on May 12, 2007
Four more films:
Behind that Curtain (1929) - No Oland, very little Chan but Warner Baxter who would later play Doctor Ordway in the Crime Doctor film series, and Boris Karloff in the role of a servant.
The Black Camel (1931) - Features Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye
Charlie Chan's Secret (1936) - A great old-dark house whodunnit
Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)- Charlie and #1 son on the great white way
Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo (1937) - The last of the Oland Chan films
Black Camel commentary by film critic Ken Hanke
Charlie Chan's Secret commentary by film critic Ken Hanke
Chan Is Missing: The Last Days Of Warner Oland featurette,
The World Of Charlie Chan featurette
Chanograms: The Aphorisms Of Charlie Chan featurette
Charlie Chan and The Rise of The Modern Detective featurette
Dr. Henry Lee: The Modern Day Charlie Chan featurette
Charlie Chan's Chance: A Recreation, a dramatized recreation of the lost film, Charlie Chan's Chance with an optional introduction by film historian John Cork
The Warner Oland cycle is now complete. The special interest groups that scared the Fox Movie Channel into not showing re-mastered editions of the Charlie Chan films back in 2003 have ultimately failed. With the release of Vol 3, ALL the Warner Oland Chan films (not counting the lost ones) are available on DVD for all who want to see them. (Hopefully, the rest of the Toler Chans will follow) Long live the great detective. And to the P.C. forces that don't like it I can only say is...Thank you...so much...
on August 19, 2007
I'd like to comment on what a nice job 20th Century Fox has done in putting together all three volumes. After watching the final volume, it becomes apparent just how carefully they planned it all. The first volume takes Chan to London, Paris, Egypt, and Shanghai--it's a nice trip, and each movie makes mention of the previous spot as Chan makes his way from East to West. The special features spent much time on the real life inspiration for Chan, Chang Apana, and included commentary from Apana's family. The second volume finds Chan visiting the Circus, the Race Track, the Opera, and Olympics. The movies themselves and the special features focus a lot of attention on Chan's eldest son and the actor who played him--Keye Luke.
Thematically, the first two volumes stand alone quite well, and the special features are unique to each set--there was little overlap. It might be tempting to think of the third volume as the leftovers, but that would be a mistake. The Black Camel is the sole survivor of the first 5 Oland Chan movies, and it gives viewers a super glimpse of the original characterization--Chan is energetic and forceful in a more physical way than in the years to come. It's great to see that bit of history, and a Chan film with location shooting in Hawaii is a welcome sight. Charlie Chan's Secret has a spooky house vibe that follows The Black Camel very nicely. Commentary on the films at last! Of the twelve films, I think that TBC and CCS were good choices. Broadway and Monte Carlo are the last two Oland Chans, and there's an excellent featurette on Oland included here. Thus we see both the beginning and the end of the Oland Chans in this volume. I haven't mentioned all the special features since Amazon lists them, but I'll just say that once again, we get unique ones with little or no overlap between these and those of the previous volumes.
Fox has made it easy to watch the films in order if you like--pop in The Black Camel, the four films of volume 1, Charlie Chan's Secret, the four films of volume 2, then the last two films of volume 3. Taken all together, the featurettes give a well rounded view of the original novels and the novelist, the real life inspiration for Chan, some of the directors, and the actors, as well as the broader picture--the Chan books and movies as detective fiction and fictional portrayals of Asian Americans in U.S. culture. In addition you get a couple of interesting commentaries and 2 extra films that are interesting as pieces of Chan history even if they aren't great cinema (Eran Trece and Behind the Curtain). And as if all that wasn't enough--the slick green, red, and blue boxes all match and look wonderful together on the shelf.
The breadth of the special features, the thematic approach to the volumes, and the look of the art on boxes and cases should be taken by other studios as the standard for putting together a collection like this. Bravo 20th Century Fox!
Charlie Chan was originally created by novelist Earl Derr Biggers (1884-1933), who very loosely based the character on Hawaii's legendary police officer Chang Apana (1887-1933.) Biggers wrote six novels in all, and after several false starts 20th Century Fox (then simply known as Fox) hit on the right combination of actors, mystery, and comedy. The result was perhaps the single most popular film series Hollywood ever created.
Contemporary audiences tend to view the films as politically incorrect, but the fact remains that Chan and his family--most often personified by Keye Luke as son Lee--were among the very few positive Asian characters on American movie screens at the time; as such they were particularly popular with Asian-American audiences of the day. Volume 3 of the 20th Century Fox collection rounds out the surviving films starring Warner Oland, who was the original series Chan.
Several Chan films have been lost; the earliest still in existence is THE BLACK CAMEL, the second in the series. Based directly on the Biggers novel of the same name, this 1931 release finds Chan investigating the murder of a Hollywood star in Hawaii. Loosely suggested by the William Taylor Desmond murder and filmed partly on location, THE BLACK CAMEL is atypical of most Chan films--and all the more interesting for that. It also has the fortune of Bela Lugosi as Warner Oland's co-star, and Lugosi and Oland have unexpected chemistry. Released in 1936, CHARLIE CHAN'S SECRET is a story of a missing heir, a woman who is under the influence of "spirtualists," and features seances, a creepy mansion, and lots of foolish-but-fun plot turns. Although not one of the best Chan films, it is among my own favorites.
Released in 1938, CHARLIE CHAN ON BROADWAY and CHARLIE CHAN AT MONTE CARLO were the last two Chan films made starring Oland, who died not long after. Both films feature Keye Luke as son Lee Chan. ON BROADWAY finds Chan doing battle with a murderous blackmailer in New York; it is among the better films in the series, slick and well executed. AT MONTE CARLO finds Chan seeking stolen bonds--and plunging into a mixture of blackmail and murder as a result. While it tends to be a bit slower than most Chans, it too is enjoyable.
Fox has done very well by the Chan films in the past, but on this occasion the studio has really knocked itself in terms of bonuses. There are the usual, expertly made "featurettes" on various aspects of the series, but on this occasion two films (BLACK CAMEL and SECRET) have very erudite, entertaining commentaries. The set also includes items of interest: a print of BEHIND THAT CURTAIN, a very early Chan film that is not properly part of the series, and a re-creation via stills and dialogue of the lost film CHARLIE CHAN'S CHANCE. Regretfully, BEHIND THAT CURTAIN is a dire film and best left to hardcore fans, and the recreation of CHANCE is more akin to an Ed Wood film than a Chan film--but Fox gets points for effort. The restorations are not flawless, but they are much better than other prints; recommended for Chan fans everywhere!
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on June 15, 2007
Just when you thought it was over, Fox has released a 4th and final installment in the Warner Oland Charlie Chan series. Thank you Fox. This set contains several very important Chan films. The Black Camel is the second Oland outing (Carries On is lost and only a Spanish version exists with Spanish actors), so this is a very important film in the Chan genre. It also contains what has been considered by many fans another "lost" film, SECRET and ends with the final Oland entry MONTE CARLO that has a hilarious scene with #1 son Keye Luke's rear end on fire.
There is still a missing Oland film and Like CARRIES ON may be lost forever. MGM has released the first 6 (and the least interesting) of the Sidney Toler WWII Chan films--which are overly cautious. The pre-war Fox Toler outings are still waiting for release. Let's hope they will be forthcoming, so many of them are highly entertaining and much better made than the Monogram counterparts released on CHANTHOLOGY.
Thanks again FOX. Let's see some more!
on July 18, 2007
Well, it must be taking a long time to refinish these Classics. I'm sure I am not alone in hoping that the big wigs at 20th Century Fox are working on the Sidney Toler movies next ? Even though I have all 42 films, they are reproduction from old tv like tcm or fox movie channel, I love the transfer on the Warner Oland films that have been released and will be happy to re-purchase them and the forthcoming Toler films just because of the packaging and extras. If anyone knows whats up with the Toler films made by 20th century being released soon, let me know !! I am also looking forward to the reproduction of Charlie Chans Chance...that oughta be good !
THANK YOU 20TH CENTURY FOX !!! KEEP 'EM COMING!!!!
The third in Fox's not-quite-chronological collection of restored Charlie Chan films actually offers five - or more accurately, five-and-a-half - films from the series' glory years.
The only surviving Warner Oland film based directly on one of Earl derr Biggers' novels, The Black Camel isn't one of Charlie Chan's better cases. Oland's second Chan film offers a promising mystery loosely inspired by the murder of director William Desmond Taylor and a cast of colourful characters - movie stars, publicists, Bela Lugosi's Hollywood psychic, Murray Kinnell's beach bum painter and an unbilled Dwight Frye's butler (Renfield and Dracula together again!) - but the end result is still a bit awkward. A good joke about lie detectors notwithstanding, the aphorisms feel forced ("There is old saying, 'Death is a black camel that kneels unbidden at every gate.' Tonight black camel knelt here"), Oland's performance seems impatient and rushed and while Fox may have shot on location in Hawaii, much of the film comes down to confrontations in drawing rooms. There's no Number One or Number Two Son this time round, but there is an unfortunately idiotic comic relief Japanese sidekick that seems to indicate the studio hadn't quite made it's mind up about whether they wanted to go with the inscrutable or the asinine Oriental stereotypes and decided to have their cake and eat it. Robert Young makes his screen debut while Hamilton MacFadden not only directs but plays a film director in the film as well.
Along with an audio commentary by Ken Hanke and John Cork and a stills gallery, the extras also offer a reconstruction of one of the missing Chan films, Charlie Chan's Chance, with actors reading the script over an extensive collection of stills from the film. It's a shame this is still missing, because it's a decent one, though the presentation works surprisingly well, the dialogue-heavy script giving it the feel of an old-time radio show.
"Hasty conclusion like ancient egg - look good from outside."
1936's Charlie Chan's Secret is one of the best of Warner Oland's Chan movies, seeing the Honolulu detective hired to track down a missing heir who turns up dead at a séance. Naturally everyone present has a motive, from the relatives who'll have to account for how they've been spending his money in his absence to the caretaker whose daughter committed suicide when he jilted her. Well, almost everyone since it's pretty obvious that the butler at least didn't do it since he's played by the ever dashing and courageous Herbert Mundin, who's a joy to watch here. He's not the only one who's in good form either, with Oland, for once going it alone without the family, giving one of his best turns in the series with a rather more subtle and naturalistic performance than later efforts: his underplayed shocked reaction to a brush with death is certainly not as cavalier here as in other entries. The plot developments and identity of the killer may not exactly be surprising but it's all executed so well that it never really matters, with the film's lean 72-minute running time ensuring it never has time to lose the attention. You can also spot Rosina Lawrence, Stan and Ollie's leading lady in Way Out West, in the supporting cast while the atmospheric cinematography is by future director Rudolph Mate (D.O.A., When Worlds Collide).
Although Fox's DVD is preceded by `best available materials' warning, the picture quality is for the most part excellent and there are only minor issues with the soundtrack. Decent extras include an audio commentary by Ken Hanke and John Cork, featurettes on Chan's role in the rise of modern detective fiction and on Taiwanese-American forensic expert Dr Henry Lee and a stills gallery.
"Have the band blast at somethin' Oriental. Hey, what is the Chinese national anthem anyway?"
"I don' know. Why don't you give 'em 'Chinatown, My Chinatown?'"
Charlie Chan on Broadway is a slick number that sees Charlie arriving in New York on the same ship as a woman whose diary can put half the mobsters, politicians and crooked cops in the Big Apple behind bars. When she naturally turns up dead in nightclub owner Douglas Fowley's office, the diary goes missing and Number One Son is among the suspects, it's a foregone conclusion that the honorable detective will solve the case. Luckily it was candid camera night at the club, so there's plenty of photographic evidence to play with, and a wide cast of New York stereotypes to play with, from Harold Huber's brash cop, J. Edward Bromberg's creepy editor among the suspects, Leon Ames' upmarket gangster, Marc Lawrence's shifty ex-husband and the bickering duo of Donald Woods' ace reporter and Joan Marsh's fast-talking hotshot photographer ("I want to shoot you before somebody else does!"). It's a pleasingly pacey and punchy little number, director Eugene Ford keeps it moving along nicely and the killer's identity is a genuine surprise in this one.
It's a bit easier to see the problems Fox faced restoring this one: while it's a clear, sharp transfer the evidence of serious water damage on the source print is there if you look for it in the form of some fluctuation in places, but for once DNR has been applied sensibly and sensitively to try to restore the image rather than wax it over. A decent extras package includes a half-hour featurette on Chan's worldwide travels (without ever leaving the Fox backlot), a shorter appreciation of Chan's aphorisms and a stills gallery.
"Perhaps now we catch lion in mousetrap. Or lioness."
Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo would turn out to be Warner Oland's swansong in the role, and while it's not a particularly good entry in the series it's a decent enough time filler that benefits from high production values and the kind of polished production that hides some of the story's lack of inspiration. This time round Charlie and his Number One Son get mixed up in a murder and the theft of a million dollars in bonds while stopping off in the principality en route to Paris, uncovering the usual suspects - women living beyond their means, speculators, blackmailers and gamblers - in a case that never seems to matter quite as much as it should. The standout performance this time round comes from Harold Huber, taking time out from playing the brash New York detective and going for a change of pace as the courteous and obliging head of the Monaco police force complete with a surprisingly convincing French accent. It's not a series highlight but it's not a bad way for Oland to bow out.
Extras include a couple of stills galleries and a featurette on Oland (who knew he and his wife made their money translating Strindberg's plays?) which includes footage of Oland in Shanghai, but it's disappointingly light on details about the aborted production of Charlie Chan at the Ringside and his subsequent unexpected death that's covered in much more detail in a much better featurette on Mr Moto's Gamble. However, the most intriguing extra is the first Fox Charlie Chan film...
It's not altogether surprising that Fox have hidden away the studio's first Charlie Chan film, 1929's Behind that Curtain, as an extra on the B-side of their DVD of Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo - it's a film of more historical interest than entertainment value. A stilted early talkie, it's not even a Charlie Chan movie as such, more a movie with Charlie Chan in it very briefly at the end (played here by Korean actor E.L. Park). Instead the lead sleuthing duties go the wooden Gilbert Emery as Sir Frederick Bruce of Scotland Yard (as he helpfully reminds people). Aside from, uh, his very, uh, slow and, uh, affected, uh, manner of speech, you've, uh, never seen an actor quite so obsessed with playing with props: slippers, pipes, cigarettes, globes, nothing is safe when he's around - at one point he even stops to tie up his shoes mid-sentence to distract the audience's attention from the other actor in the scene. It's as if he's unable to speak unless he's stroking something. Even Peter Cushing at his busiest has nothing on Emery here when it comes to prop fondling. But even Emery can't compete with the truly surreal moment where Philip Strange's caddish errant husband looks at the camera for 15 seconds with an expression caught somewhere between lechery and incontinence before following after a sluttish serving girl. It's even more bizarre than the twitch he develops in his last scene.
For the most part it's a chamber piece played by forgotten and forgettable actors (though Boris Karloff, who would later get co-starring above-the-title billing in Charlie Chan at the Opera, appears as an Indian servant). Most of the cast are playing for enunciation rather than emotional truth, leaving Warner Baxter the most convincing screen presence as the explorer and jilted suitor who may be the fall guy for the murderer of a lawyer who had incriminating documents on him, among others - or may be the guilty party. He's not even particularly good, but in this company he really doesn't have to be. Not that any of them are helped out by the clumsily melodramatic direlogue of the "I love you, I love you, I love you" variety they have to deliver or the unconvincing script that replaces the novel's trio of detectives competing to solve a mystery with a standard drawing room romantic triangle. The whodunit angle is dispensed with a third into the picture, leaving the villain's wife's mystifying reluctance to divorce him for fear of the scandal to provide what passes for suspense as it drags its heels through a series of overlong conversations in country houses in England, tents in Persia and elevators and lecture halls in San Francisco.
It's the kind of almost relentlessly static movie that made many observers at the time believe that talkies really might just be a passing fad if they were all such a giant leap backwards in terms of visual technique and pace. Apart from the establishing shots there's no visual imagination in its staging: people either have lengthy conversations sitting down or standing up while the camera remains motionless or, if director Irving Cummings was feeling really adventurous, have conversations while some are standing up and others sitting down at the same time while the camera remains motionless. With the exception of one horseback dialogue scene the camera never moves when anyone speaks, and they speak a lot, making a brief scene when Lois Moran runs along a crowded San Francisco street seem like a jolt of real life in a waxwork museum. And it's sluggishly slow, feeling like a 65-minute script dragged out to the 90-minute mark by the slow, monotonous delivery of most of the cast. (There was a shorter silent version made at the same time to hedge the studio's bets, but that is apparently still lost.)
This was actually Chan's third screen appearance after a serial version of The House Without a Key and a Universal adaptation of The Chinese Parrot directed by Paul Leni, both of which also reduced him to a minor supporting character, but with Park having next to nothing to do in his three minutes of screen time and doing it very mechanically it's no surprise that it would take another two years and the casting of Warner Oland to kick off the series proper.
on January 28, 2008
After watching these movies,you will be coming up with alot of Chan aphorisms like that one...but probably much,much better!
This box set includes:
Charlie Chan's Secret,Charlie Chan on Broadway,Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo,Behind That Curtain(1929,the first appearance of the Chan character at Fox),The Black Camel and Charlie Chan's Chance(a recreation of what this lost film might have looked like).
I haven't seen any of these films in at least 50 years but they have lost none of their charm and heart and that is in BIG part to Warner Oland himself.I have seen Oland,Toler and Winters each playing the famous detective.In my oppinion the latter two just tried hard to imitate Oland but fell far short of the mark.They didn't have the dignity,heart,warmth nor comportment the way Oland did.In fact I have seen very few actors immerse themselves in their characters as much as he did.I would even dare say that after a time the two almost became inseperable.I know relatively little of Warner Oland's career except that I know he had played Oriental parts in previous years and that there was at one stage a walk off of a film set by the actor and then his eventual return to Sweden.He was having personal problems,alot of it brought on by alcohol.By today's standards one might say he was burned out.In the end he never returned and died in his homeland.Tragic,for his family and the public,as we lost a very talented man that day in 1938.
I recall reading but never finishing a Derr Biggers Charlie Chan novel.The reason? I had watched a couple of Oland Chan's before hand.Big mistake.I found the character in the books to be different than the on screen character fleshed out with such panache by Oland.It is one of the few times I have committed the literary sin of preferring the movie over the book.That is the impact Oland had on me and that impact has only been heightened considerably with the release of this and the other Oland Chan
films by Fox.
Each film has been transferred over to DVD using the best available source material on hand at Fox.There is a definite difference in the quality from one film to the next but the age of one particular film compared to another matters little.As I said it's the quality of the material on hand which makes it or breaks it.Some are very clean and crisp while others are quite grainy.However ALL are visually quite clear.
Fox seems to have done the best they can with what they have.When one considers that four versions are seemingly lost we should be thankful to at least have these films.
Finally all these sets come with many featurettes that are sure to delight even the most casual Chan fan.As is my practice I have not seen them yet but I am looking forward to viewing them all at a later time.
In conclusion I highly recommmend these Warner Oland Charlie Chan box sets to one and all.It is a must have for all Charlie Chan fans and for those who have never seen them I will tell you that you are in for a special treat.And for those curious enough to want to see the later Chan actors to compare I would advise you to rent if you can.If not possible just buy one or two and see how you like them.But I think it will become apparent very quickly that THESE Chans with the magnificent and talented Warner Oland will become,like me,your favourites too!
on September 23, 2007
Fox has done an excellant job restoring the Warner Oland Charlie Chan Moviess in this collection. As an extra they recreated a lost Charlie Chan Movie by having people read the script while still photos appear on the screen. The only problem that I had with this was the person ding the voice of Chan was poor. It would have been better to have had a well known asian actor do the voice like Mako. Definately this volume is a must get for any Charlie Chan Fan.
on September 21, 2007
Fox has done a wonderful job of cleaning up the old films and producing very good DVDs of these old Chan films. The commontaries they have put together add real insight into the world as it was when these films were produced. Chan films were actually one of the first Hollywood offerings to show a non-white character (Charlie Chan) as intelligent, honorable, and insightful. Often he shows up the all white police force proving his superior intelligence. It is true that Hollywood did not use an actual Asian in the part....but then that was common and is often so even today. The Charlie Chan films show a Chan who honors his Asian heritage, accepting and using the wisdom passed down, while also showing great American patriatism. Yes the films can be very dated....all films from the 30's and 40's are going to reflect a lot of the attitudes of the time just as today's films reflect the attitudes of our time. But the stories are great and the "Chanisms" are often words to live by. Thank you so much!
on December 5, 2015
I like Charlie Chan films. There is always a good mystery, not too corny and with a good leavening of humor. Most are just over an hour long, so they move right along, avoiding all the sidebars that plague modern films. That means you won't have trouble keeping up with the plot, though there are a couple of episodes that lost me temporarily. The Warner Oland films run from the late twenties until his death in 1938 and there are several films with disclosures regarding the quality of the restoration, but if you are familiar with films of this period, you will have already budgeted for that. I had no problem with it. The films give the viewer a good look at how the world worked before the war and I recommend them.