October 24, 2011

Movie Monday: Charlie Chan in the Secret Service

Today's Movie Monday feature is one of the less well-known classic movie detectives: Charlie Chan

Source: google.com via Jaci on Pinterest

The year is early 1944. Charlie Chan is a Chinese immigrant detective who is tasked by the Secret Service to investigate the murder of a scientist who was building a super-bomb to battle the Germans and Japanese. At the time the scientist was murdered, his house was full of dinner guests. Charlie has to get to the house, find the murder and the missing super-bomb plans. Tagging along after him are two of his "helpful" children, both aspiring detectives.

While there, he meets an eclectic group and two attempts on his life. Just when he thinks he's found the murderer, his suspect is killed right in front of him. Who is the infamous German spy in sheep's clothing? Will they find the spy and the plans before they can be passed on to the Germans?

Source: google.com via Jaci on Pinterest

Charlie Chan movies are typically pretty hard to come by these days. In fact, I was very surprised to see a half-dozen on Netflix streaming. Charlie Chan is also originally a character in a novel, but the movie version is the most well-known. There are dozens of Charlie Chan movies, but they don't get wide circulation anymore, for a couple of reasons.

First, and probably the main reason, is the fact that Charlie Chan was never actually played by a Chinese man. Both Charlie Chans were played by Caucasian actors (Sidney Toler is my favorite) in "Chinese" makeup and speaking in broken English. That type of thing isn't too popular anymore, for obvious reasons. However, Charlie Chan the character is, in my opinion, a great tribute to the Chinese immigrant population in America. Yes, he speaks in broken English, like many people to whom English is a second language. He is also wise, witty, dignified, and highly respected wherever he goes. He has a good relationship with his children and speaks highly of his "honorable wife." It's impossible not to like Charlie Chan.

The second reason the movies probably aren't around much is that, out of all the movies I watched for this month, the Chan movies aren't the most riveting. There's always a decent mystery and some good one-liners (mostly Charlie's, of course) but I have a hard time staying "hooked" in the movies unless I'm really paying attention. In a dark theater with nothing but a bucket of popcorn to distract me, I'm sure it would be a different story.

There's a lot to love about Charlie Chan movies, too. Charlie being the first, for the reasons I outlined above. But also I love the way they incorporate his kids as sidekicks. Throughout the series, several of his 14-some-odd children (the total gets larger as the series goes on, the last figure I heard was 14) come along to assist him in crime solving. Of course, more often than not, they get in the way and provide comic relief than actually contribute. And they are always foils for the serious and old-fashioned Charlie. I love listening to their conversations involving tons of contemporary slang - what sounds like absolute gibberish to me today, and does to Charlie as well. He tells them they can't speak English, they tell him he's just too old fashioned. It's all in fun and with lots of love.

Netflix has several Charlie Chan movies on streaming right now. It's definitely worth an hour of your time (most are around an hour).

Be sure and check back next week on Halloween, when we reach the epic conclusion of my Movie Monday: Mystery Edition!!


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