The third volume of classic Charlie Chan mysteries is a great package of treats, and of course gives us, once again, Warner Oland, the definitive Charlie Chan.
The Black Camel (1931) only one of the films in this set actually to take place in Honolulu, Chan’s home turf. A beautiful movie star is murdered, and among the suspects is none other than Bela Lugosi as a clairvoyant with murky motives. He and Oland have many scenes together, which is no small part of the pleasures of this entry.
Charlie Chan’s Secret (1936) is, in addition to being a character vehicle, a cracking Old Dark House tale, complete with seance, secret passages and clutching hands. Here Chan investigates the murder of an heir, long thought dead, whose sudden reappearance is inconvenient to a whole slew of suspects.
Charlie Chan On Broadway (1937) has Chan’s Number One Son (Key Luke, absent from the above two entries) accused of murdering a singer who was telling tales about her gangster ex.
Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1938) gives us the most exotic location of this set. It was also, sadly, Oland’s final performance as Chan, as he died soon thereafter.
There is nothing particularly ground-breaking about these mysteries. They don’t redefine anything, and they are unapologetically formulaic. But that is also no small part of their charm, as we slip comfortably into Chan’s capable hands.
The original mono gets the job done nicely, but miracles shouldn’t be expected. The age of films is apparent in the sound quality. There is some hiss and static, though the dialogue remains perfectly clear. One flaw, more noticeable with headphones, turns up quite noticeably in Charlie Chan’s Secret, where a faint echo of the dialogue can be heard shortly before it is actually spoken.
Again, miracles shouldn’t be expected, as is signalled by the pre-film announcement that the transfer has been made with the best material available. So there is grain, and the occasional bit of damage. That said, real problems are few and far between. Considering the age of the films, the work that has been done with them is admirable, and they do, generally, look pretty damn fine.
Not every disc is loaded with features, but each entry comes with a few. Useful commentary tracks by Ken Hanke and John Cork are present for The Black Camel and Charlie Chan’s Secret. At Monte Carlo has a substantial bonus on the side 2: the complete feature Behind the Curtain (1929), where Chan, in a minor role, makes one of his very first screen appearances. Featurettes delving into one aspect or another of the films (aphorisms, the phenomenon of the detective in crime fiction, and so on) are on each disc, as are still galleries and restoration comparisons. Combined, they add up to a pretty decent collection of extras.
A terrific little nostalgia package, featuring movies that know how to dive in and get the story told – none last more than 72 minutes.