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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Trap (1946)

note: If you want to hear my thoughts on casting a white actor in an Asian role you can follow this link.

I’m back with another Charlie Chan movie review. This time it is set in his hometown of Honolulu but was shot in California so don’t expect any exotic locations. Here we see a car full of showgirls being driven to the beach by their producer and crew. They are taking a small vacation to relax and get ready for the next season. Right away we see that Marcia, one of the girls, is a real pain. By that I mean she manipulates the others to get whatever she wants by threatening to expose their secrets.

A bit of blackmail never ends well in murder mystery movies. Though it is one of the other girls, Lois, who is found strangled while Marcia just goes missing. This leads to Charlie being called and getting involved in the case. Soon after Marcia is also found murdered which leads to some wandering around in the dark, accusations, clues, and other sorts of shenanigans. Eventually the killer and their motives are revealed.

This movie is based on one of what I think are only four actual Chan novels. When I read them I was shocked at how minor of a character he is in those stories. He is basically the inscrutable plot device that shows up to solve everything while the victims and suspects are the main characters. Obviously, this isn’t what happened when they became movies and since there are almost fifty of these damn things most of the scripts are original ideas. The only reason that I mention this is that in The Trap the character of Charlie Chan comes and goes but the movie spends most of the time on other characters. This was done for practical reasons as Sidney Toler, who played Chan, was terminally ill with cancer. This was his last outing as the character. He passed away the following year.

That said the movie still has a solid mystery with plenty of clues being given to the audience. The suspects are interviewed, folks creep around up to no good, and if you pay attention, you can figure it out. Though unlike many of the other entries into the franchise this mystery has a neat twist that most folks, including myself on first watch, never guessed. I figure that is because it was based on the novel by Earl Der Biggs, which is quite good. The Trap is a very cleaver murder mystery in both book and film.

There is also a healthy dose of son Jimmy and chauffer Birmingham Brown as the comic relief. Mantan Mooreland, who plays Birmingham, gets to do several gags including his classic knocking knees as well as a fun bit with a phone ringing. I understand that much like the casting of a white actor in the Chan role that Mooreland’s performance is frowned upon today, but he was an excellent comedian who deserves to be remembered and appreciated. The rest of the cast does a fine job for being assembled by a poverty row studio like Monogram. While not stars these were working actors with some decent skills.

This is another entertaining flick in the Charlie Chan filmography. I get that these old mystery movies are not for everyone, but I love them, and this is one of the best. Give it a chance. You might just find yourself a fan as well.


© Copyright 2024 John Shatzer

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