Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)

Article 3272 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-4-2010
Posting Date: 7-30-2010
Directed by Eugene Forde
Featuing Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Yung, Robert Lowery
Country: USA
What it is: Charlie Chan mystery

When a close friend from Scotland Yard is strangled in his office, Charlie Chan investigates. He knows the killer is one of several people taking part in a cruise party, so he goes along with the cruise in order to catch the killer.

As corny as the aphorism gimmick is, I couldn’t help but notice in this movie how much of Charlie Chan’s heart and soul are captured in these little observational nuggets; because Chan is required to be calm and objective on the surface, it is here (thanks to the solid writing and Sidney Toler’s fine performance) that his wit and humanity are allowed to shine through. This is definitely part of the charm of the Chan movies. This one has a fun cast that includes Lionel Atwill, Charles Middleton and Leo G. Carroll, who I didn’t recognize immediately because I’m used to seeing him a bit older. The mystery is entertaining and clever, even threatening to break the “red herring” rule at one point. The fantastic aspects here are harder to pin down; the opening scenes imply that the murderer is a serial killer of sorts, but I don’t really see how the story effectively explains murders that were previously committed to the ones that occurred here, even though it is these that bring the Scotland Yard detective into the story in the first place. In my mind, these don’t really qualify as serial-type killings. The other fantastic content is also implied; a female spiritualist is one of the suspects, but little is made of this; there isn’t even a seance scene. So, enjoyable as this one is, it’s too marginal to really belong to the fantastic genres.

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