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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...

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Black Magic aka. Meeting at Midnight (1944)

Time for some more Charlie Chan review goodness. I suppose I should, as I always do with these movies, direct you towards my thoughts on casting a white actor in an Asian role. You can find that link here. With that out of the way lets actually take a look at this entry into the long running franchise. 

This movie kicks off with a bang as we see some folks sitting around a table at a séance where the medium, William Bonner, is contacting the spirits of lost loved ones for those in attendance. While this is happening Birmingham Brown, the always entertaining Mantan Moreland, shows up to take over the butler’s job. To say he is a bit put off by the spooky nature of his new boss’s business is an understatement. This is made worse when a shot rings out and Bonner is found murdered when the lights come back up. We also see that the whole thing is a scam that Bonner and his wife have been pulling with a couple of assistants in the basement. 

The police are called and as they sort things out they discover that one of the attendees is Charlie’s daughter Frances. Initially he doesn’t want anything to do with the crime but when the police threaten to hold his daughter for questioning, he dives into the case. Soon he is interviewing witnesses and potential killers. The date of October 5th, 1935 keeps coming up during this time. Another murder is attempted, a woman walks off a high rise building, Charlie is shot at, and Birmingham reacts to the craziness going on around him before all is revealed and the killer brought to justice. 

This is another solid movie from the Chan series. Sidney Toler does a decent job playing the character with a bit more of an edge behind the façade. There are brief spots where you can see his annoyance and anger at what is happening around him. This is especially so when he sees that the police are going to use his daughter’s predicament against him. The pacing is solid as the formula is down by this point. The murder happens quickly, Chan is drawn into it, and moves right to interviewing the suspects. We also get the typical shots being taken at him by the killer when he gets too close. Is it familiar? Sure, but when done right that doesn’t matter much. Here I had a good time and felt like all sixty seven minutes of the movie were headed towards the conclusion. Though I was bummed that the vital clue is kept from the audience until the very end, so we don’t have a chance to figure it out ourselves. 

It was also interesting that this is the first time we get a daughter solo and no son as his assistant. I don’t believe that happened again. While I thought the actress did a good job there is a lack of chemistry between her and Moreland. The comic shenanigans that Birmingham and whichever one of Charlie’s sons was along for that mystery adds a lot to these later entries and it is missing here. That might also play into why I didn’t feel like we got enough of Moreland in the movie as he disappears for long stretches. While I dig the mystery I also look forward to a bit of silliness with these movies. 

That said we do get enough here for it to be a decent way to kill an hour. I like Toler and am always down for Mantan Moreland. And while the story is a bit of a cheat not giving the audience all the clues the pacing is brisk enough to keep the story entertaining. In the end I suppose Black Magic is not the best but still worth a watch. 

© Copyright 2024 John Shatzer

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