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 <email@example.com>
I caught this movie on the FOX MOVIE CHANNEL which had pulled it's CHARLIE CHAN month long marathon due to protests from Asian Americans. FMC resumed showing the Chan movies in September, bookending the movies with discussions by prominent Asian-Americans inluding George (Mr. Sulu)Takei who explored the racial issues of the movies.
I respect the discomfort and resentment the CHARLIE CHAN movies cause Asian Americans and there are some blatantly racial comments in this movie. There's a part where Charlie enters a hotel to await a car and the hotel manager takes one look at him and says; "Chop Suey salesman, eh? I hate the stuff!" that frankly made me cringe. But these movies have a historical value beyond simple entertainment. They remind us of how we once acted and thought of other races and other people. Even though Charlie Chan is a respected and internationally famous detective, he is still based on his appearance and skin color. Maybe we haven't come so far since this movie was made.
Taken strictly as entertainment, though, CASTLE IN THE DESERT is a nifty murder mystery with an eccentric cast of characters trapped in a remote location with a murderer running around loose. One character is a descendant of Lucrezia Borgia. Another is a fortune teller whose predictions actually DO come true. Charlie Chan and Number 2 son do a great job of finding the true murderer and putting things aright. The plot is perhaps more complicated than it needs to be but that's the great thing about those 30's/40's murder mysteries: it wasn't that easy to guess who was the killer. Despite the unplesant racial remarks, CASTLE IN THE DESERT is a fine entry in the CHARLIE CHAN series. I enjoyed it a lot. Lots of humor and sharp, witty dialog and great atmospheric sets.
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