Charlie Chan Collection, Vol. 2 (Charlie Chan at the Circus / Charlie Chan at the Olympics / Charlie Chan at the Opera / Charlie Chan at the Race Track)
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Disc 1: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA Full Screen Feature (Black & White) Charlie Chan's Lucky Director: H. Bruce Humberstone Restoration Comparison Trailer
Disc 2: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OLYMPICS Full Screen Feature (Black & White) Layne Tom,Jr: The Adventures of Charlie Chan, Jr. Restoration Comparison Trailer
Disc 3: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE RACE TRACK Full Screen Feature (Black & White) Number One Son: The Life of Keye Luke Restoration Comparison Trailer
Disc 4: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE CIRCUS Full Screen Feature (Black & White) Charlie Chan At The Movies Restoration Comparison Trailer
"Size of package does not indicate quality within," Honolulu's finest, Charlie Chan sagely observes in Charlie Chan at the Circus, and while this boxed set contains only four films, it does this venerable franchise justice, with some of Chan's most arresting cinematic outings. All four films star Swedish-born Warner Oland, who is to Charlie Chan what Sean Connery is to James Bond. The high note of this set is Charlie Chan at the Opera, in which the curtain comes down on two opera singers during a performance. Boris Karloff (whose frightening presence accounts for a very funny reference to Frankenstein) costars as an amnesiac who escapes from a sanitarium to haunt the theatre like some phantom of the... well, you know. William Demarest steals his scenes as a cop in dire need of sensitivity training. He refers to Chan as "Chop Suey" and "Egg Fu Young," and when No. 1 son (Keye Luke) gives his dad a note, he asks if it's a laundry ticket. In Charlie Chan at the Circus, a Chan family excursion (with all 12 children!) to the Big Top is interrupted when the nasty circus owner is murdered.
Charlie Chan at the Olympics is another gold-medal outing that finds Chan embroiled in international espionage when an experimental automatic pilot device is stolen. His investigation leads him to the Berlin Olympics (via the Hindenburg), where his son is on the track team. Newsreel footage of the games integrated into the film features Jesse Owens running the 400-meter relay. Less of a sure bet but still an efficient mystery is Charlie Chan at the Race Track. Each restored film looks great, and each is enhanced with featurettes that illuminate interesting aspects of the series. One profiles prolific Chan director H. Bruce "Lucky" Humberstone (who, we learn, fortified his star with drink), and another Keye Luke. "Charlie Chan at the Movies" examines these films' places in the Chan canon. There are certainly enough 1930s cultural and racial stereotypes (John Allen as stableboy "Streamline" Jones in Race Track) here to keep the PC police working overtime, but for Charlie Chan buffs and B-movie fans, this is an essential collection that is, to quote Chan, a "chip off ancient block." --Donald Liebenson
- "Charlie Chans Lucky Director: H. Bruce Humberstone" featurette
- "Layne Tom, Jr.: The Adventures of Charlie Chan, Jr." featurette
- "Number One Son: The Life of Keye Luke" featurette
- "Charlie Chan At the Movies" featurette
- Restoration Comparisons
- Original Trailers
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"Sometimes silent witness speak loudest."
Charlie Chan at the Circus isn't one of the better Warner Oland Chan films, but it's a perfectly serviceable locked room - or more accurately locked circus wagon - mystery that nods to Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue by having an ape the prime suspect. From the days when animals in tiny cages and midgets were regarded as charming amusements - `Midgets! Monkeys! Murder!' promised the trailer - it's probably the old-style circus trappings that would make the politically correct squirm rather than the fact that Chan is played by a Caucasian these days. There are some nice sight gags with the extended Chan clan but the aphorisms are definitely below par on this outing, while Number one son Keye Luke is more interested in tracking down contortionist Su Toy than the murderer this time round. But it's all wrapped up rather satisfactorily as, of course, the most suspicious parties turnout not to be guilty (well, not of murder anyway) and humble Chan's reputation emerges intact.
As with all the titles on this set, the film has a fine restored transfer. Extras are theatrical trailer, documentary featurette Charlie Chan at the Movies and a restoration comparison of all four films.
"Suspicion often father of truth."
Charlie Chan at the Race Track initially sees Charlie back in Honolulu demonstrating the importance of bloodstains in crime fighting ("Record indicate most murder result from violence, and murder without bloodstain like Amos without Andy - most unusual" ), but it's not long before the throwing of a race and the murder of the horse's owner sees him travelling to the States to uncover a deadly gambling ring in a case that revolves around - wouldn't you just know it - bloodstains. It's an entertaining entry in the series with a pacey plot involving horse doping, switching horses and deadly photo finishes (the film going to great lengths to showcase the cutting edge technology en route) and allowing Key Luke's Number One son to poke fun at racial stereotypes by adopting exaggerating pidgin English while disguised as a cabin steward - but only when dealing with Caucasians who immediately drop their guard when they hear it. Charlie delivers aphorisms aplenty along the way to the finish line, naturally, but this one's definitely a winner.
Also included is another informative documentary featurette, Number One Son: The Life of Keye Luke.
"This opera is going on tonight even if Frankenstein walks in!"
With he opening credits promising Warner Oland Vs. Boris Karloff, Charlie Chan at the Opera may never quite deliver the promised faceoff, but it's a fine entry in the series that plays to both stars' strengths. Karloff is the unconvincingly dubbed opera singer who recovers his memory after years in the asylum and escapes at the same time as his prima donna ex-wife starts getting threats - charmingly delivered with a bouquet, the card reading `Say it with flowers. You will die tonight.' Naturally it's not long before the opera house becomes a crime scene and when the local police draw a blank, they call on Charlie and his aphorisms to save the day, much to the annoyance of William Demarest's loveable bigot ("Wait a minute, you haven't called Chop Suey in on the case have you, chief?"). Naturally he gets put in his place, his every misplaced insult heralding another overlooked clue uncovered by Charlie inbetween oneliners ("Voice from backseat sometimes very disconcerting to driver") as he determines to solve the case within the hour so he can catch his boat back to Honolulu in another winning case.
Also included is documentary featurette Charlie Chan's Lucky Director: H. Bruce Humberstone.
"You must think we're all fools!"
"I'm not acquainted with the other gentlemen."
From a historical perspective, Charlie Chan at the Olympics is one of the most fascinating Chan films more because of what it doesn't show as for what it does. The Maguffin is the theft of a revolutionary remote control device for airplanes stolen by foreign spies who don't mind leaving a trail of dead bodies in their wake, the trail eventually leading to the Olympics. But these aren't just any Olympics - these are Hitler's Olympics, though you'd never know it from looking at the film. Not a single swastika or brown shirt is in sight, let alone der Fuhrer, and while archive footage of Jesse Owens does briefly feature, it's not his solo wins in the 100 or 200 meters, but as part of the winning 4x100 metre relay team. And while Chan does work with the Berlin police ("Things like zis cannot happin in Berlin!"), they're a very Ruritanian bunch with only a bit of stereotyped Prussian pomposity to mark them out as German. Though the film does briefly acknowledge that the sporting conflict is just a prelude to a greater one, the film avoids making its spies Nazis, offering instead international criminals for whom the Olympics simply offer a convenient gathering of foreign powers to bid for their ill-gotten gains.
If it's going out of its way to be apolitical (though still was pulled from distribution once Hitler started stretching his legs in Europe), it's an entertaining yarn, with Chan and both his Number One and Number Two sons (Keye Luke and Layne Tom) helping/hindering him at different stages of the case, and C. Henry Gordon makes for a genuinely an intriguing arms dealer who might save your life one moment and threaten it the next as the situation demands. There's also that emphasis on hi-tech hardware that the mid-Thirties Fox Chan films were so fond of, and Chan's means of beating the shipbound suspects to Berlin - the Hindenberg, with its swastikas airbrushed out - is at once the cutting edge of then modern technology and now a curiously resonant omen of impending doom. And, of course, there are the aphorisms ("Truth like football - receive many kicks before reaching goal") and amusing dialogue ("Zaraka? You've never met him!" "I have never met Santa Claus either but accept gift from him all the same").
Also included is documentary featurette Layne Tom Jr.: The Adventures of Charlie Chan Jr.
These four movies are among the best of the lot. "Charlie Chan at the Opera" is simply great, because it also has Boris Karloff in it, playing a person who is most definitely not dealing off a full deck. He portrays a deranged opera singer, but you know that the singing voice is not Karloff's.
"Charlie Chan at the Olympics" is interesting in that Charlie finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Does he give the spies the device, or does he sacrifice his #1 son, Lee (Keye Luke). You can pretty well figure out that it's a bit tricky to trap Charlie Chan, and he proves it very nicely once again.
"Charlie Chan at the Race Track" is excellent. Charlie find himself taking on a small group of thugs who are trying to control the race tracks and finagle the horses so they can clean up. As you might suspect, Charlie steps in and puts the brakes on their little scheme. Hard! (But then, isn't he supposed to?)
"Charlie Chan at the Circus" lets you meet the Chan clan, all fourteen of them, counting Charlie and his lovely wife. There's the obligatory murders and mystery, as well as some monkey business. While some people are "going ape," Charlie remains calm, cool, and collected, even when a cobra "drops in" on him. Again, as in all four movies, Keye Luke plays #1 son, Lee Chan.
All in all, this is a fantastic set. Warner Oland does a truly outstanding job portraying Charlie Chan. It's a pity he died so young. I will not disparage Sydney Toler's portrayal in the least, for he was also an excellent Charlie Chan. Having seen this one and having seen Volume 3, I know that I am going to have to get Volume 1. I highly recommend this set to anyone who liked these movies. They're as good to watch today as they were way back when. "Do yourself a favor," get this set!
'... at the Race Track' (1936) - A man is apparently kicked to death by a horse on a steam ship. Before joining the cruise, Charlie tells Lee to stay home. After leaving port, he finds Lee in his cabin. Lee says he'd never forgive himself if something happened to his pop. Touched, Charlie says, "Confucius say: No man is poor, who has worthy son."
'... at the Opera' (1936) - Charlie finds Lee buying flowers for Miss Lotus, but he is short. Lee asks Charlie for an advance and begins to describe her. Charlie politely interrupts, "She is graceful as a bamboo shoot, beautiful as blossom of water lilly." Surprised, Lee asks when he met her. "Never ... a long time ago, used the same description for honorable mother."
'... at the Olympics' (1937) - Lee never misses an opportunity to practice his detective skills. When Betty thinks Yvonne is trying to steal her beau, Lee eagerly volunteers to checkout the adventuress. Later, Charlie boards their ship to conduct his own investigation. As Charlie examines Yvonne's cabin, Lee pops in, feet first, through a porthole. Lee is quiet pleased that Charlie is there to help him out!
Note: One of the special features is on the life of Keye Luke. It includes personal memories of his grand niece, Vikki Luke; comments by a film historian, Scott McIsaac; and comments by the author of 'Charlie Chan at the Movies', Ken Hanke.
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