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Charlie Chan 3-Film Collection
Written by A.J. Hakari   

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For nearly two decades, the Charlie Chan films cranked out a stretch of cinematic comfort food unrivaled by any other vintage detective series. As fond as I'll always remain of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes adventures, the Chan flicks always proved a touch more warm, their repeated tropes as familiar and welcoming as they (admittedly) were tiring and unimaginative.

The movies did suffer from these and a host of other issues (the many obvious varieties of racial insensitivity, the gradual decline in production quality, etc.), yet their sleuthing storylines, silly humor, and the occasional guest star make the bulk of them well worth popping in for a quick, engaging watch.

The franchise has eeked its way onto home media bit by bit over the years, but courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection, a new set containing the last three titles in the original streak (save for those lost forever) has arrived to complete the journey.

Although the Charlie Chan 3-Film Collection -- featuring Sidney Toler and Roland Winters -- may not have gathered up the title character's finest outings, the investigator's long-time devotees will want to give it a go in order to fill some long-standing holes in their movie-going dossiers.

THE RED DRAGON (1945)

red_dragon_poster_200.jpgWhen the discovery of a new element ends in murder, Charlie Chan (Toler) races to prevent the forces of evil from harnessing its power. The Red Dragon is your textbook entry from the era in which Toler donned the legendary sleuth's duds, combining equal parts mystery, espionage, and broad comedy. The addition of an unknown weapon that perplexes even old Charlie provides a head-scratching twist during the story, and as (respectively) Chan's valet and number-three son, Willie Best and Benson Fong nicely fulfill their duties as the comical cowards of the hour. On the whole, however, this case strikes but only a few genuinely riveting notes, with little fanfare about to accompany the guilty party's climactic reveal. Nevertheless, The Red Dragon exhibits its fair share of entertainment value during a short run time, enough so that fans won't feel too deprived of a quality potboiler when all's said and done.

FILM DATA

Director: Phil Rosen

Writer: George Callahan

Cast: Sidney Toler, Benson Fong, Willie Best, Fortunio Bonanova, Robert E. Keane

Rating: No MPAA Rating

Classic Movie Guide Rating: 3 out of 5

Run Time: 64 minutes

Studio: Monogram Pictures

 

THE FEATHERED SERPENT (1948)

c_chan_featherd_serpent_200.jpgDuring a holiday in Mexico, Charlie Chan (Winters) is enlisted to help recover a missing scientist on the hunt for an Aztec temple. As the chief baddie is revealed at around the halfway point, the absence of a true whodunit angle in The Feathered Serpent might come as a disappointment to some mystery buffs. Like with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, this tale takes a chunk of focus away from conundrum-cracking in favor of featuring Chan as more of an "adventuring" type (engaging in what heroics a Monogram budget would allow), although there's still plenty of good to be witnessed here. Winters turns in a performance that blends the best qualities of Toler and Warner Oland's portrayals of the detective extraordinaire, and, in a rare instance, we get to see Chan given grief by two of his boys at once, with Keye Luke and Victor Sen Yung on hand as his oldest kin. Straightforward though its plot may be, The Feathered Serpent carries quite a bit of charm to name.

FILM DATA

Director: William Beaudine

Writer: Oliver Drake (additional dialogue by Tim Ryan)

Cast: Roland Winters, Keye Luke, Mantan Moreland, Victor Sen Yung, Carol Forman

Rating: No MPAA Rating

Classic Movie Guide Rating: 3 out of 5

Run Time: 61 minutes

Studio: Monogram Pictures

 

THE SKY DRAGON (1949)

c_chan_sky_dragon_200.jpgDeath takes flight as Charlie Chan (Winters) gets to the bottom of a killing that took place on an airplane. Being the final entry in the original classic run of Chan thrillers, it's only appropriate that The Sky Dragon be as packed as it is with just about all of the elements that seasoned admirers of the series have come to know and love. There's the wide suspect pool, the gimmicky murder scenario, Charlie's pearls of wisdom, and perennial sidekicks Keye Luke and Mantan Moreland lending humorous support for one last investigation. The death itself is a pretty big cinch to piece together, but that isn't to say seeing our hero turning up clues and following leads isn't a perfectly enjoyable process. A decent note for this phase of the franchise to go out on, The Sky Dragon is an hour's worth of good fun, accented with a liberal dash of danger.

FILM DATA

Director: Lesley Selander

Writers: Oliver Drake and Clint Johnson

Cast: Roland Winters, Keye Luke, Mantan Moreland, Noel Neill, Tim Ryan

Rating: No MPAA Rating

Classic Movie Guide Rating: 3 out of 5

Run Time: 64 minutes

Studio: Monogram Pictures

 

(Charlie Chan 3-Film Collection is available through the Warner Archive Collection: http://www.warnerarchive.com)

 



                       

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