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
Jimmy Chan's new calling card reads, in part "...Associated with Charlie Chan, Private Detective...". Charlie is not a private detective, rather a Lieutenant on the Honolulu Police Department. See more »
"Honolulu Police frown on choking bay with bodies."
"Charlie Chan in Honolulu" opens with a view of the mailbox at the Chan family home, reading 'Chas. Chan' - I never really thought of the Oriental Detective as "Chas". The film is Sidney Toler's debut as the master detective, along with Victor Sen Yung's first portrayal of Number #2 Son Jimmy, although he appears in the credits simply as Sen Yung. Layne Tom, Jr. is back, this time as unnumbered son Tommy; he had appeared in "Charlie Chan at the Circus" and "Charlie Chan at the Olympics" as Number #2 Son Charlie Jr., but his age in those films does not coincide with the chronology of the Chan offspring, which is revealed in this film to be at thirteen.
With Charlie off in a rush to the Maternity Hospital for the birth of his first grandson, Tommy intercepts a phone call from the Honolulu Police stating a murder has been committed aboard the freighter Susan B. Jennings. Tommy convinces brother Jimmy to get involved with the case, then manages to stow away aboard the ship to help with the investigation. Charlie meanwhile, about to view his first grandchild strikes a comedic note describing a nurse's mistake in bringing out a black baby - "wrong flavor".
By the time the elder Chan gets wind of the murder case, Jimmy is deeply embroiled in the effort, having been mistaken for the famed detective. There's a colorful cast of characters offered here, led by the sinister presence of George Zucco's character Dr. Cardigan, a criminal psychologist who reveals his penchant for nursing a live human brain! The comedic chores of the film are handled by animal keeper Hogan (Eddie Collins), who spends most of his time keeping the free ranging Oscar the Lion in check.
The murder victim was to have received three hundred thousand dollars in a business deal, delivered by Miss Judy Hayes (Phyllis Brooks). Fellow passenger Carol Wayne is eventually revealed to be the wife of the victim, seeking a divorce and in a pact with the ship's captain to steal the money; Ms. Wayne/Hillman eventually becomes victim number two. Rounding out the passenger list aboard the freighter, and thrown in as likely suspects are a supposed Detective Arnold (Richard Lane) and his captive Johnny McCoy (Marc Lawrence). Chan smokes out the phony detective, a McCoy accomplice, as he sets up the ship's captain (Robert Barrat) to reveal his identity with a rigged gun threaded to a hidden camera; the camera reveals the person who made an attempt on Chan's life as he comes close to solving the mystery.
As Charlie Chan films go, this one is probably about middle of the road in terms of interest, though a fine effort for Sidney Toler's first portrayal of Chan. For the viewer, there's a little more to go on to solve the murders than the earlier Warner Oland mysteries, so the revelation does not come off as a complete surprise. But the real payoff comes at the end of the film when Charlie receives word that he has become a new "grand pop" - his response to the news: "In present case am only innocent bystander."
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