“Sometimes black magic very close relative to blackmail.”
Detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) and his eager son (Sen Yung) investigate the sudden death of a writer (Louis Jean Heydt) who has received a mysterious telegram from the famed hypnotist “Dr. Zodiac”.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Mind Control and Hypnosis
- Murder Mystery
It’s impossible to discuss 20th Century Fox’s popular “Charlie Chan” film series (based on the set of novels by Earl Derr Biggers) without noting the sad truth that in early Hollywood, the famed Chinese detective was never played by a Chinese man. Despite his best efforts, it’s difficult to forget that Sidney Toler (the second non-Asian to play the detective) is simply a white man in pseudo-Asian makeup, speaking in stereotypical pidgin English; this lessens the appeal of the movie enormously. With that said, the story itself is mildly entertaining, with multiple plausible suspects and some enjoyable back-stage glimpses at magic shows; and, since this is widely considered to be the best of the Sidney Toler series, it’s a good one to check out.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Some effectively atmospheric imagery and cinematography
- Sen Yung as Chan’s son — not a great performance, but it’s so refreshing to see an Asian (rather than a white) playing an Asian that he emerges as one of the highlights of the film
Yes, but only as a representative example of the Sidney Toler Charlie Chan series; it’s likely that another might suffice.