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City in Darkness
Charlie Chan in City in Darkness

USA 1939
produced by
20th Century Fox
directed by Herbert I. Leeds
starring Sidney Toler, Harold Huber, Pedro de Cordoba, Lynn Bari, Richard Clarke, Dorothy Tree, C.Henry Gordon, Noel Madison, Douglass Dumbrille, Leo G.Carroll, Lon Chaney jr, Louis Mercer, George Davis, Barbara Leonard, Adrienne D'Ambricourt, Frederick Vogeding
screenplay by Robert Ellis, Helen Logan, based on a play by Ladislas Fodor, Gina Kaus and characters created by Earl Derr Biggers

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

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Paris 1938: After Hitler has annexed a few spots of Europe to Germany without too much of an effort, The French gouvernment is expecting German air raids on Paris every minute now, so at night, all outside lights have to be turned off, all courtains have to be drawn, just to not give the enemy any indications about the geography of the city.

In front of this backdrop, Petroff (Douglass Dumbrille), a rich but shady businessman who has his hands in smuggling, is found murdered in his home, with his safe emptied.Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is called in to investigate, since the French officer on the job, Marcel (Harold Huber), a clumsy rookie, is just not up to the task.

Chan and Marcel soon come up with a myriad of suspects, including Petroff's former business associate Madero (Richard Clarke) and his girlfriend Marie (Lynn Bari) - the two are the good guy couple in distress -, a trio of thieves (Louis Mercier, George Davis, Barbara Leonard), passport forger Santelle (Leo G.Carroll), and Pettroff's business partners Belescu (Noel Madison) and Charlotte (Dorothy Tree). All of these persons were at Petroff's somewhen in the night of the murder, and/or had good reasons to kill him. Eventually it is revealed that the whole case revolved around some shipping papers that would get a shipment of ammunition out of the country to German shores - an act of high treason of course -, and that Charlotte is actually a German spy. When she's found out, she tries to escape by car and plane, but ultimately her plane crashes and goes up in an explosion.

In the finale, Chan drops a bomb though: It was not Charlotte who has killed Petroff but Petroff's own butler (Pedro de Cordoba), who just had to kill him when he heard Petroff was handing over some shipping papers to the very Germans his own son was to fight in the war, he just had to kill him and take the shipping papers to prevent his son from being killed by the very bullets Petroff was selling to the enemy. When confronted with this, Antoine quickly confesses - but he'll probably not be sentenced for the murder but awarded a medal for courage ...


In itself, City in Darkness is little more than a routine murder mystery with an espionage subplot - and unfortunately, only very little use is made of the eerie settings the titular city of darkness could have provided. Furthermore, Harold Huber in the second lead puts a bit too much emphasis on comedy to really work in the context of a traditional whodunnit.

What's interesting about this film though is that it unlike other series movies doesn't shy away from commenting on the then current situation on international politics, and though the war is averted at the end of this movie, Charlie Chan's last remark that compares Hitler to a spider already seems to anticipate things to come - in this respect you have to remember that 1939, when this film was released, World War II was still in its infancy and not even called World War II yet, and American propaganda movies built around popular B-movie characters were still a few years into the future.

This all doesn't make City in Darkness a masterpiece (which it simply isn't), but at least interesting from a historical point of view.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




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


A Killer Conversation

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

out now on DVD