Tuesday, June 7, 2011

IOU: Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)

Person I Owe: Frank. Frank is a good friend of mine, a co-worker and an enthusiast of many many things including Charlie Chan films. I let him borrow my Charlie Chan boxed set and in exchange he let me borrow Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936) and a couple other films too. Now that was a long time ago, so I need to get this back to him. Because we work together, I have at least 5 opportunities each week to exchange DVDs with Frank. It's very nice and we exchange books as well. It's great sharing with friends, especially friends with such great taste in movies and books!

Review: Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936 or 1937) is the most famous of all the Charlie Chan films. Why? Because it stars Warner Oland, whom many Charlie Chan enthusiasts deem the best of the six or so actors who played Charlie Chan. Co-starring in the film is Boris Karloff, the biggest name ever to appear in a Charlie Chan film. This one hour drama is fun to watch as Karloff creeps everyone out and Oland/Chan outwits everyone with his proverbs and serious detective skills. I want to point out that William Demarest, a very good character actor who appeared in many films during the 1930s including a few with Humphrey Bogart, plays a dimwitted cop. My favorite line of the film is uttered by his character: (to Chan) "You are like chop suey! Mysterious but still a swell dish."

Karloff plays opera star Gravelle (::snickers::) who escapes from an insane asylum. He seeks revenge against the other opera stars, including his previous lover Madame Lili Rochelle, with whom he had a child Kitty Gravelle. First Charlie Chan is put on the case to help the police find Gravelle but then when murders start happening at the opera house, Chan is determined to find the killer.

This is a great film to introduce to someone who is new to the Charlie Chan movies. Some folks are sensitive to the stereotyping in the film. I tell them that even though Charlie Chan can be a bit of a caricature his character is always smarter than everyone else. Now if he could only be a bit nicer to his son! Thank you Frank for letting me borrow this film!


  1. Thanks for your excellent review - CC at the opera is one of my favorites also - I get a kick out of watching Karloff lip-sync in the opera-within-the-film. I agree w/your assessment that Chan is always the smartest guy in the room; and he has enough self-confidence to know that he doesn't need to make an issue of it!

  2. Honestly, I always tell people the only thing stereotypical about Chan is the way he talks. Otherwise he acts nothing like a stereotypical "Oriental." He is hardly docile (he orders European Americans around) and he is always the most intelligent person around. At any rate, Charlie Chan at the Opera is my favourite of the Chan films, not just because of Mr. Karloff and Mr. Demarest (whom TV viewers might remember from My Three Sons), but because it is well written and a lot of fun.

  3. I like this one too, and have a poster for it hanging in my office.

    Oscar Levant wrote the opera that appears in the movie. Always very impressed that Fox would go to the trouble to commission Levant to write the music, rather than save money and using an opera in the public domain.

    And Raquelle, belated congratulations on your engagement.


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