The films in the 1930’s, from Fox, are widely considered to be the best. When Fox retired the series, it was picked up by Monogram. Monogram was known for its low budget films. While Sidney Toler returned as Charlie Chan, the films aren’t seen as the best in the series.
Four of the Monogram films are now being released in a 4 DVD set from Warner Home Video as part of the TCM SPOTLIGHT.
The films in this set are:
DARK ALIBI (1946) - A man is wrongly convicted of a bank robbery / murder with his fingerprints being planted at the crime scene. Chan, along with “Number Three Son” (Benson Fong) and his driver Birmingham (Mantan Moreland) help him solve the case. This is probably the best film of the four.
DANGEROUS MONEY (1946) - On a cruise, a man is murdered. Chan, “Number Two Son” (Victor Sen Young) and driver Chattanooga (Willie Best) investigate.
THE TRAP (1946) - In Toler’s final appearance as Chan, he looks into a murder at a beach house. Number Two Son and Birmingham again appear. This film shows the low budget nature of the film, with most of the outdoor scenes being shot without sound and poorly dubbed.
THE CHINESE RING (1947) - Roland Winters takes over the role of Chan. In this film, a princess is murdered while waiting to meet with Chan, in his home. Number Two Son and Birmingham once again help him.
While none of these films are likely to change the critical opinion of the Monogram years, the films aren’t without interest. Each running a little over an hour, they are entertaining, even if the mysteries never seem to completely work.
One word of caution. Aside from the fact that you have non-Asians in Asian roles, even more troubling is Chan’s African American driver, whose fear in different situations is played for laughs. While Mantan Moreland is always a welcome appearance, there are some cringe worthy moments from watching this stereotypical character.
There are no extras.
While not the greatest years of the Charlie Chan films, fans of the series should enjoy having some of the Monogram years on DVD.
THE CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION will be available on DVD on June 8, 2010 from Warner Home Video.