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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...

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944)

The movie is set during World War II and opens with a scientist doing research on some secret weapon that will stop the German U-boat threat. For those not in the know the German subs were sinking lots of shipping before it could reach the front, so this was topical at the time and something audiences would have immediately grabbed onto. There are some Federal Agents guarding the scientist and his research. This becomes embarrassing when the man walks downstairs (his lab is in his house) for a dinner party and is killed right under their noses. What is worse are the missing plans for the weapon he was working on.

The party guests are locked down and Chan is called to solve the murder and recover the missing blueprints before they can fall into the wrong hands. The rest of the movie is him figuring out who killed the victim and how they managed to do so. In the end the spies, because of course there are German spies, are caught and the war effort protected by recovering the missing plans.

By the forties the Chan series was established but not considered “A” pictures anymore. That is likely how Monogram got their hands on it. This is the first of the movies made under their watch and honestly it isn’t too bad. You can see a bit of a drop off in the budgets, but they still made the effort to create a decent mystery and entertain the audience. The script does a solid job showing us Chan moving around the house collecting clues and talking to the suspects, though the audience doesn’t get a solid idea of what is being found so trying to solve the mystery along with the characters is a no go. Though things flow nicely, and the pacing is solid with the resolution coming after an entertaining sixty three minutes.

I’d also have to say that the added flavor of the spy sneaking around was a fun addition. Much like the later Sherlock Holmes movies the Chan series leaned heavily into the patriotic war effort as it was an appealing twist to the wartime audiences. This was a common occurrence in all sorts of movies. Abbott and Costello joined the army in Buck Privates and were In the Navy. Heck even the Three Stooges got in on the act poking fun at the Axis powers in several of their shorts. While this is before my time as a history nerd seeing this stuff while growing up always put a smile on my face and still does. Here it is a welcome as well as a nostalgic addition that works well.

What really makes me like Charlie Chan in the Secret Service is the addition of Mantan Mooreland and his comedic antics. With the move to Monogram the series took on that studio’s habit of adding in some slapstick to their movies. Mooreland had already done a lot of work for them including a couple of solid zombie flicks, so he was familiar and slotted right into this franchise. Here he gets a couple fun gags with my favorite being his shenanigans mixing himself some drinks. We also get Benson Fong returning as Tommy and as a bonus we get to see one of Chan’s daughters get involved as Iris is right there with Tommy. I should also point out that this is the first time Sidney Toler played the character. He was the third and final actor to do the classic Chan flicks.

I guess I’m doing a deep dive here that you all probably don’t care about. If it isn’t clear yet I love these movies and could talk about them for hours. But I won’t bore you guys any further. Between the Nazi spies running around taking shots at Chan and the addition of the Birmingham Brown character for the first time Charlie Chan in the Secret Service has always been and continues to be one of my favorites of the franchise. While not the best mystery it has so much other stuff going for it that I highly recommend you check it out.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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