Disc 1: Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum Disc 2: Murder Over New York Disc 3: Dead Men Tell Disc 4: Charlie Chan in Rio Disc 5: Charlie Chan in Panama Disc 6: Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise Disc 7: Castle in the Desert Disc 8:... more » Charlie Chan: The Fox Years« less
Robert M. Fells | Centreville, VA USA | 07/01/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Sidney Toler's Chan was nothing like Warner Oland's characterization. But if the truth be told, it's Toler who comes through in the pages of Earl Derr Biggers novels, not Oland. I know because as an inveterate Oland fan, I tried very hard to see my hero in the six Chan novels but, alas, it was Toler who showed up in my mind's eyes and ears. As for the Toler films, it took Fox awhile to reposition the series to capture Toler's strengths. If Oland's Chan was like a stately mandarin, Toler's was more of a gritty, Sam Spade-like characterization.
By late 1940, Fox had tailored the scripts to suit Toler's personality and replaced the globe-trotting Oland formula ("At the Race Track," "At the Olympics," "On Broadway") with a compact film noir-like mystery format that was closer stylistically to "The Maltese Falcon" than to "Sherlock Holmes." And it worked too. "Wax Museum" and "Dead Men Tell" are especially adroit little films that benefit from the Fox studio's top technicians, set and costume designers, and superb supporting cast of contract players. Even a pre-Superman George Reeves shows up in "Dead Men Tell." The last of the Fox Chans, "Castle in the Desert" ended the series on a high level of quality. Presumably, the coming of World War II cut off the overseas markets and cut deeply into the potential revenues of these films, thus ending the series.
My favorite Toler is included in the set, CHARLIE CHAN IN PANAMA. The story is surprisingly timely with spies (today we call them terrorists) plotting to blow up the Panama Canal as the U.S. Naval Fleet is going through it. Charlie is working undercover in this one as a shopkeeper but considering how well known he was supposed to be, wouldn't he stand out like a sore thumb? (Maybe the bad guys are still looking for Warner Oland) The plot takes its time to get going but the climax is as suspenseful as any of the higher-rated Chans. The killer is exceptionally well hidden and the writers exploit our subconscious biases so we keep the individual off our suspect list without even realizing it.
While the earlier Tolers of 1939 only served to emphasize that the "real" Charlie Chan was gone, these last entries show a successful evolution in format and are quite enjoyable if you can just let Toler be Toler, forget (albeit momentarily) about Oland, and ironically see the Chan that Earl Derr Biggers probably had in mind when he wrote his stories. I am sure (this is a pre-release review)that the print quality of these films is excellent if the short-lived Fox Movie Channel airings of a few years back were any indication - they offer stunning b/w photography when the studio system was at its peak."
The Great Charlie Chan Collection Continues
Hal Owen | Burbank, California USA | 07/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"With the release of Volume Five, the great Charlie Chan series from 20th Century Fox is at last complete. For those interested in watching these classic Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan films in their original order of release, "Charlie Chan In Panama" (1940) is a well crafted , tightly scripted visit to the world famous Panama Canal directed by series veteran Norman Foster. Much of the credit for keeping the suspense high in this cautionary tale regarding the welfare of our fleet goes to the superb supporting cast to include the lovely Jean Rogers along with the very reliable Lionel Atwill and Mary Nash. Another all star supporting cast highlights "Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise" (1940) featuring the great character actor Charles Middleton along with Chan series regulars Robert Lowery and Lionel Atwill with Cora Witherspoon and Leo G. Carroll. Considered something of a rewrite of creator Earl Derr Biggers orginal story,"Charlie Chan Carries On," Murder Cruise manages a few surprises of its own all within the confines of a not so luxurious liner. "Charlie Chan At The Wax Museum" is the third release for year (1940) with no sign of routine obvious - a tribute in part to the organized creativity of the studio system of film production. Here credit for the shooting style of longer takes goes to one time Chan film director Lynn Shores who's theatrical approach to story telling works very well as Wax Museum is essentially a story confined to a single locale. Starting with volume four's "City in Darkness", the Chan series uses as a continuing underlining theme, the growing danger of a world at war. With the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor about one year away, "Murder Over New York" (1940) uses as a central theme the reality of sabotage happening even in the isolationist and still neutral confines of "The Big Apple." Chan regulars Marjorie Weaver and Robert Lowery are joined by Ricardo Cortez, the great Clarence Muse, (still playing memorable roles as late as 1979's classic film, "The Black Stallion") and Shemp Howard of The Three Stooges fame working as a one man scam artist all help keep "Murder Over New York" both interesting and amusing. In "Dead Men Tell" (1941), director Harry Lachman returns to the series with newcomers Truman Bradley, Ethel Griffes and post "Gone With The Wind" Tarleton Twin pre Superman, George Reeves among others. Again the theme of dangerous waters in Dead Men only served to underscore the true dangers of crossing the U-Boat infested Atlantic Ocean. "Charlie Chan in Rio" (1941), the last production from 20th Century Fox to feature the Chan name in the film title, is a remake of "The Black Camel" but as some ten years has elapsed, the freshened up story is, (IMO,) most enjoyable. Featuring another alumnus from "Gone With The Wind" Victor Jory as Alfredo Marana, "Charlie Chan in Rio" conjures up all sorts of mind expanding experiences to help or hinder series veteran Harold Huber and Truman Bradley in a clever tale designed in part to suggest one more carnival before World War draws the country into its abyss as evidenced by Number Two Son Jimmy receiving his draft notice in the film's closing scene. The concluding Charlie Chan movie in this series from 20th Century Fox is the mysterious "Castle In The Desert." (1942) With Number Two Son Jimmy Chan on leave from the Army, Manderley Castle beckons the Chans to the remote reaches of California's Mojave Desert as someone is trying to incriminate a member of the famous Borgia family or worse. "The poisoner?" Jimmy asks. "She's dead." To which Charlie Chan answers completely dead pan, "This lady uses a typewriter." And she isn't the only quirky character what with Paul Manderley, (nicely played by Douglass Dumbrille,) conducting his historical research wearing a mask to hide scars from an earlier accident or as the Mojave Wells hotel owner says he "goes around with only half a face." Soon we have Ethel Griffes, described as "stargazer" Madame Saturnia and Henry Daniell as Watson King motoring to the isolated castle with no telephone and ..... well you get the set up. After the release of "Castle In The Desert", for reasons known only to company executives, 20th Century Fox decided to give the Charlie Chan series an unlimited vacation. By this time, Sidney Toler had secured the film rights to the character Charlie Chan and was busy shopping ideas for a new series all over Hollywood. Two years would pass before Charlie Chan returned to the big screen - this time from Monogram Studios but that's another story for another time. I hope you enjoy these Charlie Chan films and supplementary material as much as I do. Many thanks to 20th Century Fox for sharing them with us again. Best regards, Hal Owen."
Bobby Underwood | Manly NSW, Australia | 07/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You could almost feel the gentle trade winds of Hawaii during the 1920's in the first Charlie Chan novel by Earl Derr Biggers. Romantic and full of atmosphere, Biggers was always a great romance writer who simply incorporated mystery into his books to propel the story forward. His detective was wise and humorous, his take on American life sometimes a riot. Nothing got by Chan, however, and it was his intelligence which always brought justice in the end.
The adaptations to film lost some of the more romantic aspects of the early Chan novels, centering more on Chan as a detective, as to be expected. Enough humor and atmosphere remained, however, to propel Chan into the top tier of film detectives. Warner Oland's Chan was more refined and subtle, Sidney Toler's more outgoing and amused. Both were excellent. This set features Toler in the final "A" Charlie Chan mysteries before it became a "B" series which, while enjoyable at times, did not have the production values or stories to live up to previous pictures.
Fox liked to put Chan in exotic locations and settings. Charlie was in Panama, or on a cruise, or in Rio, one of his many offspring always in tow trying to play detective and generally getting in the way. By the time Castle in the Desert was filmed, it almost felt like a high end "B" rather than the classy mystery series it had been. All are great fun, however, some not having been available in studio approved fashion before. Three in particular from this set stand out.
Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum is a terrific entry and one of the most atmospheric of the original series. This one is centered around a live radio broadcast from the Museum of Crime, where notorious criminals have been immortalized in wax. Chan's second son, Jimmy (Sen Yung), is on hand to help pop solve an old crime and avoid becoming a victim himself. Jimmy accepts the challenge for his pop to appear on the Crime League's weekly broadcast to clear the name of Joe Rocke, a man Chan has long believed was unfairly executed for a crime he did not commit.
But it is Chan's suspicion that the wax museum and his invitation are tied to the recent escape of a man he helped convict of murder, prompting him to accept, arriving on a rainy night when the creepy fun begins. A botched attempt to electrocute Charlie, and the murder of his scientific rival by poison blow dart, not to mention a wax Charlie Chan, all add up to mystery fun for Charlie Chan fans. Marguerite Chapman as the young radio reporter hoping this night will be a great story and Joan Valerie as the pretty but slightly shady assistant, Lily, stand out from the rest in John Larkin's screenplay. This one's a real kick in the pants!
Charlie Chan in Rio is actually a fun and colorful remake of the very early Chan entry, The Black Camel. We get a big dose of Brazil right from the start with shots of Rio's sunny beaches and the posh nightclub where Lola Dean (Jacqueline Dalya) sings the exotic, "They Met in Rio," written by Mark Gordon and Harry Warren. Chan and his enthusiastic second son, Jimmy (Sen Yung), are there to arrest Lola for a murder which took place on Charlie's turf in Honolulu. But before Lola can slip away to marry Clark Reynolds, she is murdered, leaving Charlie and son Jimmy with a new crime to solve.
Marybeth Huges is the beautiful Joan Reynolds, who did not like Lola in the least. She had much company, however, including Grace Ellis (Cobina Wright Jr.) and an Indian mystic who may have discovered Lola's secret past. Young Jimmy, always ready to jump to the wrong conclusion, is a hoot. There is a very funny scene where Charlie discovers the real reason Jimmy has been missing math classes back home while he is under a spell. Jimmy's affections for Lola's pretty Chinese maid, Lili (Iris Wong), keeps the atmosphere light as Charlie plays a long shot in order to catch a killer.
The mystery is both fun to solve and watch. His interactions with young son Jimmy are priceless, as is his cool demeanor under pressure. Kay Linaker, Victor Jory, and Ted North round out the cast for one of the most entertaining Charlie Chan films.
Murder Over New York finds Charlie Chan knee deep in sabotage and murder at a convention for detectives. Chan's enthusiastic offspring, Jimmy (Sen Yung), arrives in New York just in time to help pop. Chan's bemusement at Jimmy is quite evident in his comment to a fellow detective regarding his involvement in previous cases. A good screenplay from Lester Ziffren and some good pacing from director Harry Lachman makes the mystery as much fun as the look on Chan's face when Jimmy solves the case every five seconds!
Flying to an annual convention of police detectives in New York, Chan meets his old friend Drake from Scotland Yard aboard the plane. Drake is now working for the military, trying to stem a rash of sabotage. Once on land, he turns up dead, the briefcase containing evidence that will help expose the man named Narvo behind it all, missing. Jimmy's nose for chemistry helps uncover a new gas called tetrogene as the method for the murder and Chan goes to work to uncover the killer of an old pal.
Donald MacBride is the New York detective, Inspector Vance, who lets Charlie guide the investigation. A pretty actress named June Preston (Joan Valerie) is missing a pearl from her necklace which turns up at the murder scene. A chemist named David Elliot (Robert Lowery) and a lovely girl named Patricia (Marjorie Weaver) trying to prove his innocence also figure into the mystery as Chan sifts through the clues. Stooge Shemp Howard has a funny bit as a fake Hindu along the way.
Charlie Chan was bright and funny, and audiences loved him. If anything, his character helped elevate and give distinction to the perspective at the time of Chan's race in general. These were fun mysteries with great appeal, so much so, that we are still watching and talking about them today. Sidney Toler happens to be my personal favorite to have portrayed the sleuth, though he was not Chinese. These films are a fabulous time at the movies for detective and mystery fans."
The final entry in the Fox series of Chan films on DVD
calvinnme | 06/29/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Starring Sidney Toler, Volume 5 includes the final seven Charlie Chan films from 20th Century Fox. They are: Charlie Chan At The Wax Museum (1940), Murder Over New York (1940), Dead Men Tell (1941), Charlie Chan In Rio (1941), Charlie Chan In Panama, Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise (1940) and Castle In The Desert (1942). Toler would continue to play Chan in subsequent films for other studios, but those films were of lower quality in plot and production values than the Fox Chan films. The following is the press release for this set of seldom seen films:
The films are presented in the original full screen format with English Mono and Spanish and French subtitles. All titles included in the collection feature original theatrical trailers as well as still and advertising galleries. Also included is The Era of Chan, a 30 minute documentary celebrating the legacy of the Chan series at Fox. Focusing on the series' final seven films and the talents behind them, this piece gives an overview of the series' success and how the Chan character rose to the status of icon, influencing many screen detectives to come.
If you are accustomed to Warner Oland's Charlie Chan, Sidney Toler's interpretation is a less gentle one. In fact, Toler can seem impatient and even angry at times. However, Toler does manage to make the role work and these films are worth the time of any fan of the series."
The best Chan "set" -- here are some details
Patrick W. Crabtree | Lucasville, OH USA | 08/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"FINALLY! Now we can have "Castle in the Desert" on DVD! This is the best Charlie Chan entry ever (5+ stars) although I do miss Mantan Moreland who is regrettably absent from this great film. Here's the low-down:
Not one of the other Charlie Chan films can touch this this 1942 Sidney Toler entry. The casting is brilliant, the acting is superior, the cinematography is dramatic and, the location is PERFECT. Imagine that! A castle in the desert! This is a poisoning case, (the Borgia family curse!), and Charlie is summoned to help solve it. He's warned from going from the moment he's invited and, of course, one of his numerous sons (not quite so goofy as some others we've seen) tags along to watch out for his dear old dad.
Dark characters are everywhere and the sub-plots are above average. Fans of Charlie Chan films will drool over this one but the average viewer can enjoy this light mystery as well. Henry Danielle co-stars in this one -- you'll recognize him from many great old mystery films but here is one of his very best: Sherlock Holmes - The Woman in Green -- Danielle plays the infamous and nefarious Professor Moriarty in this well-known Sherlock Holmes film. Getting back to "Castle in the Desert," the desert town, old vehicles, the landscapes, the castle, (and it's creepy accoutrements) are all about the coolest things you'll ever view in a black and white old-timey mystery film.
There are SIX other great entries in this set too. The next best one (5 stars) is "Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum," which is a great venue for a murder mystery. In this 1940 film, an arch-villian is hiding out and a nefarious doctor is performing plastic surgery to help him escape justice. This is a Toler entry and Number Two Son provides some comic relief.
"Charlie Chan in Panama" (1940) doesn't exactly race with action but it's still a great story (4+ stars) and a fine Sidney Toler vehicle as well. This is an espionage mystery -- the bad faction is out to wreck the Panama Canal, messing up U.S. Navy maneuvers if it happens. Charlie is right in style with his trademark Panama hat!
Anther good one is "Dead Man Tell" (1941, 4 stars) where an older lady, Miss Nodbury, is scared to death by the ghost of a pirate ancestor just as she's preparing to leave for a treasure hunt. Charlie Chan investigates her family to find the culprit in this murder tale. Along with Sidney Toler, you'll see two other great old stars including George Reeves (Adventures of Superman - The Complete First Season) and Kay Aldridge, who starred as Nyoka in an awesome Republic Pictures serial, Nyoka and the Tigermen (a.k.a., "Nyoka and the Lost Secrets of Hippocrates".)
A pretty good film (3+ stars) is "Charlie Chan in Rio," where Charlie (Sidney Toler) has to help out the local police by untangling a pair of murders. This one (like many others) was directed by Harry Lachman and was released in 1941.
"Murder over New York" Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is out to collar pre-war spies. These nefarious devils are responsible for slowing down the line in aircraft production. Filmed in 1940, this one is pretty good at 3+ stars. A piece of trivia here -- although he is uncredited, Shemp Howard ("The Three Stooges") plays Shorty McCoy (The Canarsie Kid). Here is Shemp's best Three Stooges entry: Malice in the Palace (1949)
"Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise" (1940) is hardly the least of these great Charlie Chan films -- I give it four stars. Here, Charlie (Sidney Toler) is on a cruise from Hawaii to San Francisco and a total of five murders take place. One of the unfortunates is Charlie's Scotland Yard pal! One of my favorite serial actors, Charles Middleton, appears in this fun mystery film. I think he was probably best known as "Ming the Merciless" in the great old Flash Gordon serial but he also shines as the local Sheriff (Middleton almost always played the bad guy but this was a rare exception) in The Black Raven, a superb old mystery starring George Zucco.
Of course, all these films are in black-and-white and the aspect is full-frame. This is a really superb set of Charlie Chan films, the best yet in fact. I say its a steal at any price, especially for Chan fans."