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This Charlie Chan entry was more mystery-oriented than most of the
Monogram Pictures versions, which tended to rely more on humor. The
earlier Warner Oland-Chan films were like this one with the emphasis
more on serious issues. I liked both Oland and Sidney Toler in the role
of Charlie Chan, so I have no complaints either way.
As usual, it's Charlie's assistants: "Birmingham Brown" (Mantan Moreland) and "Number Three Son Tommy" (Benson Fong) who need to be rescued. They also try to help but usually wind up in trouble. Charlie has to solve the murder and help his buddies. It's a good thing because "Tommy" and "Brimingham" are the ones who add spice to this story, which was flat until the halfway mark.
This is kind of strange story and nothing was stranger than this jukebox that was rigged as a camera, with somebody behind it. It's hard to describe but it very cool, and something - technology-wise, that seemed to be way ahead of its time.
None of the Monogram Chan movies in the 1940s were "classics" but they all were entertaining and offered something different. This movie is typical: boring for some viewers, fascinating for others, lulls that shouldn't be there, but a good mix of humor, suspense and mystery.
In a nutshell, Charlie is called to Washington to help a Federal guy with a baffling case. Charlie owed him a favor so he is cashing in. It seems three people have been killed with cobra venom and the prime suspect is a guy that got caught in Shanghai eight years ago but now is not recognized. Only Charlie would know who the guys is, hence, they need him. (The suspect, "Jan Van Horn" was badly burned when the Japanese bombed the city, as the time of his arrest.)
Anyway, all three recent victims of the cobra bite worked for Sixth National Bank but the police have no clue. No wonder they always need Chan's assistance. Most of the officers shown in these movies are clueless about anything.
The story, even at a little over one hour in length, is slow in the first half hour and could use some punching up, but once Charlie's kid and "Birmingham Brown" go down to the sewers to investigate, the film is fun. Anyway, it's not like you waste half the day watching it. Charlie Chan movies are usually a fun way to spend a little over an hour.
Charlie's still working for the Federal Govt., and along with no. 3 son
Tommy and the rather subdued Birmingham are trying to prevent a gang of
crooks stealing some radium from an impenetrable bank vault. Who are
also being tailed by a watchful someone who they framed 8 years before
They all seem to spend a lot of time in that old friend, the gas chamber from the Jade Mask, this time masquerading as the sewers under the bank. But the key to this movie's implausible Monogram-plot is the very advanced jukebox in the diner which is manned via television by baddies 2 blocks away in the depths of the Monogram bank. Unsurprisingly Charlie solves everything.
All of the above probably makes it sounds utter tripe, but I've always liked this outing from the team, with a nice and dark nitrate atmosphere pervading throughout to compensate for the plot's definite shortcomings. Not so many smart ass one-liners as in other efforts, but none the worse for that! Sure, it's the usual cheap Monogram affair, but if you sat through it knowing that and didn't like it kiss that hour goodbye forever!
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,
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.
I particularly like this Chan as the first in which Tommy and
Birmingham become partners in crime (pun intended). Notice Tommy
reaching around and holding Birmingham's hand - there's real affection
and togetherness there, although Birmingham doesn't necessarily want to
follow Tommy. Are the plot twists nutty? Of course, it's a B movie, not
Citizen Freakin' Kane, folks. They were making four of these a year -
what do you want? Toler's Chan is more assertive than Oland - Toler
orders the bank president around more than once. There's far less of
Birmingham popping his eyes out in this one, and fewer 'feets don't
fail me now' talk. Tommy seems destined for trouble, but otherwise this
episode plays it straighter than some, more humorous Chans.
IF more people took these films for what they are - and not compare them to The Third Man - they might find themselves having a little more fun in life.
Back in the days before the American entry into World War II, Sidney
Toler as Charlie Chan had occasion to arrest a man accused of a nasty
string of killings involving use of cobra venom. That individual
escaped. But when in America just post World War II, the same modus
operandi turns up in a string of homicides in the same urban vicinity,
Toler knows its The Shanghai Cobra at work again.
Toler's hunt for The Shanghai Cobra now involves him in a case where the Feds have a serious interest. The Cobra plans to steal some radium stored in a bank vault for the usual nefarious purposes. With the questionable help of Number 3 son Benson Fong and chauffeur Mantan Moreland, Charlie of course solves the mystery. Not without a few twists in it, like a jukebox with a television camera inside it. Television development was put on hold during the war years and it was still an object of wonder to the public. Also of course the ways The Shanghai Cobra does deliver death is interesting.
One thing though did bother me. You would think that such a man might seek an alternative type poison, lest his work attract the attention of people like Charlie Chan. Cobra venom poison is kind of unique in America, even today.
In any event though, The Shanghai Cobra is not a bad mystery and it is that because you will be crossed up in the end if you think you've identified The Shanghai Cobra.
This is an excellent Monogram Charlie Chan that sets a mood and plays it to the hilt. Although the Monogram films never had a budget anywhere near those of the Twentieth Century Fox Chan's, this one comes close to creating the same sense of style that imbued the earlier films. From the film-noir rain slicked opening segment to the fades between scenes, this has a bold feel that overcomes its budget considerations. Sidney Toler is in fine form and appears to appreciate the enthusiasm of director Phil Karlson and the script, as he gives his all in every scene he is in. Benson Fong is good as Number 3 Son Tommy and Mantan Moreland sparkles in his comedic moments which are well timed and effortlessly diverting and not distracting to the central mystery. And it's a very good mystery too, that reminded me a bit of Castle In The Desert, inasmuch as you really have to keep a sharp eye on EVERY major character and try to remember names and relationships to keep on top of the proceedings! Your always double guessing yourself and that is the sign of a mystery doing its job! Everyone is having a great time on this one and it shows--credit too must go to the production team who "opened up" the feel of this one and didn't simply use two sets. Check this out with an open mind and you will realize that classic Chan didn't end when Fox gave up their lease.
If you're volunteering to watch a Charlie Chan movie, you already have
some idea of what's in store, and as this is one of the late ones done
at the Poverty Row Studio, Monogram, you may also know it's not heavy
on either production values or a complex script.
That said, director Phil Karlson sets up the first five minutes as if this were a dynamic, lurking-in-the-shadows film noir, and immediately slips from dark, shadowy streets into a brightly-lit diner where the juke-box is also a one-way television which connects to a secret room somewhere else in the city; what's not to like? Sounds like the start of a fascinating mystery! Unfortunately, the remainder of the film doesn't develop many more startling innovations or follow up much with the television, getting lost somewhere as the script pages went missing, perhaps
There are, however, character treats along with way, such familiar folks as George Chandler as a cynical soda jerk and familiar-face Addison Richards as a suspicious bank guard; the 64 minutes are well-spent for the average "B" movie fan--but this ain't The Maltese Falcon although almost any hour spent with Charlie Chan can be unadulterated escapism.
Yet another Charlie Chan B-Pic from Poverty row Monogram Pictures.
This time around Chan (Sidney Toler) is given the task of investigating the Murder of three Bank workers from Cobra venom, and in the same bank the Federal Government keeps valuable Radium in its Vaults worth several Millions of Dollars - The case has similarities to one Chan investigated in Shanghai 8 years earlier, although the main suspect vanished without a trace at the time.
Also along for the ride are No.3 son Tommy (Benson Fong) and Assistant Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland).
This 40's B-Pic by Low budget Studio Monogram Pictures is a pretty good Chan release, The Acting is above average and not as Wooden as in other episodes, There is more action and greater care in the Script and production this time and there are plenty of scenes in different locations rather than just a few rooms and despite the re-using of sets time and again (You'll notice rooms here that have been in other Monogram Chan Releases, even with the same pictures on the walls) all in all 'The Shanghai Cobra' is done with enough enthusiasm to make it pleasantly enjoyable.
*** out of *****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Phil Karlson gives this Charlie Chan mystery the Film Noir treatment. Otherwise, business as usual with Sidney Toler playing America's favorite Hawaaian detective. Chan is summoned to investigate several murders concerning wartime radium. A group of bank employees where deposits of radium is held for safe keeping mysteriously die. It appears each has been injected with deadly cobra venom. Chan remembers a similar case that happened earlier and the only clue he has is a man with a white streak down the middle of his otherwise jet-black hair. You can always depend on Tommy Chan(Benson Fong)and Chauffeur Birmingham (Mantan Moreland)to provide comic relief. You can't go too wrong with a Chan movie. Other players: James Cardwell, Joan Barclay, Walter Fenner and Addison Richards.
When the strange death of three employees of the same bank from cobra
venom startles the police, they start remembering a similar case that
had occurred in Shanghai eight years before - and they think that the
only one who can identify the killer named Jan Van Horn that had
escaped before the trial back then is Charlie Chan, because it was him
who'd caught him. But Charlie, once called in for help, explains that
the convict had been burnt badly in an accident and his face has
probably changed completely; and besides that, he'd always insisted
that he'd been framed...
But one thing becomes clear pretty soon: there IS something going on in connection with the bank, where a large and immensely valuable amount of radium is stored; and, strange as it sounds, there also seems to be something wrong with the laundry next door, and the coffee shop across the street - and its jukebox...! And when Charlie, Tommy and Birmingham finally find out that there's a secret passage to the bank leading through the underground sewers, they get into a REALLY tight spot there...
This 'Charlie Chan' movie definitely has got a BIG 'touch' of Noir, from dark, rainy streets to a ruthless gang of killers to a genuine 'tough guy' private eye (well, he finally turns out not to be so tough after all...) - only the gags that Tommy and Birmingham, and even Charlie himself, deliver, lighten up the otherwise really 'black' and pretty suspenseful atmosphere. But after all the perils are overcome, and the RIGHT guys have been convicted, we get to see an ending that CERTAINLY is one of the funniest of ALL 'Charlie Chan' films!
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