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
This installment of the Chan series is more light-hearted than many, with daughter Frances replacing her brothers in the family sidekick roll, and Birmingham Brown getting a lot of screen time. The séance is another of the classic murder mystery settings used in the series - for the second time, in fact. The complaints by other reviewers about Frances Chan's acting boggle the mind - she's an appealing character, and this ain't Shakespeare, folks. It's nice to have the woman's - or girl's - touch in the series, and Sidney Toler is more affectionate towards her than to sons one and two. Hypnosis and plastic surgery are overworked gimmicks in mysteries, but hey, this is B-movie-land. Mantan Moreland is given plenty of time to clown, and he does his usual great job of it. Yes, he plays the fool, but no more so than my beloved Three Stooges, and folks, they were as white as you can get. If you can't see the difference between Stepin Fetchit and Mantan Moreland, that's a you problem.
Considering it was made in a few weeks with a minimal budget, this Chan was a fun hour of entertainment. Charlie is Charlie - one step ahead of the police he helps - Frances is a breath of fresh air, and Birmingham entertains with his comic acting. Black Magic is exactly what it set out to be - not Citizen Kane, and not trying to be.
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