The Charlie Chan Collection

Title: The Charlie Chan Collectionchan

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Review

Charlie Chan is one of the most well-known fictional characters in entertainment. First created in 1923 by Earl Derr Biggers as an alternative to negative Chinese stereotypes, Chan was written as a heroic detective who travels the globe solving crimes.

Years before Sidney Toler stepped into the role of Chan, there had been numerous incarnations on film, beginning with 1926’s The House Without A Key, starring George Kuwa, a Japanese actor who died five years later. Unfortunately for the character, the role of Chan, even in major films, was kept at a minimum, because the Asian actors portraying him garnered unfavorable reviews.

It wasn’t until the end of the 1920s, when the rights were purchased by the Fox Film Corporation, and the first film, Behind That Curtain, was produced, that things began to change. Granted, reviews for Behind That Curtain were still negative, because a Korean actor named E.L. Park was given the lead role, and the Chan character only appeared in the final ten minutes of the film. However, in 1931, Charlie Chan Carries On was released by Fox, this time employing Swedish actor Warner Oland as the great detective. This change in casting brought about a much needed change in the way the Chan films were viewed by the American public. Oland carried the series for the next seven years. He died in 1938 while filming Charlie Chan at the Ringside; the unfinished film was converted into Mr. Moto’s Gamble, starring Peter Lorre as the title character.

Oland’s popularity prompted Fox to hire another white actor to portray Chan. They decided on Sidney Toler after testing thirty-four actors. Subsequently, eleven more Charlie Chan films were produced. However, Fox closed the door on the series after producing Castle in the Desert in 1942. Toler had hoped to persuade Fox to revive the series, unaware that they’d also cut short many of their other low-budget series like Michael Shayne and The Cisco Kid.

Toler purchased the screen rights to the Charlie Chan character from Eleanor Biggers Cole, the widow of the original creator, Earl Derr Biggers. Toler’s plan was for Fox to distribute new Chan films with him in the lead if he could finance them elsewhere. Fox turned him down and he eventually sold Monogram Pictures on the idea.

On Video

Warner Home Video has paired with TCM to release The Charlie Chan Collection under their TCM Spotlight banner. This collection includes four of the Charlie Chan films originally produced by Monogram: Dark Alibi (1946), Dangerous Money (1946), The Trap (1946), and The Chinese Ring (1947). Of the four films included, Dark Alibi is the only one that finds Chan trying to halt the execution of an innocent man. The other three films follow Chan as he tries to solve various murders, ranging from one committed on an ocean liner (Dangerous Money) to one set in San Francisco’s Chinatown (The Chinese Ring).

There are no bonus features included, which is unfortunate due to the extensive history of the Chan character. On the plus side, these four Chan films are not likely to be found anywhere other than this collection. So for the Charlie Chan devotee, this is a welcome addition.

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