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Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise

USA 1940
produced by
20th Century Fox
directed by Eugene Forde
starring Sidney Toler, Marjorie Weaver, Lionel Atwill, Victor Sen Yung, Robert Lowery, Don Beddoe, Leo G.Carroll, Cora Witherspoon, Kay Linaker, Harlan Briggs, Charles Middleton, Claire Du Brey, Leonard Mudie, James Burke, Richard Keene, Layne Tom jr, C. Montague Shaw
screenplay by Robertson White, Lester Ziffren, based on the novel Charlie Chan Carries on by Earl Derr Biggers

Charlie Chan, Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler), Charlie Chan at Fox

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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In Honolulu, famous police detective Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) receives a visit of his old friend, Scotland Yard inspector Duff (C. Montague Shaw), who tells Chan he's on Dr Sudermn's (Lionel Atwill) cruise to find a notorious strangler. Problem is, he has no idea what the strangler looks like, so Duff has come to Chan to ask for assistance ... and a short time later, Duff is found dead in Chan's office, strangled.

Chan pays a visit to the hotel where the members of the cruise are staying - to find one cruisemember murdered. Chan soon finds a suspect, the dead man's nephew Dick (Robert Lowery) too, who had a quarrel with him shortly before his demise, and who is the heir to his vast fortune ... but Chan doesn't think he's guilty, and soon finds out there was a confusion and the murder victim actually should have been another man, the overly nervous Pendleton (Leonard Mudie). Chan thinks it's best to continue the cruise - under his supervision.

On the cruise, Chan meets all the members, your typical eccentric bunch of folks, like vastly rich Susie Watson (Cora Witherspoon) and her golddigger boyfriend Ross (Don Beddoe), archeologist Gordon (Leo G.Carroll), who likes nothing more than telling anecdotes of his adventures, and a god-fearing couple (Charles Mittleton, Claire Du Brey) with a tendency to create confusion. And then there's Charlie's son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung) too, who more than once jumps the gun.

Chan tries his best to keep everything under control and to protect Pendleton, but then Pendleton is killed all the same ... and Chan finds a clue that the killer is actually after Pendleton's wife (Kay Linaker), who's not on the cruise but supposed to meet her husband in San Francisco, the final destination of the ship, as well. The only clue to the killer seems to be that he's wearing a beggar's outfit, and later, a beggar is actually found on board, hunted down and killed, even though nobody who has hunted him has ever aimed to kill him. When his disguise is removed, the beggar is revealed to be Ross, the golddigger. So he's the murderer, right?

Wrong of course. Charlie has meanwhile done a background check on Mrs Pendleton and has found out she was married to a jewel thief, Oberton, before she was married to Pendleton, but had seen to it that he got thrown into the slammer when she found out about his line of work. He has sworn revenge on her and Pendleton (who had no idea what Oberton looked like) of course. Now Ross could not have been Oberton simply because he was Oberton's fence - which explains why he was taking turns in wearing the beggar's outfit with Oberton. And yes, it was Oberton who eventually killed Ross to clear himself. Problem now, still nobody knows what Oberton looks like. Nobody but Mrs Pendleton ...

San Francisco: Chan has asked all suspects to the coroner's office and has invited Mrs Pendleton to identify Oberton - by voice, because she has lost her eyesight. Dr Suderman protests, is identified, but makes a hasty getaway. While everybody's going after Suderman though, a man in a beggar's outfit is trying to kill Mrs Pendleton, and while doing so he's giving a full confession. Chan and friends intervene in the very last moment, save Mrs Pendleton, unmask the beggar and reveal him to be ... archeologist Gordon, the real Oberton.

But why has Mrs Pendleton identified Suderman as Oberton?

It was all staged by Chan to lure the real Oberton into a trap (and a confession) of course, and Suderman was in on it. Mrs Pendleton isn't really blind either, by the way.

 

Not the greatest Charlie Chan film ever, that's for sure, but an enjoyable series film nevertheless, thanks first and foremost to a colourful cast playing colourful characters, and the regulars (Sidney Toler and Victor Sen Yung) being on top of their game. One little thing, the killer gives himself away a little too soon when he talks at length about Chinese history and gets the facts wrong in the process. Now I don't know a thing about Chinese history, but by mere construction of a mystery thriller of this ilk, monologues like this are always a dead giveaway.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Tales to Chill
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
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Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD