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CHARLIE CHAN ON BROADWAY (director: Eugene J. Forde; screenwriters: from a story by Art Arthur/Helen Logan/Robert Ellis/Charles S. Belden/Jerry Cady; cinematographer: Harry Jackson; editor: Alfred de Gaetano; cast: Warner Oland (Charlie Chan), Keye Luke (Lee Chan), Joan Marsh (Joan Wendall), J. Edward Bromberg (Murdock), Douglas Fowley (John Burke), Harold Huber (Inspector Nelson), Donald Woods (Speed Patten), Louise Henry (Billie Bronson), Joan Woodbury (Marie Collins), Leon Ames (Buzz Moran), Marc Lawrence (Thomas Mitchell), Toshia Mori (Ling Tse), Charles Williams (Meeker), Eugene Borden (Louis), Billy Wayne (Reporter); Runtime: 68; 20th Century Fox; 1937)
“A superior Charlie Chan mystery.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superior Charlie Chan mystery. Charlie (Oland) and Number One Son, Lee (Luke), arrive by steamship in New York and get involved with newspaper gossip reporters, the underworld element, and the nightclub crowd. They are tracking down a murderer who wants to get hold of a diary that will expose the rackets and lots of other scandals in town. This was a hard whodunit to figure out, as the most unlikely one ends up as the murderer.

On the ship from Europe to New York Charlie and Lee help a woman in distress, Billie Bronson (Louise Henry), as she’s locked in the bathroom while someone searches her room. While getting an aspirin from Lee, Billie secretly slips her valued package into Charlie’s luggage for safekeeping.

When docking in New York, Inspector Nelson (Harold Huber) greets Chan at the dock and invites him as a guest of honor to the police ball. When Nelson spots Billie with Charlie, he mentions that she was wanted last year as a hot witness to some corruption trials. Meanwhile Joan Wendall (Joan Marsh), a freelance photo journalist, takes her picture as Billie fruitlessly objects. Joan will later sell the photo for $100 to the sweaty editor of the NY Daily Bulletin, Murdock (J. Edward Bromberg). Murdock will later receive a call from Joan asking him to buy the diary at a very high price, which he accepts and plans to meet her at 11:30 p.m.. Ace reporter Speed Patten (Donald Woods) is also at the dock and questions Billie, as he jumps into her cab heading to the same hotel Charlie Chan is staying at. Billie promises to meet Speed at midnight and give him a scoop.

Lee stops Billie from trying to sneak into his hotel room and tails her to the Hottentot Club, owned by Johnny Burke (Douglas Fowley). It’s camera night at the club. That gimmick means the patrons could take all the pictures they desire and develop them right at the club. Sexy singer Marie Collins (Woodbury), Burke’s new girlfriend, is onstage as she has taken the place of Billie. Meanwhile, Billie meets gangster Buzz Moran (Leon Ames). Buzz afterwards sits with Burke and emphatically tells him to get Billie to leave town or else, as she’s left waiting for him in his office. Lee can’t get into the club without a date, so he sneaks in and with the help of one of the Chinese cleaners (Mori) gets to snoop around by looking through the keyholes.

Burke is in his office arguing with Billie to leave the country again, but he is interrupted by Marie. When he returns Billie is found shot dead on the floor of the office. Joan took a picture of the dead body, and Speed claims to have gotten there first and called in the story. Charlie and Inspector Nelson are called away from the police ball to investigate the murder and clear Lee as a suspect.

When Charlie and Inspector Nelson examine Joan’s picture of the dead man, they see that things have been removed and changed from the way the photo appears and the way the room now looks. They notice the photo has Charlie’s hotel room key falling out of Billie’s handbag, and when they hurry back to Charlie’s room they find a dead stab victim. He’s the same man on the boat who tried to search Billie’s room. They also figure out, that he was after the diary which Billie hid in Charlie’s room and that whoever murdered him took the diary. As a misleading clue, one page of the diary is left on the floor. When Marie sees the body, she exclaims that’s her husband, Tom Mitchell (Lawrence). It seems to be an open and shut case against Burke, whose fingerprints are all over the murder weapon. But when Charlie tests him down at police headquarters, he finds he has no gunpowder marks and releases him. Nelson thinks Marie might have killed the two because of the love triangle she was involved in.

But after a few more action scenes, leave it to Charlie to come up with a clever trap as he gathers all the suspects together and plants a false page of the diary. Charlie traps the killer into foolishly saying that’s not the real diary. It turns out the killer wanted the diary to blackmail all those in it.

REVIEWED ON 8/25/2001 GRADE: B +

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”