.
You saw they only real drama with the trick elevator. All the rest is fairly routine movie whodunit routine. Which gets this the Bad Movie of the Week award. Watch it for free. Slightly over an hour run time. A one-bagger.