CHARLIE CHAN’S SECRET (1936)
Article #1385 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-29-2004
Posting Date: 5-28-2005
Directed by Gordon Wiles
Featuring Warner Oland, Rosina Lawrence, Charles Quigley
Charlie Chan investigates the murder of an heir who was killed the minute he returned home after an absence of seven years.
Fantastic content: Much of the mystery takes place in an “old dark house” environment, and psychics and seances both play heavily into the plot to give the movie some horror touches.
Given the recent controversy over attempted airings of the classic Charlie Chan movies, I found myself speculating on what changes would be necessary if the character of Charlie Chan was to be revived for modern audiences. The most obvious change (casting an oriental in the role) would be the easiest. However, you would have to change two qualities of Chan’s character; his unfailing politeness and his aphoristic speech pattern. Both of these qualities have stereotypical qualities to them, and unfortunately they are both essential to Chan’s character. His politeness served to offset the potential intimidating qualities of his keen mind, while his aphorisms displayed his keen mind at work while also showing his witty side. Without these qualities, Chan just wouldn’t be Chan. I suspect a revival of the character is highly unlikely.
For those of us who choose not to be put off from these movies by the stereotypes, they can be a lot of fun. This one isn’t one of the best, but it’s still quite good. it also has a somewhat stronger horror content than some others of the series; in fact, the two biggest scenes (the discovery of the body and the final trap to catch the killer) both involve seances. Herbert Mundin performs comic relief duty as the butler here, and horror fans may recognize Egon Brecher from any number of horror movies, in particular THE BLACK CAT.