“Small things sometimes tell large story.”
When a delusional amnesiac (Boris Karloff) escapes from a sanitarium in search of an opera singer (Margaret Irving), Chinese detective Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) and his “number one son” (Keye Luke) are on the case.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Boris Karloff Films
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Murder Mystery
As I wrote in my review of Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), it’s a shame that Hollywood primarily cast white actors in the central role of this popular and long-running detective series (though it should be noted that Asian actors were originally tried, without box office success). Swedish actor Warner Oland was the original “white” Chan, appearing in no less than 16 films in the series before his untimely death from pneumonia in 1938. While Oland does a fine job, it’s much more refreshing (from an historical perspective) to see Chinese-American Keye Luke playing his Number One Son — and the presence of Boris Karloff in a meaty supporting role as a delusional former opera singer will surely be a delight for film fanatics. The story itself (about murder and jealousy among opera singers) is reasonably enjoyable, making good use of just a couple of settings — primarily an opera house during opening night of a new opera (written by Oscar Levant!). You’re sure to be kept guessing about the outcome, and will likely find yourself innocently entertained throughout.
Note: While it’s frustrating to see Chinese Americans portrayed in the Chan series as either benevolent or stereotypically eager-beaver, Charlie Chan and his son are at least a welcome alternative to the “yellow peril” posited in the notorious character of Fu Manchu; in addition, the screenwriters do a nice job presenting William Demarest’s skeptical, racist detective as a clueless dolt.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Boris Karloff as Gravelle
- Keye Luke as Lee Chan
- An innocuously fun yet challenging murder mystery
Yes, simply to see the best of Oland’s Chan films.