Gravelle, a former baritone believed dead after an opera house fire, has been languishing in a mental institution for the past seven years, an anonymous amnesiac. When he fortuitously sees a news story about his former wife's current appearance at the local opera, his memory returns. He escapes, and, disguised in costume, seeks revenge for a failed attempt on his life years earlier. When the guilty parties are found stabbed to death, Charlie Chan and son Lee try to find out if the dangerous fugitive is the one responsible. Written by
Gabe Taverney (email@example.com)
Benson Fong, who appears as an extra during the opera scenes, later returned to the series to play Tommy Chan, Charlie's #3 Son. See more »
When they characters are all gathered in the dressing room after the murders and they are questioning Childers, he says he knew Madame Barelli well. What he actually meant to say Madame Rochelle (or Madame Lilli as she was being referred to). See more »
Sanitarium Guard 1:
What's the mater Joe? Nervous?
Sanitarium Guard 2:
Aw this job gives me gooseflesh. You're new here, but in a couple of months you'll get as jumpy as me.
Sanitarium Guard 1:
Hey I've worked around sanitariums before, it's not so bad. I like the cuckoos myself. They're the same as anyone else only they're smart enough to admit they're nuts.
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My favorite of the Warner Oland Chans, Charlie Chan At the Opera, is an excellent entry in the series. It begins like a horror film, on a stormy night, as Boris Karloff overcomes a guard in a sanitarium, then escapes. We are then introduced to a motley group of characters, including a temperamental opera diva, who has been recieving threatening notes, then Charlie and son arrive, and soon the action moves to the opera house, where the film remains. Karloff turns up backstage, where he is hiding, above the dressing rooms, and we soon learn the truth: he is a famous singer who had supposedly died in a fire but escaped, and has been suffering from amnesia ever since. He has only recently begun to remember who is, and is now looking for the person who tried to kill him.
There's a lot of plot in this film, and it isn't brilliantly developed. What makes the movie so watchable is the acting, which is uniformly good (and in Karloff's case outstanding); the music, courtesy of Oscar Levant, who wrote the score; the set design, which is marvelous; and occasionally the dialogue, which is often funny. Director Bruce Humberstone juggles all these elements masterfully, making the movie hum. Karloff brings gravitas and real menace to his part, and elicits pity as much as terror. Oland is his usually Buddha-like self, delivering his fortune cookie homilies with aplomb. William Demarest is the Irish cop this time around. As was so often the case with murder mysteries, a suggestion of the supernatural helps the mood enormously. Karloff isn't quite the phantom of the opera, but people react to him as if they've seen a ghost, since they all assume that he's dead.
The movie is a very accomplished piece of work. Its theatre and backstage atmosphere give it the feeling of a show within a show, and it's a pretty good one whichever way you look at it.
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