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Lucy Manderley is the obvious suspect when two guests are seemingly
murdered at Manderley Castle, located in the Mojave Desert. Her husband
Paul is a mysterious recluse who stands to lose his $20 million dollar
estate if it can be proved he is mentally unfit.
Charlie Chan has a lot to piece together in this brisk mystery. Number Two Son Jimmy Chan is on leave from the army to help out his "Pop". If at all possible, try to view the Chan films in the order that they were released, the continuity is amazing. It was in the prior "Charlie Chan in Rio" film that Jimmy received his military papers.
Ethel Griffies and Milton Parsons are on hand from "Dead Men Tell" and perform admirably, particularly Ms. Griffies as the amazingly accurate psychic Madame Saturna - "The stars never lie".
The funniest line in the film comes from Sidney Toler's Chan character, responding to son Jimmy's choice of a suit of armor for a disguise - "What has canned outpost observed?" My compliments to the writer of that line, I can't get it out of my head!
Keep an eye out at the hotel stop where Charlie boards his ride for Manderley Castle, the sign overhead states "Rooms 50 cents". Better get an early reservation!
This is an enjoyable film with a fine cast, and well worth your time. Give it a try.
My opinion is this is one of the best in the Chan series. It has a good story that is written well. The cast is great with some wonderful character actors. I think the production quality is a little better than other Chan films. One thing that stands out are lighting and camera angles. They create an ambiance of suspense.
Good movie set in the Mojave desert. One of the best Chan movie with Sidney
Toler. The ambiance for suspense is nicely set in a castle in the middle of
nowhere. And there's always that famous phrase: «One of us is a murderer». I
just love it when they say that!
The acting is good. Victor Sen Yung is funny as Number 2 son and I also liked the fortune teller lady. She was adding some fun to the movie.
One quote: «What I'd like now is the relaxation of a good murder case»! (Jimmy Chan to his father)
In all, an entertaining movie.
Out of 100, I gave it 78. That's good for **½ on a **** star rating system. Seen at home in Welland, June 2nd, 2001. Marko Roy.
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.
Charlie Chan, who's just planning a little vacation with son Jimmy,
gets a letter from a Mrs. Manderley, née Lucrezia Borgia (!), who
summons him urgently to Manderley castle because she fears for her
life... And THERE we've got a classic isolated old mansion if ever
there was one: Mr. Manderley, a famous historian, has built his castle
in the middle of the Mojave desert, complete with a vault full of
poison bottles and Renaissance torture instruments, with no electricity
and no phone - and very soon the distributor of the only car available
is stolen as well, which leaves the persons present in TOTAL isolation
- except for Jimmy, of course, who finds his way to the castle together
with a strange old lady with spiritualistic gifts, Madame Saturnia...
And very soon it is revealed that recently, a genealogist who wanted to investigate on Mrs. Manderley's Borgia family tree (although she seems perfectly alright, her step-brother was a mad poisoner...) was poisoned in the castle - but strangely, Madame Saturnia insists that 'the finger of Isis has never touched this house'... yet...
She also warns Charlie to 'watch out for an arrow' - and very soon, arrows from an old crossbow start flying through the castle halls, dangerously near to our detective hero! And the suspects are plenty: Mrs. Manderley (who insists she didn't write the note to Charlie, and that her step-brother is dead; another thing Madame Saturnia denies vehemently...), Mr. Manderley, who wears a mask over one side of his face (a result of an accident, he explains), Dr. Retling, whose death certificate for the genealogist is being questioned by private eye Fletcher, Mr. Hartford, Manderley's attorney, who together with his wife seems to be seeking to take control of the Manderley fortune, and sculptor Watson King, who reveals himself as yet another private detective hired by Mrs. Manderley... Make your choice!
The creepy atmosphere of the old castle of course makes this entry in the 'Charlie Chan' series another immensely entertaining whodunit; and the cast is also superb: apart from distinguished British star Henry Daniell as Watson King and Douglas Dumbrille as Manderley, we also meet again with some of the cast members of that magnificent Charlie Chan movie "Dead Men Tell" from the previous year: Milton Parsons, Lenita Lane - and Ethel Griffies, giving once again a FORMIDABLE performance as the mysterious Madame Saturnia. Jimmy as always adds lots of fun, disguised in a medieval armor - a great mystery movie that shouldn't be missed by any fan of the genre!
While I admit that the Chan films of Warner Oland are, as a group,
superior to those of Sidney Toler, that doesn't mean that some of the
Toler films aren't rock solid and as good individually as anything
Oland made. Three that immediately come to mind are Charlie Chan at
Treasure Island, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, and this film, Castle
in the Desert. (By the way, why isn't the title Charlie Chan and the
Castle in the Desert? It would have made sense to me.) In Castle in the
Desert, Charlie is summoned to a strange, isolated castle in the middle
of the Mojave Desert. But no one in the house will admit to having sent
of Chan. His presence is, however, quickly needed when in no time at
all Charlie finds himself up to his elbows in murder, poison, deadly
arrows, red herrings, and suspects galore. What could be more fun!
I've seen someone use this phrase before to describe a Charlie Chan film and I think it fits Castle in the Desert "It's a crackling good mystery". As I've indicated, all of the necessary ingredients for a fun outing with Chan are here. In fact, Castle in the Desert is really more like two mysteries in one. While the solution to the first is fairly obvious, it's still a lot of fun and just an appetizer for the more difficult and dangerous mystery to come. This was Toler's last Chan film for Fox and, by the time this one was made, Toler could have played the role in his sleep. He seems so at ease with the character. The rest of the cast is enjoyable with Henry Daniell and, one of my favorites, Douglass Dumbrille standing out in support. Another bonus for Castle in the Desert is that Victor Sen Yung as #2 son Jimmy Chan isn't anywhere near as annoying as he is in some of the other Chan films.
Overall, Castle in the Desert is a nice finale to the Chan films at Fox. Nothing that would come later at Monogram is anywhere close to matching it. I've got no problem rating this one a strong 7/10 verging on an 8/10.
This was, sorry to say, the last Chan film made by 20th Century Fox. It is also one of the most fun and atmospheric. It is set in a castle in the Mojave Desert owned by a descendant of the Borgias, played by Douglass Dumbrille. This is creepy and funny with Jimmy Chan (Sen Yung)sneaking around the castle amid the suits of armor. Henry Danielle is also on hand as a guest of the house. A nutty fortune teller also adds to the fun! Another one to watch over and over.
by far one of the better Chan films with Sidney Toler.It's filled with some nice surprises, a touch of chamber music, and familiar faces.Good acting for this type of film, the direction stood out (as opposed to Chan movies that would follow), but a flawed script that left some questions unresolved. Overall a good movie!
Citizen Kane might have indirectly inspired this Charlie Chan classic
oddly enough. The setting is a Castle In The Desert whose look might
have been taken from the real life San Simeon or the film Xanadu. But
it has that look of a sinister place where all kinds of crime does
occur. And in this case murder does visit the Castle In The Desert.
There are two criminal conspiracies going on at the same time and the instigator of one has the hubris to ask Charlie Chan in to help with one. Silly perpetrator, did the individual not realize what forces they were turning loose, the mind of one shrewd detective?
Sidney Toler arrives with Victor Sen Yung as number 2 son and they're both among others trapped in the place. Their hosts are eccentric millionaire Douglass Dumbrille and wife Lenita Lane with such interesting and varied guests as Ethel Griffies, Henry Daniell, Steven Geray, Arleen Whelan, Richard Derr, Edmund MacDonald, and Milton Parsons, all of whom have dabbled in screen villainy. In fact that's the best thing going about Castle In The Desert, a ton of red herrings to choose from.
Castle In The Desert is not one of the strongest Charlie Chan features and 20th Century Fox would drop the series after this film and it would reemerge at Monogram in two years. But the cast makes this one a lot of fun.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An ornate medieval castle in the Mojave desert is the location for this
intriguing Charlie Chan mystery. A semi-recluse author is married to a
beautiful descendant of the infamous Borgia family of poisoners, and
the wife is suspected of doing away with her guests in the same
fashion, with poisoned wine at the dinner table. Chan is called in to
investigate the strange goings-on, with uninvited help from Number Two
Son Jimmy Chan and an eccentric astrologer.
Some small town desert settings are cleverly used, in contrast with the imposing castle. The town of Mojave Wells looks like a leftover from the Old West days, with flat fronted buildings and prospectors with donkeys. Comedy is provided by the cantankerous hotel proprietor and his opportunistic brother in law. The grumpy hotel owner gets mad every time anything to do with Manderley Castle is mentioned, and assumes every Chinese man he sees must be a chop suey salesman. When Jimmy Chan arrives on the Twenties vintage bus, he is accosted by Madame Saturnia, amusingly played by the great Ethel Griffies. She and Jimmy travel the last few miles to the castle on foot, where Jimmy promptly falls into the dungeon, to be greeted with something less than enthusiasm by his father.
A cast of suspicious characters including a reserved butler, a sleazy lawyer, a slightly corrupt doctor and guests who keep dropping dead, all make for an entertaining old mystery, with plenty of atmosphere. Such stalwarts of old movies as sinister Henry Daniell and cadaverous Milton Parsons add color to a delightful cast. This movie is lots of fun for Charlie Chan enthusiasts; highly recommended.
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