Due to the regrettable death of Warner Oland, 20th Century-Fox had to look for a 'new' Charlie Chan to continue its immensely popular series; they found him in Sidney Toler, who was indeed an ideal choice, not only because of his physical appearance (although he had primarily Scottish roots, he had quite an oriental look, and he always claimed that there had been Asians among his ancestors), but also of his acting style that was quite similar to Oland's: he was simply PERFECT at portraying the gentle, polite Chinese with a lot of wisdom, cleverness, and also humor.
Now, since the protagonist had changed, the producers seemed to think it best to change his assistant as well: instead of 'number one son' Lee, it's now 'number two son' Jimmy (Sen Yung, who would make a wonderful team with Toler for many more 'Charlie Chan' adventures) - but, in order not to upset the audience too much, they let Toler's first appearance begin right at his home in Honolulu, among his whole huge family... to which another member is just about to be added; not a child, but a grandchild for Charlie this time! But amid this happy family scene, a police call comes in, calling Charlie to a freighter off the harbor where a murder has been committed - only it's not Charlie who takes the call, but one of his smaller boys, who tells everything to Jimmy, who's most ambitious to become a detective as well, and goes there to impersonate his father, hoping to get his first 'big' case that way... Instead, he and his little brother who followed him secretly are in a pretty bad jam soon; and Charlie, who's been informed of somebody 'impersonating' him, comes to their rescue just in time!
Anyway, Jimmy has done quite a good research job until now - only it's up to his father now to put the pieces of the difficult puzzle together: a man traveling with a bag filled with money which he'd handed over to a pretty young lady who had orders to forward it to an unknown destination was shot; there are five more passengers aboard the freighter: the VERY strange psychiatrist Dr. Cardigan (George Zucco, one of the greatest specialists at this kind of roles), young Judy Hayes who was entrusted the money, mysterious Mrs. Wayne, and a police officer who seems on strangely friendly terms with the murderer he's in charge of and has to turn over to the States' authorities. But that's not all: the cargo room is full with... beasts: lions, elephants, monkeys - and their boozy warden, who has to deliver the whole 'Noah's Ark' load to the zoo!
So there's LOTS of adventure and suspense guaranteed in Sidney Toler's debut as 'Charlie Chan': murders, criminal psychology, hot money, convicts - and on the other side great fun with Jimmy Chan's first attempt to be a detective, the stuttering animal warden who takes 'his' lion for walks and sleeps beside him, but is afraid of ghosts and shadows, the creepy psychiatrist examining everyone with a loony look in his eyes... In short: there ARE some changes in style, but it still remains the same good old 'Charlie Chan' series we all adore!
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