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The Black Camel (1931)

Passed | | Crime, Mystery, Thriller | 21 June 1931 (USA)
The unsolved murder of a Hollywood actor several years earlier and an enigmatic psychic are the keys to help Charlie solve the Honolulu stabbing death of a beautiful actress.




(novel), (screenplay) | 2 more credits »

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Charlie visits a wealthy country home in England. Suspects in the murder range from a housekeeper, to a stableman, to a lawyer.

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The heir to a huge fortune is presumed drowned, then shows up, is then murdered.

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Hired to investigate forged bonds, Charlie is thwarted by the murder of his undercover agent, but the arrival of son Lee helps him uncover the true culprits.

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Returning from European exile where she avoided testifying against her criminal associates, a former singer with a tell-all diary is murdered to ensure her silence.

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When a strategically important new aerial guidance system is stolen, Charlie traces it to the Berlin Olympics, where he has to battle spies and enemy agents to retrieve it.

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When a prominent official is murdered at a banquet honoring Charle Chan, the detective and son Lee team up to expose an opium-smuggling ring.

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Although Charlie and Lee are in Monaco for an art exhibit, they become caught up in a feud between rival financiers which involves the Chans in a web of blackmail and murder.

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While visiting the circus with his family, Charlie is recruited by the big top's co-owner to investigate threatening letters that he's received.

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When a friend of Charlie's is found kicked to death by his own race horse on board a Honolulu-bound liner, the detective discovers foul play and uncovers an international gambling ring.

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On the trail of a singer who killed the man she loved in Honolulu, Charlie finds her stabbed to death when he ultimately catches up to her in Rio.

Director: Harry Lachman
Stars: Sidney Toler, Mary Beth Hughes, Cobina Wright


Complete credited cast:
Shelah Fane
Robert Fyfe
Murray Kinnell ...
Archie Smith
William Post Jr. ...
Alan Jaynes
Jimmy Bradshaw
Violet Dunn ...
J.M. Kerrigan ...
Thomas MacMasters
Mary Gordon ...
Mrs. MacMasters
Rita Rozelle ...
Otto Yamaoka ...


Movie star Sheila Fayne is seeing wealthy Alan Jaynes while filming in Honolulu, Hawaii, but won't marry him without consulting famed psychic Tanaverro first. Tanaverro confronts her about the unsolved murder of fellow film star Denny Mayo three years earlier, and she decides to reject Jaynes' proposal. When Sheila is found shot to death in her beach-front pavilion, Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police investigates. Written by Sister Grimm <srgrimm@teleport.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


CHARLIE CHAN'S Latest Thriller






Release Date:

21 June 1931 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Charlie Chan in the Black Camel  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| (Western Electric System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
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Did You Know?


Warner Oland received $10,000 for his first Chan film for Fox, Charlie Chan Carries On (1931). The studio raised him to $12,500 for this sequel, and $20,000 for the next three. See more »


The plot of this otherwise quite entertaining mystery contains a hole the size of the Grand Canyon. Part of the solution hinges on a close resemblance between a murdered actor and one of the suspects. In fact, two other characters hide portions of a torn photograph to cover up that resemblance - this despite the fact that most of the suspects admit to having been acquaintances (at least!) of said earlier murder victim. All the suspects would, therefore have to have been quite familiar with the resemblance between one of them and the dead actor, and only the murderer (and possibly one or two other characters) would have any reason to conceal the resemblance. Surely the innocent suspects would have immediately have informed Chan of what they knew, yet no-one mentions it! See more »


Alan Jaynes: [angrily] Look here, Inspector, I haven't time to sit around for Chinese picture puzzles! My ship sails at midnight!
Charlie Chan: You are rejected suitor.
Alan Jaynes: But I've given you an airtight alibi.
Charlie Chan: Sorry, but alibi have habit of disappearing like hole in water.
See more »


Followed by Dangerous Money (1946) See more »


I Have a Thought in My Heart for You
Written by Sol Hoopii Jr.
See more »

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User Reviews

The Earliest Surviving Film In The Famous Charlie Chan Series
2 April 2005 | by (Biloxi, Mississippi) – See all my reviews

With the character loosely based on Chang Apana (1887-1933), a police officer of Chinese heritage, author Earl Derr Biggers wrote six Charlie Chan novels between 1925 and 1932. House Without A Key and The Chinese Parrot were filmed as silents in 1926; Behind That Curtain was filmed, with Chan reduced to a minor character, in 1929. Starring various actors and filmed as individual pieces, none of the films can be described as entries in the series, but in 1931 Fox Studios cast Warner Oland in Charlie Chan Carries On--and with its success Fox Studios discovered a money spinner. Between 1931 and 1942 the studio would create no less than 27 Charlie Chan films, first starring Warner Oland and then starring Sidney Toler.

Charlie Chan Carries On has not survived. The earliest Chan film of the series that still exists is The Black Camel, which is based on the 1929 Diggers novel. The film follows the book quite closely. Shelia Fane (Dorothy Reiver) is an actress who has come to Hawaii to make a motion picture. She has fallen in love with a wealthy man and wants to marry--but she is troubled by something that has occurred in her past. She accordingly sends for psychic Tarneverro (Bela Lugosi), who warns her not to marry--but no sooner does she refuse the marriage than she is found dead, stabbed, in her beachfront home.

Like most of the later Chan films, The Black Camel has a remarkable cast that includes an unexpected number of notables. Bela Lugosi has already been mentioned, and other up-and-comers include Robert Young and character actor Dwight Frye. But this film is very early in the game, and Fox is still tinkering with style and characters; instead of being assisted by a son, Chan is saddled with inept junior officer Kashimo (Otto Yamaoka), a character drawn directly from the Biggers novel. The chemistry is not effective, and although most of the cast offers good performances much the same might be said of the project as a whole.

Part of the problem is the story itself. Apparently suggested by the 1920s murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor, the plot itself is more than adequate, but the "how and why" details of the investigation are awkward. The script itself has an occasional zinger (at one point Chan warns Kashimo that "the wages of stupidity is search for new job!") but by and large it never manages to strike the balance between mystery and comedy for which the series was ultimately famous. It is also a film very much of the early sound era, which is to say visually static, and although it was partly filmed on Hawaiian location one sees little of the islands.

Overall, and while it has its moments, this is really a film best left to Chan fans, who will be interested to see the character at an early stage of development. Unfortunately, however, Chan fans will have a problem latching onto it: it is not presently available on either VHS or DVD and it is seldom broadcast.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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