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Charlie Chan at the Circus

USA 1936
produced by
20th Century Fox
directed by Harry Lachman
starring Warner Oland, Keye Luke, George Brasno, Olive Brasno, Francis Ford, Maxine Reiner, John McGuire, Shirley Deane, Paul Stanton, J. Carrol Naish, Boothe Howard, Drue Leyton, Wade Boteler, Shia Jung
screenplay by Robert Ellis, Helen Logan, based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers, musical director: Samuel Kaylin

Charlie Chan, Charlie Chan (Warner Oland), Number One Son Lee Chan, Charlie Chan at Fox

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) takes his vast family to the circus, and as it is with wherever Chan goes, a murder happens while he watches the performance. At first, it looks like an unsolvable locked room mystery, but once it's found out the circus's gorilla has escaped his cage, the how can quickly be established. As for the who and why ...

The murder victim was the circus co-owner Kinney (Paul Stanton), a bit of a scoundrel nobody really liked, who wanted to get his hands on the shares of circus founder Gaines (Francis Ford) to make the circus into cash. Gaines of course refused to sell, so Kinney tried legal loophole after legal loophole to steal the circus from him. Now that puts Gaines on the spot, and investigating detective Macy (Wade Boteler) is already more than ready to arrest him, but Chan has his doubts, persuades Macy to let Gaines go and decides to travel with the circus for a while, together with his son Lee (Keye Luke). Chan soon knows he is on the right track when an unsuccessful attempt on his life is made using a poisonous snake. But still, there are suspects aplenty among the circus folks, since everybody it seems had his own feud with Kinney. Then things take an unexpected turn when the circus's wardrobe woman Nellie Farrell (Drue Leyton) claims she has been married to Kinney for the past 6 months - much to the surprise of everybody, but going through Kinney's things in the circus safe, a marriage license is found. However, trapeze artist Marie (Maxine Reiner), Kinney's sweetheart, doubts it and promises Chan proof that the marriage certificate is a forgery ... but before she can to so, she is badly injured in her aerial act when one rope of her trapeze is shot through. However, from Marie's collection of newspaper clippings Chan finds out that at the time Kinney was to have married Nellie, he was a witness for the defense at a murder trial, the man who actually got the accused off the hook. Now all of this makes Nellie and her brother Dan (Boothe Howard) the prime suspects in the murder of Kinney and the attempt on Marie's life, doesn't it?

Yes, it does of course, but Charlie Chan doesn't like simple answers, so he has Lee phone the courthouse where the murdertrial was held regarding the identity of the murder suspect, while he personally sees to it that Marie gets complicated surgery right there at the circus. But someone knocks out Lee and sets the gorilla free - again - and thus the gorilla crashes the operation ... if it was real, that is, actually it was only a ruse to lure the killer out into the open. And when the gorilla makes his getaway, he is shot, and revealed not to be the real gorilla at all, but the circus's snake charmer (J.Carrol Naish), who's also a notorious gambler who hasbeen in league with Kinney for quite some time, but now they had a fallout. The information Lee has gotten from the courthouse only corroborates that story ...

 

Ok Charlie Chan-mystery, a bit far-fetched in story perhaps, and full of plotholes, naturally, but the circus atmosphere gives the rather routine and over-comvoluted plot the necessary spots of colour, and a competent ensemble cast of course doesn't hurt either.

 

By the way, baddie J.Carrol Naish would be promoted to playing Charlie Chan himself about 20 years later in the short-lived TV-series The New Adventures of Charlie Chan.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Tales to Chill
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On the same day
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A Killer Conversation

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directed by
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written by
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