When three employees of a bank are found murdered with cobra venom, Charlie Chan connects the homicides to a case he had worked in Shanghai in 1937. Even though he arrested the alleged murderer, whom later escaped from the police, Charlie wouldn't be able to recognize him because, at the time of his apprehension, his badly burned face and hands were swathed in bandages. Although Chan believes he is now involved with a gang that is stealing valuable radium from a bank vault, utilizing tunnels that connect to the area sewer system, his new identity remains a mystery. When a detective disguised as a bank guard is found dead in a tunnel by Birmingham, Charlie knows he's on the right track. Written by
Sidney Toler is Charlie Chan in "The Shanghai Cobra," a 1945 film. The Chan series by now is in the hands of one of the "poverty row" studios, Monogram.
In this story, Charlie is called by an old colleague to help identify a man named Jan Van Horn,. Charlie arrested this man in Shanghai during the war; van Horn's modus operandi was killing with cobra venom. Van Horn at the time insisted that he was being framed. The man's face had been badly burned, and he escaped during deportation. Now he's probably had extensive plastic surgery. Now four people have been killed with cobra venom, and all of them are involved with a bank that has radium in one of its vaults - radium that will be stolen if Charlie doesn't nab the criminal.
I admit I've always liked Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan, probably because I am most familiar with him in the role. And I admit that I've always loved Chan's relationship with Birmingham and find Mantan Moreland very funny. I know that kind of humor is out today, but as Birmingham the chauffeur, the talented Moreland has wonderful comic timing. He also is treated on the same level as Charlie's son, in this case the number 3 son (Benson Fong). It's obvious that Birmingham has a close relationship with the Chan family.
These films have a certain formula - Charlie always solves the crime, of course, and whichever son accompanies him usually not only gets into trouble but drags Birmingham along with him.
However, no matter the studio, the Charlie Chan series is entertaining and enjoyable.
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