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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...

Monday, May 15, 2023

Charlie Chan in the Chinese Cat (1944)

note: As is the case with all these Chan, Mr. Wong, and Mr. Moto movies I’ll direct you to this link for my thoughts on casting a white actor in Asian roles.

The movie opens with a man in his study working out something on a chessboard when a black gloved hand reaches in holding a gun and shoots him dead! His family hears the shot but is unable to get to him due to a locked door. I was thinking that we were going to have the classic locked room murder mystery, but it is quickly shown that there is a secret door. His family calls the police.

Months later we see that suspicion has now fallen onto the victim’s wife with the publishing of a book accusing her as such. Charlie Chan is approached by the daughter asking that he solve the crime that the police couldn’t and prove her mother is innocent. He only has forty eight hours before leaving for Cleveland but promises to try. This leads to a couple more murders, some clues, attempts on Chan’s life, as well as some comedy from his number three son Tommy. Oh and Birmingham Brown, the legendary Mantan Mooreland, is in this one as well. Toss in some Jade statues and stolen jewels for an all-around good time.

The pacing of the movie is solid with the murder happening right away with Chan being pulled into investigate shortly afterwards. There are many suspects and whenever they do the smuggling thing I always get a kick out of it. It adds a seedy underworld vibe that the straight up murders don’t. Plus, with it being made during the war years the movie not having a spy subplot was a nice break. The story is more action with a few fist fights, some torture, and a bit of gunplay than it is mystery as we aren’t given that many clues to follow, but there are some cool bits that the audience may see before it is revealed in the end. All that and we get some secret compartments and stolen gems!

This is also one of the later movies in the franchise an as such follows a slightly different formula with comedic bits being mixed in with the mystery. The funny stuff comes from the character of Tommy and that of Birmingham Brown. In these later movies the son is played as a more bumbling hindrance that is tolerated by his father then he is an asset. That said Benson Fong, who replaced Keye Luke from the earlier movies, is still quite good. Mantan Mooreland is doing his act in this movie and his snappy dialogue where he is almost speaking directly to the audience adds a lot to the proceedings. I like silly slapstick and they do it well. Here they are running around a funhouse interacting with the exhibits, which itself was a cool set piece. While some fans are more about the serious entries I can’t pass up on the jokes.

Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat is a less serious take on the characters and is one of the first that showed the changes in the franchise when it moved from a big studio to the poverty row Monogram Pictures. Funny with a hint of action and mystery makes this one a must see. I recommend it.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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