When a troupe of showgirls with their impresario and press agent vacation at a Malibu Beach resort, two of them are garroted. Charlie takes on the case assisted by Number Two Son Jimmy and faithful chauffeur Birmingham Brown.
Victor Sen Yung
Paul Manderley, eccentric historian, and his wife, descendant of the Borgias, live in an isolated castle-like mansion in the Mojave Desert. When a guest suddenly collapses, Charlie Chan is invited to stay. As the standard mystery-mansion props come into play, and all means of outside communication are sabotaged, it becomes evident that one of the inhabitants has access to poisons and is prepared to use them... Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After a muddled, convoluted first half, the plot really picks up in the second half. A big house full of suspects, candles in lieu of electric lights, an ever-so-subtle echo from the large rooms, and at least one murder combine to create mystery and suspense. At one point in the second half, Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) advises all: "Return to rooms, lock doors; no one is safe now." Good plot misdirection leads us astray, as some "facts" aren't what they seem to be.
The overall premise is vaguely believable. But a runtime of only 62 minutes suggests an underdeveloped plot. We don't really get to know the suspects very well. The film hardly gets started; then it's over.
One character is strictly ornamental. I could also have done without number 2 son (Victor Sen Yung), added apparently as comic relief, who comes across as merely annoying, mostly because Sen Yung overacts.
Stark B&W lighting creates a creepy look and feel, with Chan's very white suit against a dark background and eerie shadows. Some overhead camera shots add visual interest. The castle itself creates an atmosphere of isolation.
"Castle In The Desert" ends better than it starts. A script re-write, both to make the first half clearer and to expand the back-stories of the characters, would have helped. Even so, it's not a bad Chan film, owing mostly to some good plot misdirection and effective cinematography.
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