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CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND(director: Norman Foster; screenwriter: John Larkin; cinematographer: Virgil E. Miller; editor: Norman Colbert; cast: Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan), Cesar Romero (Fred Rhadini), Sen Yung (Jimmy), Pauline Moore (Eve Cairo), Douglas Fowley (Peter Lewis), June Gale (Myra Rhadini), Louis Jean Heydt (Paul Essex), Douglas Dumbrille (Thomas Gregory) Trevor Bardette (The Turk), Billie Seward (Bessie Sibley), Donald MacBride (Chief Kilvaine), Charles Halton (Redley), Sally Blane (Stella Essex), Gerald Mohr (Dr. Zodiac); Runtime: 75; 20th Century Fox; 1939)
“An invigorating Charlie Chan escapade and the best one in the series…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An invigorating Charlie Chan escapade and the best one in the series, featuring Sidney Toler as Chan. Charlie Chan and number two son, Jimmy Chan (Yung), are flying from Hawaii to San Francisco with their mystery writer friend Paul Essex (Heydt), who has just been a guest of Charlie’s. When Paul completes the last page of his new book on the plane, he’s found dead. He had just received a threatening radiogram stating “You Can’t Escape the Zodiac.” On the plane is the nosy Mr. Gregory (Dumbrille), who claims to be an insurance agent. Gregory becomes a suspect when he pilfers Paul’s manuscript and vanishes.

The police at first rule the Essex death as a heart attack or a possible suicide, but change their mind when they find poison in his stomach. They now investigate it as a homicide. Charlie tells Paul’s wife Stella (Sally Blane–the wife of the director and Loretta Young’s sister) the bad news as she came to greet him at the airport with her uncle Redley, who is also her husband’s business agent.

Through Charlie’s acquaintance with S.F. Deputy Police Chief Kilvaine, he’s introduced to a police reporter Peter Lewis (Fowley) who is writing a series of exposes on the fake Dr. Zodiac. In the past month there have been three suicides linked to Zodiac, who might have been blackmailing them.

Peter takes Charlie to meet the magician Rhadini (Romero), at his Treasure Island headquarters, and he hears him call his colleague and main competitor Zodiac a fraud and aims to prove that he’s a fake. The others in Rhadini’s entourage are Eve Cairo (Moore) and Mrs. Rhadini (Gale) and Bessie Sibley (Seward). Eve’s a mind reader who is the girlfriend of Peter Lewis. Peter is upset because Zodiac is telling Eve to break off with him. She also believes that Zodiac is not a fraud, and Eve’s ESP powers are scientifically tested as genuine. Mrs. Rhadini was formerly a carnival knife-thrower and is now glum because she suspects her hubby of being a womanizer. There’s also Bessie Sibley, who introduced Eve to Dr. Zodiac and is a victim of the blackmailer.

Charlie sneaks off alone to visit Dr. Zodiac at his research center. Rhadini and Lewis meet him in front of the Zodiac’s building. The trio are greeted at the door by The Turk, who is Zodiac’s servant. Once inside Charlie is allowed to question and watch the Zodiac operate. From this demo, Charlie believes he knows who the killer is and has all the suspects come to the theater.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next paragraph.

The film reaches its climax after several plot twists involving a challenge between Rhadini and Zodiac, in which Charlie asks Lewis’s paper to sponsor. As Rhadini puts on his show before a live audience, the Zodiac is supposedly killed with a poisoned arrow as it was written in Paul’s book. But Charlie notes that the real Zodiac is a ventriloquist and an egotist; that the Zodiac is also a blackmailer and a murderer, and is still present in the theater.

This wasn’t a tough one to figure out but the story was a lot of fun, and one also got a chance to see the San Francisco version of the 1939 World’s Fair.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”