Dark Alibi (1946)
Three men are convicted of bank robberies, the main evidence against them being that their fingerprints were found at the scenes. However, Charlie Chan believes them to be innocent, and his investigation reveals that they are indeed innocent and that their fingerprints were forged and planted in the prison files to frame them. Charlie sets out to uncover the real bank robbers.
Three reformed ex-cons have been convicted of separate bank robberies, with the latest on death row for murder. The damning evidence has been their fingerprints found at the crime scenes. Suspecting their innocence, Detective Charlie Chan investigates and finds that their fingerprints were all forged using prison files as source material. Now he needs to find those responsible before their latest fall guy is executed.
Three innocent men, all ex-convicts, are convicted of bank robberies and murder on the strength of fingerprints found at the scenes of the crimes. Police detective Charlie Chan, believing the men innocent, investigates and finds that others have planted the fingerprints, using prison-file fingerprints as their source.
A public defender enlists Charlie to exonerate one of his clients, an ex-con falsely accused of bank robbery and murder, scheduled for execution in nine days.
- Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan in
Dark Alibi, Released 5-25-46
The opening scene is showing three men robbing a bank. One man is operating a cutting-torch on the bank vault, with another man, pistol drawn, on the inside, looking around near the vault, and the third man is watching outside of the vault area for any intruders. Someone is coming down the stairs, he sees the cutting-torch being used and is shot dead from behind by the inside man. A hole has been cut near the vault-lock, dynamite is put in the hole, the vault is blown open, after all the men are shown shielding themselves from the blast. The person shot dead during the robbery was later revealed to be a bank guard. It was also told the robbers made their escape after planting fingerprints near the slain guard and on the vault door.
We go to the Foss Hotel, a long-term residence for various personage, some with a past criminal background. The hotel owner is Mrs. Foss, a social worker, giving a second chance to those in need, but easily persuaded to change her mind based on certain information that will be proven false. Miss Petrie, a hotel resident, asks Mrs. Foss if there was any mail for her; proprietor Foss answers abruptly, there was none, as Foss peeks out the window. Resident Johnson comes into the room, through the back entry, the sliding side doors, inquiring about the two men in back. Foss tells him that is her business. June Harley comes down the stairs, thinking she heard her father returning, as residents Emily Evans and Danvers enter from the outside. Danvers is obnoxiously greeting everyone, introducing himself as a salesman. Tom Harley enters the same room and is greeted warmly by his daughter, June.
Mrs. Foss opens the sliding doors, the two men from the back room enter, a police officer named Brand presents himself to Tom Harley, shows his badge, telling Harley he is under arrest for robbing the Citizen State Bank and murdering a guard less than an hour ago. Brand states the evidence has Harley's fingerprints all over the safe and beside the murdered man. Tom Harley shows Brand a typed note directing him to Carey's Theatrical Warehouse, eight o'clock, door open, enter, need your help, Dave Wyatt. Harley insists he was locked in the warehouse for the past four hours, and the phone was out of order. Brand says the note is from a man who has been dead for eight years. The police question if he knew the dead man from his time at State Prison, years ago. His daughter is shocked at hearing the news of her father's past. Evidently this is the first time she has heard of her father doing time, as Tom Harley is escorted out by Brand.
The courtroom scenes and newspaper headlines reveal the Tom Harley sentencing, and pending execution for the crime. Harley claims he is innocent. Anthony Morgan, City Public Defender, is seen with Charlie Chan, leaving his office, when June Harley interrupts them, appealing Tony to rescue her father from execution in nine days. Charlie re-enters the room, introduced by Morgan to June, saying he followed the court case proceedings. Charlie writes June the name of a private detective able to take the case; his own name and the hotel which he is staying. Charlie excuses himself, his car is being packed by his son, Tommy Chan, and his driver, Birmingham Brown. They have planned a trip to a distant city, leaving now, until he took this case. He goes down to the car telling his henchmen to head back to the hotel, unpack, for they are on a case and must work fast, a man's life is being held in the balance.
June Harley and Hugh Kenzie greet Charlie outside his hotel door. Hugh introduces himself as a Sergeant guard at the State Prison, lauding Charlie for taking the Harley case. Charlie says he is a detective, not magician, referring to a possibility of exonerating Tom Harley. Charlie states to the couple, the place to start looking is where June lives, there being few clues to go by, but the last place Tom Hanley was free is the hotel where he was arrested.
Charlie first talks with Mrs. Foss, validating her social worker position, taking in former prisoners for rehabilitation hopes. Charlie says Tom Harley lived in the house for fifteen years, questioning Mrs. Foss, she must have known he was an ex-con. Charlie says she informed police Harley was an ex-convict. She says she was betrayed by his robbery. Charlie quips, fifteen years after he was let out of prison. The note Harley was given is from Foss's typewriter; she claims could have been used by anyone living in the hotel. Foss tells Charlie there is no other ex-con living in the hotel. Charlie requests all residents gather in the great room or lobby, for an interview. First interview is Miss Petrie, typist for the social foundation in afternoons. Charlie mentions the typed note Tom Harley was given to meet someone could have been typed by her. Charlie notes Miss Petrie's clothes are expensive, the work she does not match the wardrobe. Petrie says most of her clothes are donated through the foundation. Charlie reaches for a folder in his briefcase, stating to Mr. Johnson, he is a public accountant and one of his clients is Carey's Theatrical Warehouse. Johnson acknowledges, he is a bookkeeper, for several small business firms, one of the firms is Carey Theatrical Warehouse, the same place Tom Harley was lead to by the note. The police validated Johnson was in an another location, across the city, working for another client, when Tom Harley was in the warehouse. Charlie tells Danvers he was in both cities shortly before banks were robbed, he also visited both banks, including Citizen State Bank. Questioning Danvers on the theft-devices he sells to banks, such as the burglar alarms and tear-gas bombs Charlie shows Danvers could also be used to rob the same banks. Danvers takes offense at the accusation. Charlie says merely suggest what you could do if dishonest. Charlie states to Emily Evans, an article of clothing was found at Carey's Theatrical Warehouse with your name on it; Charlie shows a negligee to Miss Evans. Evans says she wore the skimpy outfit in a play she was in, but the play flopped; she adds, Carrie must have bought the wardrobe after the play closed. Charlie says Evans played in the towns where the other bank robberies occurred. Evans is offended, but Charlie just wonders how she wore such few feathers. Evans is a chorus girl, as will be confirmed later, if the costume doesn't say the same thing. Charlie excuses the residents. Mrs. Foss is behind the sliding doors when Charlie opens same. He instructs her the request for everyone to depart included her. She says this is my house and I will do as I like. June Harley and Hugh Kenzie discuss with Charlie his plans, as time is scarce to exonerate her father. Charlie insists Kenzie return to work, he will call upon him when needed. Right now, he would like to visit Tom Harley at the prison, post haste, alerting any ears where he was going next.
Birmingham Brown is driving Charlie and Tommy to the prison, a rifle shot punctures the rear window, obviously an attempt to rid the perpetrators of any last hope for Tom Harley, thus exposing the identity of the murderer and bank robbers. In the car, Charlie mentions, the only persons who know the route Charlie was taking were those living at the Foss Hotel. At the prison, Charlie meets with Warden Cameron, Charlie saying the shots at him coming to the prison, tells him he is on the right track. Somebody wants to halt the investigation. Guard Kenzie enters the Warden's office, all three exit, while convict Jimmy Slade, comes to see the warden, identifies himself to Charlie by his prison number, after acknowledging he knows he is Charlie Chan. Kenzie identifies the convict as Jimmy Slade, a trustee for the fingerprint card-files; Slade is in for forgery.
Charlie Chan is lead to Tom Harley's cell, greeting him, both men are pleased to see one another. Benjamin Brown, prisoner and brother to Birmingham, meets up with the driver-brother and Tommy Chan. They have their indefinite talk, while Tommy is taken by surprise, not understanding their conversation. Charlie tells Tom, he knows your wife died when you were in prison, twenty years ago. Tom says it was when June was born. He never told June about being in prison, because he intended to go straight, and he did, as he lays it out for Chan. Charlie says your fingerprints were on the bank vault. Tom comments, he knows they were his prints, but he has never been in that bank his whole life. Charlie responds, never believe nightmare, no matter how real it may seem. Chan learns Warden Cameron was there twenty years ago when Tom was. Birmingham and Tommy follow two convicts into their work area where bales have been strapped. The convicts, Foggy and Punchy, speak about Charlie Chan being around, and they return to their cells now occupied by visiting Birmingham and Tommy.
Charlie is back in the warden's office, telling him he believes the fingerprints were forged and placed at the scene of crime; forgery is only solution, must find out how it was accomplished, before it is too late. The warden takes a call, a riot is occurring, the cause is two men are locked in a cell with two convicts. Charlie intervenes, one convict is Foggy, they know one another. Foggy introduces Punchy, his cellmate, Punchy is honored to meet Charlie Chan. The two men in the cell are Birmingham and Tommy; Charlie requests they leave, before being permanent residents.
Charlie is lead into the criminologist's area of the police department, where he compliments criminologist Thompson for his efforts trying to solve the case. Thompson says forging fingerprints has been tried before, but it has never worked. An attempt cutting rough ridges in rubber pads didn't work, because there is no natural oil in the pads, there was no print left. Charlie adds, it is the natural oil from the human fingers that creates fingerprints. Thompson continues to try to duplicate some prints with other oils. Charlie asks favor from Barker, man in charge, please check back as much as fifteen years for residents living at Foss Hotel. Charlie tells Barker, skeletons in closets always speak loudest to police.
In the City Public Defender's office, Chan is looking through records, noting there were three bank robberies in the past two years. A man named Stanley Grey convicted, Steven Briggs convicted, and Tom Harley convicted. All three men were ex-cons, all three swore they were never in the banks they were accused of robbing, making it impossible of leaving any fingerprints. All three banks robbed in identical manner, no money was ever recovered. Charlie explains, the people convicted in the three associated bank robberies all served time in the same prison. Charlie states he believes a connection among the robberies, the fingerprints and the State Prison. A call from the police department for Charlie saying Miss Petrie is actually the wife of convict Jimmy Slade, a convict trustee employed in the fingerprint bureau of the State Prison, and she has been visiting there every month.
At the Foss Hotel, Charlie tells Miss Petrie he is aware of her husband, her source of funds for buying her clothes. Charlie tells Petrie to get her coat, they are going downtown. There is a person, likely a man, seen above, in the upstairs hallway. Chan tells Mrs. Foss she lied to him about Miss Petrie's relationship with her husband Slade. There is a scream from upstairs, it is June Harley, saying someone tried to choke her. Miss Petrie cannot be found. Phone numbers in Petrie's phone records list Carey's Theatrical Warehouse multiple times. Charlie heads for the warehouse, asking Kenzie to have police locate Petrie.
Outside an entrance to the warehouse, a truck attempts to run over Charlie, Tommy and Birmingham. Charlie knows it was no accident. The three enter the warehouse, they split up, all looking for Petrie. Birmingham wanders about the warehouse, making noise, finally running into Tommy and later Charlie. Charlie directs Birmingham to watch the door, he climbs the staircase, enters an office, sees Johnson, has him proved a liar for feigning deafness. Johnson says Petrie has never been there; Chan tells him to expect her soon. Birmingham calls for Charlie, he points to the truck circling for the second time, they see Miss Petrie get run down, killed by the same truck. He orders the police be called, demanding to leave her purse, as it is for the police. He calls June, verifying Miss Petrie was not carrying a purse when she left hotel. Charlie tells Barker the purse was left for fingerprints, providing police with a convenient murderer. The prints on the purse are from a convict, wrongfully accused, like the others, for a crime they did not commit.
Barker enters the Warden's office, Charlie and the Warden listen to him say cards on each convicted robber were in the file, including the most recent one and Harley's. Slade is listening outside the Warden's door, as Barker explains the cards he found are all filed on the convicted robbers. Charlie asks for Barker to identify the prints of the unknown person handling the cards. Charlie tells both men he suspects the fingerprints on the cards were used to frame innocent men. The warden is skeptical, but Charlie says let Barker finish identifying the fingerprints. While Barker is doing his work, Benjamin and Birmingham Brown are at their indefinite talk routine best.
Barker returns with the findings, one card has been wiped clean, Louis Mack's card was tampered with by someone not from the prison. Proof someone set up the fingerprints, framing Mack for Miss Petrie's murder. Kenzie interrupts, saying Slade was not in his cell; the warden calls a general lockup. Slade has a gun heading for the bailing shed, where he slugs a guard, grabs the guard's machine gun, and a shootout ensues, Slade goes down, the others move in, Slade rises, fires his pistol, inadvertently killing himself when the gun fired. The weapon's barrel was found plugged, according to Charlie.
At Foss's Hotel, Charlie demands Mrs. Foss's fingerprints and Emily Evans's prints. Emily refuses without a warrant, Charlie hands her his Federal ID, she takes it, views it, returns it. He now has her prints. Charlie wants everyone's prints in house. Mrs. Foss says everybody else is out, Charlie says no matter, Thompson nearby is an expert at finding prints in the rooms. Charlie leads the way upstairs.
At police headquarters, Morgan tells Chan that Louis Mack's card had Johnson's prints on it. Thompson shows Charlie engraved prints he had photographed on his lab gloves. With the use of animal oil, prints are visible from Thompson's glove, proving they can be forged, with the aid of an engraving plant, consisting of cameras and engraving tools. For Harley's prints to be forged, a large lab set up would have to be required, like the one Thompson sent away for his experiment.
At the warehouse site is the truck used in killing Miss Petrie containing the equipment necessary to produce forged prints. The truck is parked in the Carey warehouse where Charlie, Tommy and Birmingham are looking for more clues. Charlie wanders about the warehouse, a stranger lurks after Charlie, as does Tommy, separate from Birmingham. After lifting the headpiece up to reveal a human inside a knight's armor-costume, Birmingham looks for someone friendly, he finds Tommy. A stranger fires a pistol, Tommy Chan sees where the bullets are coming from, he and Birmingham climb into the truck cab. They run the truck toward the shooter, crashing through stage artifacts, forcing the shooter into the room where Charlie is waiting. Charlie has his pistol out, pointed at the shooter, saying you are traveling salesman, this time no sale. The shooter and murderer is Danvers. Charlie calls Morgan to stop the execution. Charlie confronts Danvers, accusing him of Johnson's murder, to prevent Johnson from talking. Danvers is lead off waiting for the police to show.
Charlie is at the prison with Morgan, June, Tom Harley, Kenzie and the Warden in his office. Charlie explains Slade stole the fingerprint cards from the prison files, sending them to Johnson who photographed them, engraving same on rubber, while Danvers cased each bank for the robberies. Charlie continues explaining a third man is missing, responsible for most of the crimes. Chan states the questions. How was Slade able to get the fingerprint cards in and out of prison? Who gave Slade the gun? Who sabotaged the same gun to eliminate Slade? Charlie tells the Warden, it had to be someone on the inside of the prison. That someone is Kenzie, whom he confronts, Kenzie goes for his gun, Chan takes it from him as Tommy and Birmingham poke their fingers into Kenzie. The warden subsequently arrests Kenzie, leading him out of the office. Charlie tells Tom Harley, Kenzie was an egomaniac; when he wanted money, he stole it. Kenzie had Tom Harley framed, because he thought Tom Harley opposed June's marriage to him. Charlie learned from talking to Danvers of Kenzie's guilt. Charlie said he talked with chorus girl, Miss Evans, to find out Kenzie's other motives. Birmingham, Ben and Charlie meet in the hall for one final discussion, that Tommy Chan will never understand.