The Black Camel (1931)
"In May 1931, a small, wrinkled old man visited the production set of a film on Oahu's Kailua Beach...the man... was none other than Chang Apana."Yunte Huang - Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History.
When I read the above quote, I was on my honeymoon in Oahu. Carlos and I had been scoping out local filming locations (for example we found the house from the TV show Magnum P.I.) but I hadn't been aware of Kailua Beach as a filming location for a Charlie Chan film. I looked into it, and although IMDB doesn't list it as a location, I discovered that The Black Camel was filmed here. And I just knew we had to stop by that beach and check it out!
Chang Apana and Warner Oland meeting on location for the filming of The Black Camel (1931)
Inspector, you should have a lie detector
Lie detector? Ah I see! You mean wife. I got one.
The Black Camel (1931) is a very important film in the history of Charlie Chan. It's the only film adapted from one of Earl Derr Biggers' six Charlie Chan novels that still exists. The other film adaptations are lost. Also, it was the only Charlie Chan movie filmed on location in Hawaii. Filming on location proved to be a great moment in history when Chang Apana, the Chinese Honolulu detective who inspired the character Charlie Chan, got to meet Warner Oland, the man who would essentially play him on film. Chang Apana was invited to watch the production of the film and he went as many times as he could. He thoroughly enjoyed watching the persona he inspired in action.
The Black Camel is the fourth out of the six Charlie Chan novels that Earl Derr Biggers would write. The film follows the story of Shelah Fane (Dorothy Reiver) a film actress who is in a bit of a bind. She wants to marry her beau Alan (William Post Jr.) but she's worried that her ties with the murder of film star Denny Mayo will ruin her career and her future life with Alan. She seeks help from Tanaverro (Bela Lugosi) a psychic but nothing seems to help. On the night of a party, she is found murdered on Waikiki Beach. What follows is a complicated and convoluted series of events which leads Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) on a whirlwind of a case. The film can be a little confusing but it is so enjoyable. It's a wonderful little murder mystery that is bolstered by exotic filming locations. I had lots of fun trying to figure out who dunnit and was happy to see that my first of many guesses was right! In my opinion, it's the best Charlie Chan film I've seen yet.
While Carlos and I were in Oahu, we planned to stop by Kailua Beach before heading up to the North Shore. However, there were two problems with this trip. The first one was that I hadn't seen the movie before the honeymoon so I really didn't know what to look for. The second problem was that I had one too-strong Mai Tai at the local restaurant across from Kailua Beach and was a bit too tipsy to take this filming location shoot seriously. However, I did get some nice shots but I ended up missing two in particular: the canal and the parking lot.
This is one of the shots in the very beginning of the film. It has Shelah Fane (Dorothy Reiver) filming on location in a movie within a movie. She's on Kailua Beach and you can spot the Mokulua Islands ("Twin" Islands) in the background.
This shot looks to be near the spot where I took the picture above!
The parking lot! I remember this parking lot so vividly. It was packed with beach goers and we parked our rental car here. It looks so different today, paved and sectioned off. In the movie it's just a bare lot. Behind the parking lot today you'll find Buzz's Original Steakhouse which is where I had that infamous Mai Tai.
Kailua Beach canal (Source)
I really wish I had gotten a picture of this canal. I remember it but for some reason didn't think to take a picture. We drove over that bridge to get to the parking lot on the left. And as you can see below, the bridge and the canal were in The Black Camel.
What you'll notice when you watch the movie is that there are a lot of local spectators watching the filming of The Black Camel. This wasn't an inconvenience considering the fact that the scene involved filming a movie within the movie. It just worked! I did try to keep an eye out for Chang Apana in the crowd but couldn't spot him.
We didn't spend much time at the beach but had some fun playing in the sand and water.
But next time I got hunting for a filming location, I'll skip the Mai Tai.
Stay tuned for Part 3 in this series!