Monday, June 7, 2010

TCM Spotlight: Charlie Chan Collection DVD Set

Charlie Chan = Awesome

I simply adore Charlie Chan movies. They are easy mysteries that are fun to watch. So when Warner Bros. contacted me about reviewing the new TCM Spotlight Charlie Chan Collection, I was very excited because it was a good opportunity for me to watch more films in the series, especially ones I haven't seen. This set includes 4 new-to-DVD Charlie Chans. Three Sidney Toler Chan's Dark Alibi (1946), Dangerous Money (1946) and The Trap (1946). The fourth film, The Chinese Ring (1947), features Roland Winters as Charlie Chan.

From what I can tell from the folks I spoke to on Facebook, many classic film fans love Charlie Chan and are well-versed in all things related to this series. Nevertheless here is a little background on the films. 

The Charlie Chan mysteries were a series of 6 novels written by Earl Derr Briggers. The character in the novels works for the Honolulu police but in the movie franchise, Charlie Chan, the witty and clever Chinese detective, travels all over the world solving crimes as he goes. At first the films were done with a Chinese actor in the part of Charlie Chan but those proved unpopular. Later, popular Swedish actor Warner Oland (from Old San Francisco fame) took on the role of Chan. You may be asking yourself, what's a Swedish dude doing playing the part of a Chinaman? Although Oland was born in Sweden, he had Mongolian ancestry which made him look exotic. So for the movie studio Fox, he was Asian enough. Oland did the series and it became wildly popular. He died suddenly in 1938 and to keep the series going, they hired Scottish actor Sidney Toler to replace Oland. Toler made about 22 Chan films (some for Fox who then abandoned them and Toler bought the rights and made the rest with Monogram Pictures) until he passed away in 1947. To milk the last out of the money teat that was the Chan franchise, they hired American actor Roland Winters to film the last 6 pictures.

In my honest opinion, Oland was the best Chan, Toler was good but not great and Winters was a disaster. Who is your favorite Chan?

If you are brand new to the Charlie Chan series, you may want to start out with one of the feature-length Oland films first such as Charlie Chan in Shangai (1935). If you love the series and want some more, than this set would be a nice addition to your film collection. Here are some of my thoughts on the set:

DVD Set: It's DVD not DVD-R which is excellent and the packaging is superb. Don't expect any extras though!

Dark Alibi: Ex-cons gone straight are being framed for various bank robberies. Charlie Chan, his son Jimmy Chan and assistant Birmingham Brown are on the case. This is an enjoyable mystery with a lot of humorous moments. Great watching for a rainy day.

Dangerous Money: A murder on a cruise ship? Charlie Chan is on the case! Along with Jimmy Chan and Chattanooga Brown. This is the best film out of the set. Really enjoyable, great plot, lots of kooky characters and you'll keep changing your mind about who-dun-it.

The Trap: A girl's been murdered on Malibu Beach, another one is missing and a whole bunch of others are in danger. Jimmy Chan is called onto the case but Charlie Chan takes over and is followed by Birmingham Brown. This is by far the worst film out of the set. The gaggle of gals are simply annoying and it's difficult to care about the characters or the story.

The Chinese Ring: The princess of China has been murdered and someone is stealing money from her bank account. Charlie Chan (Roland Winters), Jimmy Chan and Birmingham Brown are on the case. Winters is simply awful as Chan but the story is good and it makes up for his shortfall [minor spoiler alert] This one is pretty dark especially since a child is murdered in the story.

This boxed set goes on sale tomorrow, June 8th. This would make a great gift for a die-hard classic film buff or someone who likes short, easy mysteries. It's not for everyone though.

Oh and something about it being on Blu-Ray too. ::smirk::

Here are a couple of videos from YouTube that Warner Bros. sent me. They'll give you a good sense of the three main characters (Charlie Chan, Jimmy Chan and the exchangeable Browns) and of the style of these movies. Enjoy!


  1. LOVE Charlie Chan! So glad TCm has come out with a set. I wish there wasn't so much hubbub about airing Charlie Chan films. The mysteries are fantastic. Definitely going to pick this one up.

    I have to agree with you. The best Charlie Chan was definitely Warner Oland. Sydney Toler was pretty good too. I've only seen was Roland Winters Charlie Chan so I don't have a complete opionion of his work.

  2. I have always loved the Charlie Chan movies. When I was little our local NBC affiliate would show them every Saturday. Warner Oland is by far my fafvourite of the actors to play Chan. Sydney Toler was okay. Roland Winters was horrible. OF course, many of his films were made at Monogram, which was not known for quality films!

  3. although the Toler Chan films can be fun and enjoyable imo they dont hold a candle to the Oland films. i especially love Charlie Chan in Egypt, what a riotous pairing of Chan and Steppenfetchit!!! plus we get to see beautiful young Rita Hayworth when she was still billed a Rita Cansino! but all the Oland Chan films are well-worth seeing. He was simply marvelous and Keye Luke as #1 son is equally memorable!

    great post Quelle! :D

  4. Whoa, this is a blast from my past. I remember watching Charlie Chan movies when I was a kid. This has inspired me to see if I enjoy them as much as I used to.


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