Author Topic: Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto  (Read 2201 times)

1SO

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2014, 07:40:26 PM »
Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935)
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The first true disappointment in the series begins on an off note with Detective Chan playing with children and singing them a song. Who thought this was what the series needed? I'm now worried about the films transitioning away from mild spookiness into all out family friendly territory.

The mystery is poorly plotted, not so much a whodunit as an espionage caper with agents and double agents. Chan solves very little, often allowing people to back him into a corner before revealing their true character.

My biggest concern is in the writing of Chan's character. His fortune cookie style of speech usually ties into his methods of detection, displaying his reasoning for looking at clues and suspects from his own unique angles. "Spider does not spin web for single fly." This time though, the writing lays it on thick, as if the only way he knows how to speak is in this manner. "Old excuse like ancient billy goat, has whiskers." There's been a cleverness to his wise sayings, but now it's getting lazy.

I hope these are short term missteps considering the 2 best Chan films - Opera and Olympics - are coming up soon.

1SO

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2014, 10:28:39 PM »
Charlie Chan's Secret (1936)
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I tend to take each Marathon on its own terms. So far, the Charlie Chan movies have been pleasant time fillers, but nowhere near the level of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes's films. Even though a handful of those films would rank below what I've seen here so far, the Holmes universe is one I enjoy returning too. Warner Oland is good, but he's not Basil good and the series' rotating band of sidekicks, underestimating police and master criminals aren't in the same league as Watson, Lestrade and Moriarty. This latest adventure shows some hope in the studio believing if this Detective Chan character is planning to stick around, perhaps they should give him more memorable crimes to work on.

For this adventure, the series returns to a manor house and a family of suspects. There are some spooky "old dark house" lighting effects and a murder which points at everyone equally. The guest star is Herbert Mundin (The Adv. of Robin Hood) as an easily scared butler assigned to Chan while he explores the house. He mugs way too much, but is a major improvement over Stepin Fetchit.

The glimmer of better possibilities ahead comes around the halfway point, when another crime happens right in front of Chan. The procedural that follows is still nothing to wow a modern audience with, but it's more clever than anything I've seen from this series before. Equally above par for this course is the way Chan reveals what he's learned to the police and his room of suspects. If future films build off the thinking that went into the back half of this one, we may eventually hit upon a winner in the bunch.

1SO

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #12 on: July 31, 2014, 01:29:32 PM »
Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)
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The best Chan film yet. Just compare the opening to the one in Shanghai. That one had him cavorting with kids. Here, he's instructing police on blood splatter patterns. Slightly higher production values and a lot more for Inspector Chan to do than just stand around acting humble and talking noble. Warner Oland is in peak form, nicely balancing his sayings for comedy, dangerous threats or imparting lessons to his oldest son, Lee.

There's both a murder to solve AND a criminal conspiracy to unravel, and the dual crimes makes it tricky to figure out the level of guilt among the many suspects. I started to think the murder was just a part of the larger conspiracy, but Chan eventually brings all the evidence back to this moment of murder.

Charlie's son Lee (Keye Luke) should annoy me, but he's played with such earnest and Charlie is generally as annoyed as we would be by his attempts. The weakest part of the film is John Henry Allen as a Stepin Fetchit type, but he's limited to only a couple of scenes. The previous good Charlie Chan films are passible, but for this one kept me entertained and guessing throughout.

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2014, 08:20:12 PM »
Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)
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I can see why this is among the most popular Chan pictures. Guest cast includes Boris Karloff as an escaped mental patient and William Demarest as a wise-cracking L.A. Detective. (These are not films where actors are asked to stretch.) There's a "take no chances", crowd pleasing aspect to the mystery that makes it entertaining enough for a casual outsider, but I can't imagine someone seeing this and thinking the series merits further exploration. I never thought of the Charlie Chan films as edgy, but now that I've watched one that plays it so safe I'm hoping the wider audience will go away and allow me to enjoy my Charlie Chan on the next outing.

This is also the 2nd thickest in terms of Chan's fortune cookie wisdom, which is like watching a Fargo sequel that wades through a hail of "you betcha' "

1SO

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #14 on: August 01, 2014, 02:16:32 PM »
Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)
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Some of the best characters in the series and the Chan family (2 sons in this one) in fine form as they work through a complicated plot of pre-war espionage. Mrs. 1SO and I think the true allegiances of a couple of characters were left unresolved by the end reveals, but it was an entertaining ride and the Olympic backdrop is used quite well. This one comes fairly close in tone to the Sherlock films, including an evil mastermind played with the right amount of snobbery. Unlike Opera, if this was to be someone's first Charlie Chan adventure I think they'd be curious to see some more.

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #15 on: August 02, 2014, 12:55:19 PM »
Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)
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A deceptive title since Chan's adventure has nothing to do with the Great White Way, but instead involves a nightclub murder in Manhattan. This has all the elements of a Thin Man mystery, minus the domestic situations. Instead Chan and his number one son, Lee, have their paternal Holmes/Watson chemistry down cold. No big names, but a handful of familiar character actors fill in the New York City social and police scene. There's so many good performances that Chan becomes less of the lead and more a part of the ensemble.

There's a fun addition with the main supper club having a candid camera night and all the patrons are taking pictures from all angles. Makes me wish we had something like that. Unfortunately, the payoff to the gimmick involves a photo in private rooms where no photographer could go unnoticed. Still, this checks all the boxes in fun fashion and is one of the best of the Charlie Chan movies.

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #16 on: August 02, 2014, 12:59:51 PM »
Just chiming in to say that I'm enjoying this thread.

pixote
I think I'd love how awkward it'd be, or how awkward it should be.

1SO

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #17 on: August 02, 2014, 01:46:59 PM »
Thanks. I'm trying to highlight the differences because the films do follow a regular formula. The young couple in love, the suspicious weasel with the thin moustache. About 2/3 in, there's the shadow of a gun or some other weapon that attempts to kill Chan or shoots someone else.

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #18 on: August 05, 2014, 01:12:45 PM »
Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937)
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Warner Oland final film as Detective Chan before his death is a shrill affair. In most of these types of detective films you gather all the suspects in a room and watch the great detective destroy everyone's cover story one question at a time. Here, Chan mostly stands quietly listening while everyone shouts accusations at each other.

Character actor Harold Huber made 4 Charlie Chan films, playing a different character in each one. Here he tries to ditch his typical New York tough guy manner to play the local chief of police. His French is okay, but as a detective he's one more shouter in the room. He gets as much screen time as Oland, which makes me wonder if this was intended as a spin-off or if Oland's health was already declining. (I can find nothing to support either theory.)

I'm hesitant to check out how Sidney Toler does as Charlie Chan since Oland was the series' most dependable element.

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Re: Charlie Chan
« Reply #19 on: August 05, 2014, 08:53:54 PM »

Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)
* * 1/2
Filming had begun on Charlie Chan at Ringside when star Warner Oland had to leave due to illness, passing away months later. 20th Century Fox then repositioned the film to be part of their Mr. Moto series, starring Peter Lorre (above on the right). Keye Luke (on the left) is here playing Charlie's #1 son, Lee Chan and Harold Huber (center) is on hand once again as a NYC Detective. For the record, on top of the 4 Chan movies I mentioned in the last post, this was the first of 2 appearances for Huber in a Mr. Moto film. Each time he plays a different character, though he plays all of the ones I've seen exactly the same way.

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I learned afterwards this was originally a Charlie Chan script, which explains my disappointment. Moto is still the lead, but in this adventure he's a criminology professor solving a whodunit. There's no danger, no James Bond. He mostly stands around observing while the character actors do their thing. So many faces familiar from The Thin Man, it's like watching a sequel. Also with Ward Bond (standout as always) and Keye Luke, who plays Charlie Chan's son. This positive Asian character would also make an excellent Watson to Mr. Moto's Holmes, but this is his only film too. This doesn't dissuade me one bit from possibly purchasing the entire series.

I've watched this film already and my original review still holds. This was already the Moto film I was most interested in revisiting, and the Charlie Chan crossover is handled extremely well as far as Lee. Moto, however is much less dangerous than I remember him from his best film. I initially loved seeing Lorre again, but he isn't given enough to do. Lee Chan's comedy bits are better to watch with all of the Charlie Chan films to set up his particular brand of enthusiasm. Like the last Resident Evil film, this is a treat if you've watched all the previous adventures, but can't quite hold its own as an entertaining mystery.