CHARLIE CHAN IN LONDON(director: Eugene J. Forde; screenwriter: Philip MacDonald; cinematographer: Lewis William O’Connell; cast: Warner Oland (Charlie Chan), Ray Milland (Neil Howard), Alan Mowbray (Geoffrey Richmond), E.E. Clive (Sgt. Thacker), Drue Leyton (Pamela Gray), Douglas Walton (Paul Gray), Mona Barrie (Lady Mary Bristol), John Rogers (Lake), Murray Kinnell (Phillips), Walter Johnson (Jerry Gorton), George Barraud (Maj. Jardine), David Torrence (Sir Lionel Bashford, Home Secretary), Paul England (Bunny Fothergill); Runtime: 79; 20th Century Fox; 1934)
“It was the longest Charlie Chan at 79 minutes and it was the first one not based on an Earl Derr Biggers book.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An atmospheric and most entertaining Charlie Chan episode. It was the longest Charlie Chan at 79 minutes and it was the first one not based on an Earl Derr Biggers book. World famous detective Charlie Chan (Oland) has just finished a case in London and says farewell to the home secretary on his way back to Honolulu. But he is approached by the sister of an innocent man convicted of murder, who is set to be hung in 65 hours. Pamela Gray (Leyton) along with her fiancé, the lawyer Neil Howard (Milland), who defended her brother Paul (Walton), appeal to Chan for help after the home secretary says he can’t stop the execution. When Neil tells Chan he thinks Paul is guilty, Pamela breaks the engagement by flinging the engagement ring at him.
Charlie thinks differently and takes the case. He heads for the scene of the crime, the wealthy estate of Geoffrey Richmond (Mowbray). All the guests are the same that witnessed the murder and are gathered there for a weekend fox hunt. Since all the court appeals have been exhausted, the only chance of freeing Paul is to catch the real killer.
Chan reenacts the crime with the help of the three witnesses who were present and testified in court. The witnesses are Maj. Jardine (Barraud), Bunny Fothergill (England), and Jerry Gorton (Johnson). Chan discovers that the groom, Lake (Rogers), can calm the wild horse in the stable where the murder took place and is a very nervous man. But the groom claims he was not there the night of the murder.
Chan zeroes in on the circumstantial evidence used against Paul by noting there were no fingerprints found on the knife used as the murder weapon, that no one saw Paul do the crime, and that the victim, Air Force Captain Hamilton, did not like Paul and earlier on quarreled with him over a chorus girl. Chan believes this is not motive enough for a supposed crime of passion, especially since the killer wore gloves and had to have someone quiet the stable horse or else the mare would wake up the entire house.
When Chan goes to question Lake again in the morning he discovers that he was murdered, but that it was made to look like a suicide as he is found with a wallet full of hush money. Sergeant Thacker (Clive) is called in to investigate and after believing it a suicide now agrees with Charlie. He comically calls Chan by the name of Chang; he’s a dim-witted detective who is more of hindrance than a help.
Chan receives a note from Geoffrey’s fiancee, Mary (Barrie), someone who is also being courted by Gorton, who tells him she has important evidence to share with him. But Chan is visiting the Air Force base Hamilton was stationed at and discovers that he was an inventor working on a secret invention to silence war planes. Also, that Hamilton’s plans could be very lucrative. Chan figures the motive for the murder was the stealing of those plans located in the study of Geoffrey’s estate.
When Chan returns to the fox hunt, it’s discovered Mary had a serious accident and has a fractured skull. Upon investigating Chan finds it was no accident, but someone blinded the horse causing the nearly fatal spill.
Chan now gathers everyone in the study including the secretive butler Phillips (Kinnell), whom he sees poking around the study, and announces the murderer’s fingerprints are on Hamilton’s invention plans. This traps the killer to come out in the open and try to kill Chan. But Chan saves Paul from being hung with at least a few hours to spare, as he put blank cartridges in the killer’s gun and the cops are waiting in the other room to make the arrest. This film was more a case of Charlie Chan in the English countryside than in London, but why quibble when the story was so entertaining!
REVIEWED ON 7/12/2001 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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