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
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Warner Oland's second appearance as Chan, and the only entry shot on location in Honolulu, in April-May 1931. 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 »
A thousand pardons. Assault and battery not permitted without license from boxing commission.
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The Earliest Surviving Film In The Famous Charlie Chan Series
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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