Thursday, October 4, 2007

Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo

“Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo” (1937) has always been my least favorite of the Warner Oland Chans, and last night’s viewing on DVD did nothing to dispel that notion.

The mystery is perfunctory, the supporting cast is colorless, and it just sits there. Oland is as likeable as ever, and there’s an amusing scene where Charlie tries to order waffles for breakfast to an uncomprehending French waiter, but that’s about it.

The last scene is bittersweet though, as Charlie and Number One Son Lee (Keye Luke) drive off and Charlie waves goodbye. Warner Oland died later that year. This was his last film and it’s almost as if he’s waving goodbye to us.

The recent DVD release does offer a splendid transfer and there’s a very interesting documentary on Warner Oland. He had a drinking problem which led to his premature death, but he was by all accounts a warm and gentle man who genuinely enjoyed playing Charlie Chan and thought Charlie was a good role model. He never objected to the typecasting and looked forward to playing Charlie for years to come. Alas, it was not to be.

Twentieth Century Fox is to be commended for the wonderful job they’ve done with the Chan volumes. Charlie Chan Vol. 4 is in the pipeline which means the introduction of Sidney Toler to the series. While I prefer the warm and human portrayal that Warner Oland brings to the character, I think I prefer the Sidney Toler titles as actual films. The scripts are sharper, the suspects more colorful and the productions more polished. There’s more comedy with Number Two Son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung) proving to be more of a loving irritation to Charlie than Number One Son Lee ever was.

If Fox sticks to releasing them in chronological order, Vol. 4 will contain “Charlie Chan in Honolulu” (1938), a good one; “Charlie Chan in Reno” (1939), another good one; “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island” (1939), arguably the best Charlie Chan movie; and “Charlie Chan in City of Darkness” (1939), arguably the worst.

Three out of four isn’t bad.

Rating for “Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo”: Two stars.

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