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Scientist Harper (Frank Reicher), who has been developing a secret
formula for the government that can turn wood into steel (!), is murdered
in his own laboratory by a poisoned gas ... & since this is
gouvernment business, Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is brought in to
investigate ... & since it is Charlie Chan, his driver Birmingham
Brown (Mantan Moreland) & one of his offspring - Number 4 son (Edwin
Luke) - are never far behind neither.
Chan, & with him sheriff Mack
(Al Bridge), soon finds himself confronted with another colourful array of
suspects: Harper's assistant Meeker (Hardie Albright), who makes no secret
of having loathed the man, Harper's sister Louise (Edith Evanson), whom he
kept as his housekeeper & who's more than eager to inherit everything,
Jean (Janet Warren), who's mainly sitting around looking pretty, circus
strongwoman & ventriloquist Stella Graham (Dorothy Granger), who
worked with Harper on his sideline - producing ventriloquist dummies (?!?)
-, Harper's butler Roth (Cyril Delevanti), his mute gardener Michael
(Lester Dorr), his unlikeable relative Archer (Jack Ingram), & then
there's Jim Kimball (Ralph Lewis), a policeman who has vanished but who
might have something to do with it ...
Of course, as is customary in a
Charlie Chan mystery, some more murders soon follow (both the butler &
the gardener), secret rooms are discovered inside Harper's house, several
of them equipped with deathtraps (like one room turning into a gas chamber
without warning), dead people seemingly walk around after being
killed, the murder weapon in the end is hidden in a seemingly innocent
object (this time a ventriloquist dummy), & half of the characters
turn out to be someone else ...
So it is found olut that the killer is
in fact Archer, with the help of ventriloquist/strongwoman Stella Graham,
who in turn turns out to be his wife, who first met him when working in
vaudeville, where he worked as a disguise artist ... & in fact Harper
is not only Harper, but also Meeker, because Harper, desperately wanting
the professor's formula, had to be in the professor's company one way or
another. It is all found out withthe help of a jade mask (hence the
title), that featured Harper's real ears ... the only feature (besides
figerprints) a disguise artist cannot change ...
with Monogram's Charlie Chan mysteries, the whodunnit
aspect of the story is far fetched, does not really make all that much
sense & again a culprit is pulled out of the hat rather than revealed
by deduction in the end.
But again, the central actors, Toler &
Moreland, give fine light-hearted performances that make up the
inconsistencies of the script, & they get able support from Al Bridge
as a sheriff out of his league. Edwin Luke on the other hand as
bookwormish Number Four Son stays rather dull in comparison to Chan's