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Monday, August 24, 2009

CHARLIE CHAN’S SECRET (1936)


Art director Gordon Wiles got promoted to megger for this Warner Oland Charlie Chan pic, but he didn’t exactly freshen things up. The script has all the elements for Chan to ring the changes and cleverly solve the crime: a rich old lady with a new will, the return of a long lost relative, a phony psychic running a seance in a haunted house, a couple of murders, and a gaggle of aphorisms for Charlie to spout. But it sure feels tired. Maybe if Number One son were around instead of poor Herbert Mundin’s comic relief servant. A better idea was in portraying the easy friendship between grand dame stage actress Henrietta Crossman (THE ROYAL FAMILY OF BROADWAY/’31; PILGRIMAGE/’33) and Oland. There’s something endearing in the way she calls him ‘Charlie’ and their close ties set up a neat trick ending. When they’re not on screen, entertain yourself by noting how much Egon Brecher’s caretaker looks like the great British character actor Wilfrid Lawson. There’s a mystery worthy of the great Charlie Chan.

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