CHARLIE CHAN IN PANAMA(director/writer: Norman Foster; screenwriters: the Charlie Chan character created by Earl Derr Biggers/John Larkin/Lester Ziffren; cinematographer: Virgil E. Miller; editor: Fred Allen; cast: Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan), Kane Richmond (Richard Cabot), Mary Nash (Jennie Finch), Jack LaRue (Manolo), Chris-Pin Martin (Police Sergeant Montero), Lionel Atwill (Cliveden Compton), Jean Rogers (Kathi Lenesch), Lionel Royce (Dr. Rudolph Grosser), Frank Puglia (Achmed Halide), Victor Sen Yung (Number 2 son Jimmy), Addison Richards (Godley), Donald Douglas (Capt. Lewis); Runtime: 67; 20th Century Fox; 1940)
“One of the better versions of the Charlie Chan series…

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

One of the better versions of the Charlie Chan series, with Sidney Toler replacing the deceased Warner Oland. He plays Chan in a more avuncular style. This film comes at the onset of WW 11 and therefore has a patriotic theme, which is well-crafted into the sabotage story. Chan tries to stop saboteurs from blowing up an American Naval Fleet passing through the Panama Canal. The story is a virtual remake of “Marie Galante” (1934) with Spencer Tracy, but this version is far superior. Director Norman Foster became a protégé of Orson Welles after making this film.

A seaplane lands in Panama City (the city of spies) and an American Secret Agent named Godley embarks to give Charlie Chan, working in disguise as a Panama hat maker, some info on who might be the elusive Ryner — a dangerous spy whom no one has seen before. But before he can give that info, he takes a puff on his cigarette and dies from poison.

Charlie working with his goofy Number Two Son, Jimmy, suspects that Ryner must be one of the passengers on the seaplane. Charlie reasons that it had to be someone on the plane who switched cigarette packs with Godley. The passenger list includes the following: Manolo, a smarmy cabaret owner; Kathi Lenesch, an illegal alien from Eastern Europe, who was a stewardess and is now hired to sing in Manolo’s dive; Richard Cabot, a handsome square coming to the Canal to be a supervising engineer, who becomes smitten with the frightened Kathi; Jennie Finch, an old maid schoolmarm from Chicago, who is squeamish about her visit to such an exotic place; Cliveden Compton, a British novelist, who has a penchant for snooping; Dr. Rudolph Grosser, an Austrian scientist, who is doing illegal experiments on rats — he induces them with the bubonic plague; and, Achmed Halide, a tobacco shop owner, who followed Godley to Chan’s hat shop and is later on discovered to have a tomb where explosives were transported to the Canal’s Power Station.

Charlie gets off some good quotes: “Man without relatives is man without problems.” “One enemy is one too many.” “When prepared for worst, one can hope for best.”

The best part of this enjoyable whodunit, was that it was hard to guess who Ryner was. Charlie figures it out by having all the suspects from the seaplane gathered at the Power Station, as he tells them they will all get killed unless the suspect tells them where the explosives are. Charlie’s a wily one!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”