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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...

Friday, February 9, 2024

Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938)

Before I start I wanted to direct you to my thoughts about a white actor playing an Asian character. Here is the link. It has been a couple of years now that I’ve been covering these movies and while I understand and agree with many of the issues I still think they have value and shouldn’t be dismissed. But I don’t need to rehash things again. Check out the link if you are interested. Now onto the review.

Since this is set in Hawaii we get to see Charlie at home with his large family. The action starts off at a chaotic breakfast. Jimmy is asking his father to teach him to be a detective while his younger brother Tommy cracks wise at him. Charlie’s son in law enters to let them know that his wife is in labor with Chan’s first grandchild. They all head to the hospital but the phone rings and Tommy answers. There is a freighter in the harbor where a murder has taken place. Tommy convinces Jimmy this is his chance so off they go.

Eventually Charlie finds out about the crime and ends up on the ship where he finds his boys making a mess of things. Taking charge, he interviews suspects, finds out about a large pile of cash, meets up with a sketchy detective from California, finds a hold filled with exotic animals, and sure enough is there when another body drops. Who is the killer? What happened to the money? Why is there a lion roaming around? These are all questions that will be answered before the end credits roll.

Charlie Chan in Honolulu is notable for a couple of things. First off this is the first movie with Sidney Toler in the role as he was replacing Warner Oland who had gotten sick and would soon pass away. I may have already mentioned this but he is my favorite actor to play the character and is great in his first outing. There was also a change in his son with Victor Sen Yung playing son Jimmy taking over from Keye Luke’s Lee. It is also interesting that the attempts at humor are present here but without Mantan Mooreland they lean heavily into Jimmy and Tommy. Honestly this doesn’t work all that well and I can see why they eventually changed things up.

The strength of the movie is in the story. We don’t get the clues so the audience can’t play along and try to solve the crime which is a bummer. But the pacing is good moving along briskly setting up the characters quickly and then getting to the murders. Yeah, there is another killing which is fun because they set up on character to look guilty only for them to end up a victim. There is also a fun subplot that I won’t spoil as it serves as a bit of a red herring but itself is satisfying. There is a lot going on in the movie’s sixty seven minute long runtime which makes it a fun watch. As you would expect Charlie sets a clever plan to trap the criminal and wraps things up in a neat bow. Oh, and it was a boy… his grandchild that is.

These Chan movies are the gold standard for quick, inexpensive, and fun mystery flicks with some comedy mixed in. As much as I liked Warner Oland in the role his last few movies were a bit off as you could see his illness was sapping his energy. With Toler in the role things pick up and he also brings more of a mischievous vibe to the role. He is the smartest man in the room and knows this despite how much others might underestimate him. This one is worth a watch for sure.


© Copyright 2024 John Shatzer

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