Charlie Chan's Secret (1936)
* * *
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.