Charlie Chan, Vol. 1 [4 Discs] [DVD]

For a long time, fans of the Warner Oland Chalrie Chan films despaired of ever seeing them on DVD from Fox because of the corporate reticence over the character and its more controversial aspects -- starting the 1970's, some Asians and Asian-Americans expressed displeasure over the notion of an actor of European decent portraying a Chinese character, and it was believed that Fox, much more than MGM/UA, which owns the later Sidney Toler Chan movies. But Fox has finally made a concerted effort to release all of their Chan movies on DVD, starting wtih this volume which, oddly enough, doesn't start at the beginning of the film series. It's probably a result of the fact that the earliest surviving Oland Chan movies have some serious matrerials problems, but Fox has chosen to start the DVDs in the middle of the series, with Charlie Chan In Paris, Charile Chan In London, Charile Chan in Egypt, and Charlie Chan In Shanghai, plus Eran Trece, the Spanish-language version of Charlie Chan Carries On, the first of the Chan talkies, in the only edition of the movie that has survived. The transfers are first-rate, and the four principal films look and sound great, about as good as any early/middle 1930's feature films do on DVD, with crystaline full-screen (1.33-to-1) images (Eran Trece looks verty good as well, given its age, although not as good as the main titles, and the English subtitles are especially well devised, tinted in amber for readability). Each movie is accompanied by a featurette devoted to the series, its history, and its origins, which is good as far as it goes but also a little superficial -- later volumes of the Chan movies from Fox would have more and better bonus features delving deeper into the specific films and the substance of the origins on a more serious level, and more accurately. Each movie opens automaticallty on its respective platter to a simple easy-to-use two-layer menu, and the chaptering is reasonably generous as well.
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Overview

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Special Features

  • The legacy of Charlie Chan featurette
  • In search of Charlie Chan featurette
  • The real Charlie Chan featurette
  • Closed Captioned

Synopsis

Charlie Chan in London
Honolulu detective Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) spends an eventful weekend at an English country estate in this fog-bound series entry. Young Neil Howard (Ray Milland) has been accused of murder, but family friend Geoffrey Howard (Alan Mowbray) expresses the hope that Chan will be able to locate the genuine killer. The weapons this time include a set of poison darts, while a series of cryptic notes provide vital clues to Chan and his Scotland Yard counterpart Sgt. Thacker (E.E. Clive), who insists upon calling the humble oriental sleuth "Mr. Chang" throughout the picture. Crucial to the plot's development is a fox hunt, predating a similar sequence in John Huston's The List of Adrian Messenger by nearly 30 years. At 79 minutes, Charlie Chan in London is the longest of Fox's Chan series -- unnecessarily so, since the identity of the "surprise killer" is obvious from reel one. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Charlie Chan in Egypt
As much a horror film as a murder mystery, Charlie Chan in Egypt is one of the best entries in the "Chan" series. The story is motivated by a King Tut-like curse, which has apparently befallen the members of an archeological expedition. Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) is brought into the case when a French museum wants to find out how several valuable Egyptian artifacts, originally slated for museum exhibition, have ended up for sale to the highest bidder. Arriving in Egypt, Chan must first figure out the modus operandi for two murders in which neither a weapon nor a wound was found. The solution to the killings involves a certain musical pitch played on a violin (a familiar mystery-movie device of the period). Though the screenwriters do a good job concealing the identity of the villain, Fox Studio's typecasting policy tends to give away that identity somewhat ahead of schedule. Prominent among the supporting players is black comedian Stepin Fetchit, whose stereotyped routines may offend the sensibilities of modern viewers. Originally released at 72 minutes, Charlie Chan in Egypt is currently available only in its choppy, shortened reissue version. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Charlie Chan in Shanghai
After wrapping up his last case in Egypt, Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) heads to Shanghai for a well-deserved rest. It isn't long, however, before Chan has been summoned by the local constabulary to help smash an international dope ring. He is aided by erudite American intelligence agent James Andrews (Russell Hicks) and to a lesser extent by his overeager Number-One-Son Lee Chan (Keye Luke). The film is structured more like a serial than a mystery, with Chan and his friends escaping death and/or abduction at every turn. Only after rounding up the smugglers does Charlie reveal the well-concealed identity of the criminal mastermind behind it all. The nominal romantic lead is played by Charles Locher, who went on to greater fame as Jon Hall. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Charlie Chan in Paris
The otherwise standard series entry Charlie Chan in Paris is distinguished by the presence of actor Keye Luke, making his first appearance as Charlie Chan's (Warner Oland) "Number One Son" Lee. Summoned to Paris by undercover agent Nardi (Dorothy Appleby), Honolulu detective Chan hopes to get the goods on an international counterfeiting ring. Alas, Nardi is promptly murdered, but not before leaving behind a cryptic clue. With the none-too-expert assistance of son Lee, Charlie puts the pieces together and exposes the identity of the head counterfeiter (which, once again, is no surprise to veteran movie-mystery buffs). More action-oriented than most films in the series, Charlie Chan in Paris makes excellent use of the Fox Studios backlot, which doubled over the years for Paris, London, Prague and any number of European capitals. Long believed lost, Charlie Chan in Paris was restored and released to television in the early 1980s, providing a ray of hope that such earlier "Chan" installments as Charlie Chan Carries On and Charlie Chan's Courage will one day resurface as well. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Warner Oland
    Warner Oland - Charlie Chan
  • Drue Leyton
    Drue Leyton - Pamela Gray
  • Douglas Walton
    Douglas Walton - Paul Gray
  • Alan Mowbray
    Alan Mowbray - Geoffrey Richmond
  • Mona Barrie
    Mona Barrie - Lady Mary Bristol

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