One of the best in the series featuring Earl Derr Biggers' Chinese detective with the taste for Holmesian deduction and Confucian pearls of wisdom (often acidly apt: 'Bad alibi like dead fish; can't stand test of time'). This was Oland's thirteenth appearance in the role, and the earlier serial-style plotting had given way to subtler whodunitry, here given a considerable boost by atmospheric backstage settings and the inimitable Karloff, who provides a wonderfully sinister red herring as an escaped lunatic, once a famous baritone supposedly burned to death in a fire and vengefully prowling around. Oland - plump, enigmatic, presiding with a barely suppressed air of secret mockery - wasn't the first Charlie Chan (the part had been played once each by George Kuwa, Kamayama Sojin and EL Park between 1926 and 1929); but taking over in 1931 (Charlie Chan Carries On) for a run of 16 films, he invariably lent a touch of distinction to the series. Taking over after Oland's death for Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), Sidney Toler was competent but much less subtle, although the series maintained its standards. Particularly good are Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), a spiritedly eerie affair involving murder and blackmail at the San Francisco Fair, where assorted magicians and psychics (one of whom reads the killer's mind to save Charlie's life) get into the act; and the weirdly Gothic Castle in the Desert (1942), featuring murder by poison in a Mojave Desert castle built by an eccentric recluse who wears a mask to hide a facial disfigurement and whose wife happens to be a descendant of the Borgias. Toler made 22 films in the series, which began going downhill when Monogram took it over for Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944). The last six entries (1947-49), with Roland Winters taking over from Toler, are real Poverty Row quickies.
Cast and crew
H Bruce Humberstone
W Scott Darling, Charles Belden