A novelist friend of Charlie's appears to have committed suicide. At the international Exposition held on San Francisco Bay's Treasure Island Charlie shows that Zodiac, a phony mystic who blackmails clients, is the culprit. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Just before the plane from Hawai'i to San Francisco lands, Chan and the other passengers are told they have to go through customs. Though not yet a state, Hawai'i was already under U.S. jurisdiction and therefore passengers flying from there to the U.S. mainland would not have had to go through customs. See more »
On a plane headed to San Francisco, Charlie Chan and one of his sons witness the death of a famous writer. The man's death sets the film's plot in motion, as Charlie and company investigate the mysterious "Dr. Zodiac", a grim and extremely intimidating figure who is tall, wears a large mask, and has "psychic" powers.
This is one of the better films in the Charlie Chan series. The story has some really good plot misdirection, consistent with the theme of magic. I correctly picked the killer, but only after a certain plot point toward the end. Up to that point, I was way off in my guess.
But this film is superior to other Charlie Chan films mostly because of the terrific B&W cinematography. The lighting trends toward stark contrasts, with spooky shadows. Some good cross lighting and black curtain effects, together with great close-ups of eyes in the darkness, amplify the suspense. Overall visual styling is more complex, more artistic than in other Charlie Chan movies. The other-worldly persona of Dr. Zodiac combined with the striking visuals give the film real atmospheric character.
I do have a couple of complaints. The suspect pool is not terribly exciting. I would have liked for the existing suspects to have more screen time; also, I would have preferred a larger number of suspects. Second, the way in which the whodunit puzzle is solved is not standard, to say the least. But maybe back in those days, people gave as much credence to mental telepathy as they did to logical deduction.
The film uses San Francisco's "Treasure Island" as a backdrop to the story, which adds some contextual flavor to the film, though unnecessary to the plot. Overall, this is a fine film, one that will appeal especially to die hard Charlie Chan fans.
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