CHARLIE CHAN IN SHANGHAI(director: James Tinling; screenwriters: Gerald Fairlie/Robert Ellis; cinematographer: Barney “Chick” McGill; editor: Nick De Maggio; cast: Warner Oland (Charlie Chan), Russell Hicks (James Andrews), Keye Luke (Lee Chan), Charles Locher (Philip Nash), Irene Hervey (Diana Woodland), Halliwell Hobbes (Chief of Police, Colonel Watkins), Fredrik Vogeding (Burke), Neil Fitzgerald (Dakin), Max Wagner (Taxi Driver), David Torrence (Sir Stanley Woodland), Harry Strang (Chauffeur); Runtime: 70; 20th Century Fox; 1935)
“A solid Charlie Chan.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Charlie Chan returns by ship with his children to his hometown for a working vacation because he received a letter from Sir Stanley Woodland (David Torrence) asking for help, but he did not spell out more than that. On the boat, Charlie receives a threatening letter telling him not to stay in Shanghai.
Charlie is welcomed to Shanghai by Sir Stanley’s attractive niece Diana Woodland (Herve) and her boyfriend, Sir Stanley’s secretary, Philip Nash (Charles Locher-he later changed his name to Jon Hall).
Unfortunately at a banquet welcoming Charlie back to China, Sir Stanley opens up a case to present a scroll to Charlie and an explosion from a gun-like device kills him.
It turns out that Sir Stanley was a British agent investigating opium smugglers. Charlie does not even trust the police chief, Colonel Watkins (Hobbes). Charlie prefers to work alone on this case. He is only helped by his overeager but mostly inept Number One Son, Lee (Luke). In their hotel room someone tries to kill Charlie, but Charlie had pillows stuffed in his bed and slept in another room.
A chauffeur comes with a message that it’s urgent for the police chief to see Charlie immediately. Charlie smells something fishy and calls the police chief. But the hotel switchboard operator tells her boss Marloff that Chan is still alive, as she puts Charlie’s call through to him. Marloff acts as the police chief confirming the meeting. When the real police call, Lee follows his dad but is knocked out by the taxi driver and brought to where they are questioning his father. Lee makes up for his carelessness by telling the gang that the place is surrounded by police and uses kung-fu to overtake them as they go to look.
James Andrews (Russell Hicks) arrives and tells Charlie he’s an American agent who was working with Sir Stanley on the opium smuggling case and that they shouldn’t confide in anyone else, as that’s the way he worked with Sir Stanley. A messenger gives Andrews a note marked very important, but when opened it is of trivial concern. But when Nash is caught stealing that note and is suspected of trying to take a shot at Charlie while he was conferring with Andrews, he is arrested by Watkins as his fingerprints are found on the weapon. When Charlie takes Andrew’s note back to the hotel, he recognizes the important message written in invisible ink and becomes suspicious that Andrews didn’t know the code. But Andrews comes by Charlie’s hotel and figures out the code.
When Philip escapes from Watkin’s office with the help of Diana, Charlie doesn’t seem too concerned. And when Lee tells him he spotted the taxi driver who kidnapped him and that he is at a waterfront club, Charlie whispers instructions into Lee’s ear and goes with Andrews to make the arrests of the opium smugglers. It concludes with an action-packed finale, which is not usually the case for the more cerebral Charlie. But for the regular Chan fans there’s the usual surprise offered, and that comes when the gang leader is uncovered.
It made for a very entertaining film, a solid Charlie Chan vehicle even though there’s less detective work done in this Chan episode than in others. But the film had plenty of energy; and, Oland was just terrific as the persistent detective getting shot at, abducted, and tracking down the gang and their leader.
REVIEWED ON 9/11/2001 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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