Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)
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Between Charlie's proverbs and just some humorous remarks - many by Charlie's Number Two Son "Jimmy" (Sen Yung) and "Sheriff Tombstone Fletcher" (Slim Summerville) - it's a very entertaining Chan episode. Summerville played a pretty funny lawman.
The movie also had a couple of very pretty women, most notably Phyllis Brooks.
Overall, here's another Chan mystery just crying out for DVD packaging. Hopefully, we'll get it soon.
The nasty woman is shortly thereafter found murdered in her room. Pauline Moore is—unfortunately for her—found standing over the still-warm body; on the plus side for Moore, however, is her old friendship with the great Charlie Chan—who on hearing of her arrest immediately drops everything in Honolulu (he has been working in the police lab on an Easter egg) and flies over to Nevada to assist. He is accompanied by Kane Richmond, Moore's estranged—yet basically solid—husband.
It's a nice ensemble cast, a good mix of suspects. Keeping an eye on them all is Sheriff Slim Summerville, who goes by the name of "Tombstone," is suspicious of everyone, and is pretty much clueless. He is good comic relief, as is—
Sen Yung, back as Jimmy Chan, now a student at USC who borrows a car and sets out for Reno when he gets word that there's a case on. Along the highway, he gets highjacked and loses his car and his clothes .And one of the funniest scenes in the Chan series has got to be the moment when Jimmy, picked up by the cops, walks out under the lights in a police lineup wrapped in a blanket—and his recently-arrived pop is in the audience with the Reno chief.
Once released, Jimmy has a cute romance with hotel maid Iris Wong. "Does honorable father think you're too young to smoke?" she asks as he (amateurishly) lights up a cigarette. "Oh no, I'm no kid," Jimmy insists. "I help him solve his cases." Of course, he has a few ideas on this case as well .
Sidney Toler is fine at the center of it all, bantering with suspects, flattering the sheriff, tut-tutting Jimmy. Eventually, he gathers all of the suspects together for a climactic scene that is quite suspenseful and nicely satisfying.
Very enjoyable. It may be a formulaic series entry—but at this point they sure had the formula down right.
Sidney Toler's second outing as Charlie Chan is a solid effort and an improvement over his first. I'm not exactly sure how to put this, but Charlie Chan in Reno is just more interesting. The plot, suspects, and setting all appealed to me. The pacing is nice with very few dull moments. I particularly enjoyed Chan's visit to the ghost town. The supporting cast is strong with Phyllis Brooks and Ricardo Cortez being the standouts. And Iris Wong as the dead woman's maid and Jimmy Chan's love interest is a delight. But one thing I really enjoyed about Charlie Chan in Reno is the way the finale is handled. I've often complained about the "cheat" endings of Chan films (and I should probably stop and just accept it as a given), but the ending here is played much straighter than some of the other entries in the series. If you're sharp enough, you actually have a chance to spot the killer before Chan's big reveal. Unfortunately, I am not that sharp.
There are plenty of suspects - in fact, there are too many, which makes the movie a little confusing. However, the good cast, which includes Phyllis Brooks, Ricardo Cortez, and Slim Summerville help the plot along, along with Charlie's witticisms and Jimmy Chan's antics.
Directed by Norman Foster, this is a good entry into the series during its 20th Century Fox days.
Good supporting comedic cast with Victor Sen Yung as No. 2 son Jimmy - a USC undergraduate, former Keystone Kop Slim Summerville as Sheriff `Tombstone' Fletcher, and Eddie Collins as the ever-talkative cab driver (until it is suggested that he might appear in court). Ricardo Cortez is smooth as the suspicious doctor with a motive for murder. Some racial slurring as a hood from the lineup pulls up on the corners of his eyes and tells the detective that he also is one of Chan's sons.
Most of the story takes place at the Hotel Sierra or Police Headquarters. Jealousy, possible robbery, and other motives and a number of obvious suspects complicate the solution. `When searching for needle in haystack, haystack only sensible location.' A keen eye for details will lead the viewer to see what Chan sees and to anticipate his every move. Good luck, the Sheriff could not figure it out and storms out of headquarters heading for Tonopah in disgust at the end.
Could have moved faster. Recommended.
The story is much more complex than it first appears. And it's not entirely believable. But the puzzle is what's important. The plot includes a nighttime visit to a ghost town, and some genuine humor in the form of a loquacious taxi driver.
B&W lighting contributes to suspense, especially at the ghost town. Casting and acting are fine, though I could have done without irritating number two son, Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung). The actors all seem to be having a good time with their roles.
Despite a weak story premise, the film gets an overall positive review from me, owing to effective B&W lighting, humor, and a surprise ending. "Thank you so much".
Mary's husband Curtis, an old friend of Charlie Chan's (and still not very happy about the divorce), begs him to come over to Reno and help to prove Mary's innocence; because she's quite obviously NOT the only one who hated Jeanne. There's Wally Burke, whom she had rejected and on top of it all humiliated in public, there's mysterious Dr. Ainsley, who seems to share a dark secret from the past not only with Jeanne, but also with Mrs. Russell - and finally, in a ghost town near the city, Charlie digs up Jeanne's ex-husband George! So we've got once again a quite complicated plot with abundant suspects, revelations from the past, and lots of research and deduction work to do for Charlie... But for those with sharp eyes and mind, it IS solvable even before the master sleuth announces the murderer's name!
A classic example for a really intricate, but absolutely logical murder mystery, excellently played, suspenseful, but also brightened up with some VERY nice humor, provided chiefly by Jimmy Chan and Jeanne's Chinese maid Choy Wong, who team up to solve the crime their way (and thus making it even more complicated, of course...), the slow-witted Wild West Sheriff (Slim Summerville), and the eloquent cab driver (Eddie Collins, just as comical as in the previous "Charlie Chan in Honolulu" as the animal warden) - this movie certainly has got something for everybody!!
Pauline Moore is in Reno getting a divorce from Kane Richmond and is accused of murdering Louise Henry, the woman set to marry Richmond. She has a scene in the beginning of the film where she makes herself such an obnoxious Miss Thing that half the would be brides and divorcées want to kill her. But it's Moore found over the body and Moore the one looking like she has the motive and opportunity.
Of all things Charlie Chan is called by Richmond still concerned for his wife. It turns out that of course Henry had a ton of enemies and acquaintances and a shady past with connections to others in the cast. It's up to Sidney Toler in his second Chan feature to ferret all those out.
I have to say some of them come out of left field, still the film is a decent Charlie Chan feature. Although the homicide captain Charles D. Brown is grateful for the help, country sheriff Slim Summerville spends most of the time bewildered by how rapidly the Oriental mind works. He's the comic relief in a good mystery that provides us with only one murder and a foiled attempt at another.
As for this film in particular, Toler and Jimmy are just fine and I have no complaints about their acting or characters. However, when it comes to the murder plot, this one was much more convoluted and tough to believe than most. When they find the actual murderer at the end, you are left feeling like they just picked that person at random--especially since the motivation this person had seemed tenuous at best. Still, not a bad film at all--enjoyable throughout.
Despite the overly complicated plot (adapted from a Philip Wylie novel) and the vast array of support acting talent led by Slim Summerville (at his most amusing), Ricardo Cortez (as a far too-obvious suspect), Phyllis Brooks (although star-billed, her role is actually minor), Louise Henry (her final movie role), Pauline Moore, and the wonderful Kay Linaker, Toler more than holds his own.
This is, in fact, one of Toler's most ingratiating performances. He smiles a lot - and he has plenty of aphorisms to smile with, including: "Man not yet born who can tell what woman will or will not do!"
Even Sen Yung is tolerable. Virgil Miller's camerawork shines at its noirish best all through the picture, but particularly in a ghost town sequence.
My only complaint is with Eddie Collins as the talkative cab driver, who is meant to be annoying, but succeeds a little too well. His character belongs to a type of Thirties humor that doesn't hold up well with the passage of time. Such irritating characters turn up frequently in a lot of Depression era films, and have to be accepted as part of the period, along with wise guy reporters, hardboiled cops, tough dames and grouchy editors . My tolerance for this type of individual in real life no doubt has something to do with it.
This is a minor complaint about a pretty good film. Enjoy it as a good Charlie Chan mystery, where even the annoying characters are a part of the fun.
When Mary Whitman (Pauline Moore) is found over the dead body of Jeanne Bentley (Louise Henry), she of course is the obvious suspect, and with a firm motive; Bentley was going to marry Whitman's about to be ex-husband. But Bentley had a unique way of alienating most everyone with her ingratiating manner, not the least of which was another suitor, Wally Burke (Robert Lowery). Burke comes across as suitably suspicious, as does Dr. Ainsley (Ricardo Cortez), who is surprised to be discovered in the murder room of the Hotel Sierra, claiming to be looking for the money won by Bentley at the casino, offering robbery as the motive for the crime.
Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler in his second performance as the Oriental Detective) is aided in the case by Number #2 Son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung, credited as Sen Yung). Jimmy is on spring break from the University of Southern California, and gets himself mugged by a pair of con men who steal his borrowed car; he's identified by "Pop" in a police line up. There's also Police Chief King (played straight by Charles D. Brown) and an inept Reno Sheriff Tombstone Fletcher (Slim Summerville). Fletcher is quick to dismiss Chan's serious questioning and investigative work, preferring to pin the crime on the innocent Mary Whitman.
Once Charlie gets down to business, a whole host of new clues and information come to light. The investigation eventually leads to an abandoned ghost town outside of Reno, and yet another suspect, this time Jeanne Bentley's ex husband George.
For trivia fans, there are two actors in "Reno" that also appeared in Toler's first Chan adventure in "Honolulu". Phyllis Brooks as Vivian Wells is ultimately revealed to be the murderer; while Eddie Collins does a comic turn as the talkative cab driver. Collins was the lion keeper aboard a freighter in the "Honolulu" film.
Before the mystery is over, Chan unravels an entire network of entanglements that connect the murder victim with each of the suspects, and the suspects with one another. It's rather cleverly done, and promotes this film to one of the better Charlie Chan titles, particularly those of Sidney Toler.