Rating: Not Rated
Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan
Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown, Chauffeur
Benson Fong as Tommie Chan, #3 Son
Edwin Luke as Eddie Chan
Marianne Quon as Iris Chan #2 Daughter
Arthur Loft as Inspector Jones
George J. Lewis as Paul Arranto
Gwen Kenyon as Inez Arranto
Gene Roth as Luis Philipe Vega/Philip Von Vega
Muni Seroff as Peter Laska
English, French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Times: The Secret Service 65 minutes / The Chinese Cat 65 minutes / The Jade Mask 66 minutes / Meeting at Midnight 65 minutes / The Scarlet Clue 65 minutes / The Shanghai Cobra – 64 minutes
The Charlie Chan Chanthology is a six DVD set featuring the long running character in his films from 1944 to 1945. These episodes star Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan:
Charlie Chan in The Secret Service The Secret Service enlists Charlie to catch a killer and stop a deadly device from falling into the wrong hands.
The Chinese Cat When cutthroat gem thieves try to steal a wealth of diamonds hidden in a porcelain Chinese cat, Charlie is on the trail!
The Jade Mask Charlie finds himself at odds with the family of a murdered scientist as he attempts to find who among them is a killer!
Meeting at Midnight Charlie investigates a group of spiritualists, illusionists and hypnotists who specialize in séances… and dabble in murder!
The Scarlet Clue This thrilling whodunit pits Charlie against a murderous thief out to steal top-secret radar plans!
The Shanghai Cobra Charlie faces off against an escaped con from Shanghai who’s been killing his victims with cobra venom!
None of these films are rated.
Before viewing these DVD’s, I was certainly aware of whom Charlie Chan was, but my knowledge of the character was limited. I knew Chan was played by a white guy, he was in a series of old movies, and that my in-laws had a Chinese pug named Charlie and a cat named Number One, but that was about it. In doing research for this review, I was surprised to find out that there were probably more Charlie Chan movies from the 1930’s and 40’s than there have been James Bond films. However, it’s probably the racist aspect of the films that kept the character from enduring like other major film characters.
The makers of this DVD set face that controversy straight on. Every single case has the following “disclaimer” on it:
“Fact From The Vault: Created in a time when casting Caucasians in minority roles was considered acceptable, the Charlie Chan films continue to spark debate to this day.”
Charlie was portrayed by various actors, but these particular films feature him played by Sidney Toler. He’s obviously a white guy made up to look like an Asian, a fact even more glaringly obvious when he’s in scenes with his children who are portrayed by real Asian actors and actresses. Toler plays Chan with broken English. You can debate whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal of real Chinese, but the fact remains that it becomes exceedingly annoying as the film progresses. Chan is a well educated, intelligent individual, so it doesn’t fit his character to speak so poorly. But Chan isn’t the only racist stereotype in the films. There’s also Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown. Fortunately, he’s not played by a white guy in blackface, but everything else about him is stereotypical. He does everything but call Charlie “massa”.
But if you put everything else about the portrayal of Chan aside, he is an interesting character. Charlie is a classic mystery solver and he’s shown in a wide variety of different situations. From WWII Nazi spy hunter to hoax buster, he has quite a broad range of adventures. He typically has humorous comments about the characters around him and he speaks in lines that sound like they came from fortune cookies. His sly sense of humor also helps make him a bit more endearing despite his other shortcomings. And the fact that audiences from the 30’s and 40’s would accept an Asian crime fighting character in a major role is, I suppose, one positive thing about the films.
The mysteries themselves are generally far fetched and a bit simplistic, but no more so that your typical Scooby-Doo episode. I think mystery fans will enjoy the films quite a bit. They are certainly not for all audiences, but I believe film buffs will get a kick out of seeing these cinematic snapshots from our past.
There are no extras included on these DVDs.
The Bottom Line:
This collection is for film buffs and mystery fans only. Everyone else will probably be turned off by the stereotypical characters.