Because Charlie Chan plans to return to Honolulu, he no longer needs the services of Birmingham, who gets a job as butler for William and Justine Bonner, two apparently phony psychics who regularly host occult activities in their home. When Charlie's pretty daughter Frances attends a séance out of curiosity, Mr. Bonner is shot, and she becomes an immediate suspect. Charlie postpones his trip home to help with the investigation, which is made problematic when no bullet can be found in the wound and a hypnotized Mrs. Bonner is compelled to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of a downtown building. Written by
Gabe Taverney (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Nervous and bug-eyed Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland) "assists" Charlie Chan and his daughter at the murder investigation in the home of a woman who has a séance business. During one of her sessions, a man is killed, and one of six people at the séance table appears to be the murderer.
Moreland was a great comic actor with tons of talent, and he is one of two reasons to watch this film. The other reason is the high-contrast B&W lighting, that reminds me of some 1940's noir films.
Other than Moreland and the film's lighting, "Black Magic" has little to offer. With a runtime of just 67 minutes the story is razor thin and poorly developed, suggestive of a sketchy, hastily written screenplay. There are several plot holes, and the killer's modus operandi is rather far-fetched.
As in many Chan movies, production design is minimal. And the sets here are a little too familiar. The entry hall in the séance house looks exactly like the entry hall used in the Chan movie "The Jade Mask". And the elevator set here looks like the elevator set used in the Chan movie "The Scarlet Clue". But Monogram Studios had the reputation for being cheap. And in this film ... it shows.
Even so, I can see how this film might have appealed to viewers in the 1940s, particularly as a Saturday afternoon matinée feature. In its time it probably was delightfully entertaining and a welcome diversion from the grim business of WWII.
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