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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'd seen this film before on a private-edition videotape and have now watched it again on the version in the Fox Charlie Chan, vol. 3 DVD boxed set. This is one of the greatest films in the Charlie Chan series with Warner Oland of the later films that exist only "Charlie Chan at the Opera" (ironically with another horror icon, Boris Karloff, in its cast) matches it thanks to Hamilton MacFadden's dark, atmospheric direction; a script that sticks closely to Earl Derr Biggers' source novel (except for omitting the long prologue on the ship that takes the principal characters to Hawai'i); superb art direction by Ben Carré and a marvelous cast, including Bela Lugosi playing an unusual range of emotions for him (the scene in which he confronts Dorothy Revier early on is especially impressive and not at all what we think of as Lugosi's usual acting style); a welcome reunion between him and his "Dracula" cast-mate Dwight Frye; Robert Young looking like he just graduated from high school as the suitor of Shelah Fane's personal assistant (Sally Eilers); and excellent cinematography by Joseph August and Daniel Clark, more prestigious cameramen than usually worked on the Chan films. It's nice to see Chan's family used the way they were in the Biggers novels (Biggers frequently wrote scenes in which the Chans sit down to dinner and Charlie brings them and us up to speed on the latest developments in his case), and another welcome touch in this film is the artful use of "source" Hawai'ian music in lieu of orchestral underscoring. While it's likely the Hawai'ian location trip only involved a second unit shooting backgrounds (there are some pretty obvious process shots here) and the Hawai'ian music could have just as easily been recorded in L.A. (where there was a large community of Hawai'ian musicians at the time), nonetheless "The Black Camel" is vividly atmospheric. Why Hamilton MacFadden didn't have much of a directorial career after the mid-1930's and none at all after 1945 is a mystery; judging by this film he would have been a "natural" for the noir genre.
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