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CHARLIE CHAN IN RENO(director: Norman Foster; screenwriters: from a story by Philip Wylie “Death Makes a Decree”/Frances Hyland/Robert Kent/Albert Ray; cinematographer: Virgil E. Miller; editor: Fred Allen; cast: Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan), Ricardo Cortez (Dr. Ainsley), Phyllis Brooks (Vivian Wells), George “Slim” Summerville (Sheriff Tombstone Fletcher), Kane Richmond (Curtis Whitman), Pauline Moore (Mary Whitman), Charles D. Brown (Chief of Police, King), Eddie Collins (Taxi Driver), Kay Linaker (Mrs. Russell), Louise Henry (Jeanne Bently), Morgan Conway (George Bently), Robert Lowery (Wally Burke), Iris Wong (Choy Wong), Victor Sen Yung (James Chan); Runtime: 70; 20th Century Fox; 1939)
“This was an above-average Charlie Chan.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This enjoyable Charlie Chan mystery takes place in “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno, Nevada. Mrs. Mary Whitman (Pauline Moore) glumly sits in the cab as the talkative Reno cabbie tells her it will take 6 weeks for her to get a divorce from husband Curtis (Kane Richmond). She plans to wait it out at the Hotel Sierra.

The next morning when the maid, Choy Wong, goes to pack Jeanne Bently’s (Louise Henry) luggage she discovers her dead body and Mary Whitman standing over her. New York socialite Jeanne was not only in Reno to get a divorce from her mining engineer husband George (Conway), but she is soon to marry Mary’s husband. She has made many enemies since her arrival, as a lot of people don’t like her drunken behavior and backbiting talk. When Mary is held in jail her husband, an old friend of Charlie Chan (Toler), gets him to leave Honolulu and take the case in Reno.

Charlie visits his friend, the Reno police chief (Brown), and is told that the grouchy Sheriff Tombstone Fletcher (Summerville) will assist him. The first thing Charlie does, is get Mary out of jail and has her stay with her husband. Also, son number two, Jimmy (Yung), goes to Reno on a spring break from classes at USC and self-appoints himself to help his father solve the case.

When examining the clues Charlie concludes that Jeanne was wearing a beauty mask and was killed with a scissor and that there’s nitric acid in the room, and that a number of people had motives for killing her.

It concludes when Charlie rounds up all the suspects in the hotel room where the crime happened and has them wear the same clothes they did when the murder occurred. The suspects are: Wally Burke (Lowery), who was going out with Jeanne and finds out at the last minute that she’s marrying Curtis. This made him so mad he threw a cocktail in her face. Mrs. Russell, who owns the hotel they are staying at and who lied when she said she didn’t know Mrs. Bently. In fact it was Mrs. Bently who took away her first husband. The most obvious suspect is the hotel’s doctor, Ainsley (Cortez), who signed the death certificate of Mrs. Bently’s husband and lied when he said he didn’t know her. Vivian Wells (Brooks) is in love with Ainsley, and is an impulsive woman who said she would kill to protect her love interest. She feels threatened when she notices that her doctor friend is very close with Jeanne. The last suspect is the missing husband of Jeanne’s, George. He turns up hiding in a nearby ghost town where he’s found with nitric acid, and he secretly saw Jeanne the night before she was killed.

The acting was good, the suspects did a fine job of not letting on who was the guilty one, there was a good comedy routine between the wise guy sheriff and the wise man Oriental sleuth, and the story was well-crafted. This was an above-average Charlie Chan.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”