The Wit. The Wisdom. The Ways.
Warner Brothers on June 18 will release in partnership with TCM a new set of Charlie Chan movies, none of which have previously appeared on DVD. The four films included in the set are Dark Alibi, Dangerous Money, and The Trap, all from 1946 and featuring Sidney Toler as Chan. The fourth and final film is 1947’s The Chinese Ring and marks the first Chan film starring Roland Winters in the title role.
All four films are from the later period in the Chan filmography. The series had done very well but Fox, the studio who held the rights, felt the character had run its course and sold the rights to any future Chan vehicles to Sidney Toler, who had starred in several of the Fox Chan productions. Toler in turn took the rights to budget studio Monogram and these pictures (and others) were made.
The low production values are definitely front and center here and showcase Monogram’s limited financial wherewithal. Dark Alibi especially has very limited production value which is improved upon only slightly in the later films. By the time of The Trap, veteran Toler was terminally ill with cancer and is clearly struggling in even the reduced onscreen time he has in what would mark his finale as the great Chan.
The final entry here is The Chinese Ring which marks Roland Winters’ debut. He makes a good attempt but the odds at this point were (and are) stacked against the classic sleuth.
None of the films show any sign of restoration but all are watchable. There are no added features included in the set as this is a bare bones presentation. Kudos to Warners for releasing each on its own individual disc. These are all very short films, clocking in at little over an hour apiece and two could easily have fit on a disc.
And gratefully we do have another retail release for a classic set, which is getting increasingly rare in this troubled economy and in light of the burn on demand push from the studios for classic (read: less commercially viable) fare.
This set really is only for die hard Charlie Chan completists, for whom this will be a great addition. Otherwise, one is better suited getting some of the earlier Fox entries in the series.
And we won’t mention here the irony in having non-Asian actors play a wise Asian detective. Or the glaring lack of political correctness these films have in light of today’s mores. However, there is still some classic quips throughout which are amusing.
Of greater interest to us is the upcoming Errol Flynn Adventure Collection also under the TCM Spotlight banner. This will feature Flynn classics Desperate Journey, Northern Pursuit, Edge of Darkness, Uncertain Glory, and the previously released Objective Burma! The set streets in August and is a must buy.
Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Thanks!