With Charlie Chan distracted by the imminent birth of his first grandchild, young Tommy Chan persuades his older brother Jimmy (eager to be a detective) to take Pop's place when a call comes in directing Charlie to investigate a murder aboard a freighter. Charlie eventually learns of this and boards the ship to straighten out its slew of suspects, a cargo hold full of wild animals, and two well-meaning but ineffectual sons. Written by
Hollywood, California, Monday, October 17, 1938: Darryl F. Zanuck has selected Sidney Toler to play the role of Charlie Chan, succeeding the late Warner Oland. His first picture will be "Charlie Chan in Honolulu" which will start production October 24, with John Stone as the associate producer. Toler was discovered by Sol M. Wurtzel when he looked at rushes of Up the River (1938), current 20th Century-Fox picture in which Toler is a featured player. See more »
Charlie refers to the body of water that the ship is in as "the bay." A resident of Honolulu would have called it Pearl Harbor. See more »
This was the first Chan film in which Sidney Toler took over the main role from Warner Oland, and he is immediately masterful and acceptable in the part of the Asian detective. I didn't expect to enjoy Toler, not only since I am an Oland fan, but because my first exposure to him was through seeing one of his later mediocre Monogram Chan quickies from the '40s. But this debut has Toler in fine and confident form.
The film begins with a humorous dinner at the Chan home, with Charlie's wife and 10+ children. We quickly establish who the detective is and where he comes from, and then we see that his enthusiastic #2 son Jimmy (well played by Victor Sen Yung) is as excited about being a detective as his older #1 brother Lee had been in the Oland series. When a call arrives for Chan to investigate a murder aboard a small freighter, son Jimmy intercepts and decides to impersonate his dad to get some quality sleuthing in. Some fun happenings ensue before Charlie Chan himself gets wind of it and ultimately joins Jimmy on board to handle the case.
This is an all-around entertaining chapter in the series, with assistance too from George Zucco, as one of the mysterious suspects aboard the ship who collects criminal brains. There are some annoying bits by one of those typical "silly 1930s funnymen" used for comic relief in the mix, but what makes it all work is how effortlessly Sidney Toler and Sen Yung slip into their roles formerly undertaken by Warner Oland and Keye Luke, as the new father and son.
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