Showing posts with label Charlie Chan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Charlie Chan. Show all posts

Monday, February 22, 2016

Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

As we count down to another summer Olympics, this year marks the 80th anniversary of the 1936 summer Olympic games held in Berlin, Germany. It was a time rife with political, racial and ethnic tensions. Hitler and the Nazis were growing in power and the Olympics was an ideal platform for their propaganda. A remark made by a villain in the film Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) beautifully illustrates how the games were symbolic of something much greater than the sports being played in the stadium:

"A most illuminating spectacle Mr. Chan -- the nations of the world about to struggle for supremacy on the field of sports. Yet behind all this there is another struggle going on constantly for world supremacy in a more sinister field." - Zaraka to Charlie Chan

What could bring Charlie Chan, the humble police detective from Honolulu, all the way to the Berlin for the Olympic games? International espionage of course! In director H. Bruce Humberstone’s Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) the drama starts with a mysterious plane crash. Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) and his #2 son Charlie Chan Jr. (Layne Tom, Jr.) investigate. The test pilot was murdered and an important new invention has been stolen; a military device that controls airplanes remotely. It turns out the device is in the possession of a lady wearing a white fox stole, Yvonne Roland (Katherine DeMille) . She’s on a boat along with hundreds of Olympic athletes heading to Germany for the games. Roland’s part of an international spy ring and is on a mission deliver the device (often referred to as a robot) to the diplomat from an unspecified country Charles Zaraka (Morgan Wallace). Several people want to get their hands on that device and Charlie Chan is on the case to retrieve it for the US government.

Layne Tom Jr., Warner Oland and Keye Luke in a publicity still for Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

"Hasty accusation like long shot on horse race. Odds good but chances doubtful." - Charlie Chan

It just so happens that Charlie Chan’s #1 son Lee (Keye Luke) is on his way to the Berlin Olympics too. He’ll be there to compete in the 100 meter swim. Lee takes over from Charlie Chan Jr, who is left behind in Honolulu, as his father’s sidekick. There are multiple story lines going and Lee is not only trying to compete at the games but he’s also trying to help his dad solve a mystery and to patch things up between his friend and fellow athlete Betty Adams (Pauline Moore) and her beau Richard Masters (Allan Lane), who is smitten with the mysterious Yvonne. At one point Lee is kidnapped and the ransom is of course the device. Charlie Chan faces the international spy ring head on with some help from the Berlin police.

"Truth, like football, receive many kicks before reaching goal." - Charlie Chan

Charlie Chan at the Olympics is the 17th film in the Charlie Chan series and the 14th starring Warner Oland as the title character. It’s the first film featuring Layne Tom, Jr. as one of Chan’s sons and his performance in this film is quite charming. He went on to make a other Charlie Chan films with Sidney Toler. The DVD’s special features includes an interview with Layne Tom, Jr. who passed away last year.

Warner Oland and Katherine DeMille in Charlie Chan at the Olympics
 Katherine DeMille’s performance as the exotic and mischievous Yvonne is notable. She was the adopted daughter of legendary direct Cecil B. DeMille. I thought Lee, #2 son, and his storyline were particularly interesting. His character is clearly infatuated with Betty and could whisk her away from her beau Masters who only seems to only have a halfhearted interest in a relationship with her. But the audience knows this is completely out of the question because Lee is Asian-American and Betty is Caucasian. It’s a sad reminder of race relations during that era.

As an entry in the Charlie Chan series this film holds up because of two very special factors: the Berlin Olympics and the Zeppelin Hindenburg.

Jesse Owens relay race (Source)

Although some scenes take place in the Olympic village and the Berlin Olympic Stadium, everything was filmed on the 20th Century Fox lot and at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with stock footage of the actual games stitched in to establish the setting. The Berlin Olympic games were televised on Fernsehsender "Paul Nipkow", Germany's first TV station, and German film director and producer Leni Riefenstahl was given an enormous budget to film the epic 4 hour documentary Olympia. There exists a lot of footage of these games some of which was used (source unknown) in Charlie Chan at the Olympics most notably the opening ceremony and Jesse Owens competing in the 4X100 sprint relay. Jesse Owens becomes a minor part of the story as we see some of the actresses playing American Olympic athletes cheer him on from the sidelines. For classic film fans who plan to watch Race (2016), a Jesse Owens biopic in theatres now, it’s a good idea to go back in time and dip into this curio of a film.

The film is very careful to exclude any elements Nazi culture. The Berlin police display their national pride but there is no mention of Hitler and they don't wear Swastikas on their uniforms. Footage of the Zeppelin Hindenburg was edited so that the Swastika on the tail is not visible.

Zeppelin Hindenburg (Source)

When Charlie Chan is abroad it’s usually because he’s on vacation and happens to be around to solve a mystery. In this case, Charlie Chan travels quite a distance to help solve a case. The film lays out his journey from Hawaii to German: 18 hours from Honolulu to San Francisco, then a 13 hour flight to New York, travel to Lakehurst NJ and take 61 hour flight on the Zeppelin Hindenburg to Hamburg. Charlie Chan at the Olympics was released on May 21, 1937 just a couple of weeks after the infamous Zeppelin Hindenburg disaster . Despite the catastrophe and the developments with Hitler and the Nazis, this film still made it to theaters against all odds. An IMDb trivia bit says this film was pulled shortly after its release but I found no concrete evidence of that.

Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) is a curiosity not to be missed by classic film enthusiasts and history buffs alike. It suffers from a convoluted plot and too many characters but is still a decent entry into the series. The film is available on DVD as part of Fox’s Charlie Chan Boxed Set Volume 2.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Discovering Oahu, Hawaii with Charlie Chan ~ Part 3

In the Charlie Chan film The Black Camel (1931), Shelah Fane (Dorothy Revier) has an appointment to meet with Tarneverro (Bela Lugosi), a mystic, at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This meeting starts a chain of events that ultimately leads to Shelah's murder and Charlie Chan's (Warner Oland) investigation of the crime. The hotel is also where Charlie Chan meets with Tarneverro to talk about actor Danny Mayo's murder. Tarneverro is meeting with Shelah Fane to talk about the same thing. And the mystery begins.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Hawaii and was built in 1927. It's a luxury hotel that is affectionately referred to as The Pink Palace.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is a big deal. Not only was it the filming location for The Black Camel (1931) and other films, it's also where all the major classic Hollywood movie stars stayed when they came to visit Oahu. This hotel housed the entire cast of From Here to Eternity (1954) when they were filming on the island. This was definitely one of the places I wanted to visit and it's connection with Charlie Chan intrigued me more.

My comparison shots are not the best because I hadn't seen the film before going to Oahu. But I thought I'd still share some interior screen shots from the film with pictures I took of the lobby and patio.

This is an old photograph of Charlie Chan author Earl Derr Biggers posing on the patio of the Royal Hawaiian hotel with a random guy posing as his famous character. Because of the bird cage, I'm assuming this photograph was in part publicity for the Charlie Chan novel The Chinese Parrot.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel is absolutely stunning. If you are ever in Honolulu, just wander through the lobby, the patio, the garden in the front and the path leading to Waikiki Beach in the back. If you have a lot of cash burning a whole through your pocket, stay there!

Don't worry. Carlos and I didn't get arrested!

The last Charlie Chan location I would like to talk about is the Honolulu Police Museum. Why yes. I went to a police museum on my honeymoon. I'm lucky to have married Carlos because he thought it was really cool (and not very weird) that I wanted to go to this museum. Not only that, he ended up having more fun there than I did!

So why the Honolulu Police Museum? Because they have a Chang Apana - Charlie Chan exhibit of course!

An early portrait of Chang Apana, the detective who inspired Earl Derr Biggers to create the Charlie Chan character.

The Honolulu Police Museum is a one room museum located within the Honolulu Police Headquarters. You can visit any weekday from between the hours of 9 am and 3 pm and you can request a tour. We opted to just browse the museum on our own. Entrance to the museum is free. You just need to be screened before entering the building. We left a donation for one of the Police Department's charities.

The museum had all sorts of cool stuff including badges, photographs, detective gear, uniforms, etc.  

The Chang Apana/Charlie Chan portion of the exhibit was small but a good size in comparison to the museum as a whole. It featured lots of photos of Chang Apana as well as some Charlie Chan memorabilia including a first edition copy of House Without a Key, the first Charlie Chan novel.

On the right you'll see Chang Apana's leather horsewhip which he often used on criminals he captured. Apana was a cowboy when he was younger and his experience wrangling cows and horses helped him do the same with criminals later on.

It was fun learning about Chang Apana and all the other detectives and police officers from Honolulu's past. 

I hope you enjoyed my three-part series on Discovering Oahu, Hawaii with Charlie Chan. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Discovering Oahu, Hawaii with Charlie Chan - Part 2 - The Black Camel (1931) and Kailua Beach

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)

According to Huang, Chang Apana particular liked this interchange that happened in the film:
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!

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook