CHARLIE CHAN’S SECRET(director: Gordon Wiles; screenwriters: from an original story by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan/Joseph Hoffman; cinematographer: Rudolph Maté; editor: Nick De Maggio; cast: Warner Oland (Charlie Chan), Rosina Lawrence (Alice Lowell), Charles Quigley (Dick Williams), Henrietta Crosman (Henrietta Lowell), Edward Trevor (Fred Gage), Astrid Allwyn (Janice Gage), Herbert Mundin (Baxter), Jonathan Hale (Warren T. Phelps), Egon Brecher (Ulrich), Gloria Roy (Carlotta), Ivan Miller (Inspector Morton), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Professor Bowan), Jerry Miley (Allen Colby); Runtime: 72; 20th Century Fox; 1936)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Charlie Chan (Oland) is asked by an old friend, Mrs. Henrietta Lowell (Crosman), to solve the disappearance and then the murder of an heir to a family estate. Allen Colby is the true heir of an estate, but was lost track of when he joined the French Foreign Legion and became a war prisoner. Allen doesn’t believe in psychics like his father does and the two quarreled about this, which caused the rift between them. Upon his father’s death he returns by ship to claim his inheritance, but his vessel sinks near Honolulu and he’s presumed dead. A diver retrieves his briefcase, and Charlie discovers notes that say attempts were made on his life. If Allen returns to claim the will, everyone else in it will get cut off.
Somehow Allen is alive, and is seen climbing over the wall of the Colby House when the unfriendly caretaker Ulrich (Egon) doesn’t answer the door. Once inside, Allen is killed when a knife is thrown into his back while he’s correcting the hands of a fast clock.
When Charlie arrives at Mrs. Lowell’s house in San Francisco he thinks Allen might be alive, but is in danger. He attends a seance arranged by Mrs. Lowell–a believer in psychics. While using her Ouija board and assisted by her butler Baxter (Mundin), she senses that Allen is dead. The seance will be attended by all those who are in the will and will take place in the Colby House. A Professor Bowen (Carewe) who is Mrs. Lowell’s spiritual adviser and Carlotta (Roy), who is a medium, will try to reach the spirit of Allen Colby.
In the seance, the medium Carlotta says she feels the presence of Allen Colby and suddenly his face appears and his dead body falls inside their room.
The medium as well as the other guests present are all suspects: Alice Lowell (Lawrence) is Mrs Lowell’s sweet but not wealthy daughter. She’s there with her charming reporter boyfriend Dick Williams (Quigley). Mrs Lowell’s other daughter, who seems bitter, Janice Gage (Allwyn), is there with her husband Fred Gage (Trevor). Fred handles Mrs. Lowell’s business affairs. Mr. Phelps (Hale) is the executor of the estate, and he will be discharged of that duty if Allen is alive. Phelps has also recently sustained heavy losses in the stock market. Ulrich, the other suspect, resents Allen because his daughter was engaged to him, and when he ditched her she committed suicide. Ulrich blames Allen for his daughter’s death.
Charlie stays overnight with the spooked Baxter in the Colby House, as he cunningly searches for clues. Charlie soon finds that Bowan is a phony, using x-ray machines and other devices to fool the clients. There’s also an attempt on Mrs. Lowell’s life, as Charlie now gets the police to protect her.
Charlie sets a trap and calls on Inspector Morton (Miller) for assistance, as he suspects Mrs. Lowell is in further danger. Charlie uses a dummy of her, which the killer shoots at with a high-powered rifle from a nearby bell tower. With the killer thinking he got rid of her, Charlie then gathers all the suspects into Colby House for another seance. Here, Charlie cleverly gets the killer to reveal himself as he uses the psychic’s phony methods to reproduce Mrs. Lowell’s face on a mirror. When the killer tries to throw a knife at that figure in the darkened room, he is trapped because the knife had graphite on it and it rubs off on his hands.
This Charlie Chan episode lacked humor, as there was no Number One Son present. But despite being a bit dry, it applied the usual formula methods and proved to be entertaining. It was also difficult to guess who the killer was.
REVIEWED ON 8/15/2001 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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