Tuesday, July 31, 2012

CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OLYMPICS (1937) Starring Warner Oland and Keye Luke

Along the lines of 'better late than never' here is my entry in Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film Tuesday - the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Head on over there for pertinent links to other movie mavens and their contributions.

I thought today's film appropriately fitting since Olympic Hoopla is currently taking place in London. (And thanks to Prashant for giving me the idea to do an Olympics themed  post.)

The always adorable Keye Luke.

It's 1936 and the Berlin Olympics are just days away. Jimmy Chan (Keye Luke) will be taking part, competing in the swimming events. At present he is on board ship with his friends and fellow Olympic contestants. As usual in these sorts of films, the 'kids' look older than they should be, but it's possible that people aged differently then.

Among the passengers is Richard Masters (Allan Lane - later to earn fame as B-western action star  'Rocky' Lane AND as the voice of TV series talking horse, Mr. Ed), the youngish romantic interest in danger of falling for a vamp's wiles, and Betty Adams (Pauline Moore) a spunky gal who is also competing at the Games and with the vamp for Richard Masters' affection.

Katherine DeMille - the 'vamp' in question

Yvonne Roland (played by Katherine DeMille in a rather obvious way), is a slinky, professional temptress - in those days, women of this sort made a living as 'vamps' - ruining young men and worming secrets out of them - at least according to tradition. Today, of course, they have google. 

The other suspicious character aboard the ship bound from New York to the Continent, is Arthur Hughes (played by perennial bad guy C. Henry Gordon - another of those terrific character types we love to hissss!)

C. Henry Moore

Of course there is a secret formula involved (you knew that was coming - right?), it's for a new airplane gizmo which allows for remote control piloting  - kind of an early version of the 'drone'.  Both Hughes and Roland are involved up to their necks.

Charlie Chan (after doing a bit of sleuthing in Honolulu where the secret formula originally went missing and a pilot killed) has caught up with the ship by utilizing the Hindenburg blimp to scoot across to Europe arriving at almost the same time as the ocean liner. He is on the trail of Masters (who is wrongly suspected of stealing the secret formula), Yvonne Roland and Arthur Hughes - all three appear to be in cahoots.

Chan is met at the dock by an officious representative of the German police in spiffy uniform (no Nazi regalia) who will assist in the on-going investigation. He looks like something out of a Viennese operetta, but hey, better than a swastika.

The rest of the film takes place in various locales, trains, hotel rooms, the Olympic stadium as well as a country villa where the bad guys hang out and a Berlin curiously devoid of any Nazi markings.

Assorted henchmen and one vamp hanging out at the villa, occasionally playing chess to wile away the hours.

We do get to see some actual newsreel of the '36 Olympics, including nice footage of Jesse Owens winning his medals. (Much to Hitler's chagrin - so much for white athletic supremacy theories.)

In the end the bad guys are vanquished, the secret formula saved, Jimmy Chan wins a medal and all is right with the world. At least for that one moment in time.

I'm happy to say that CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OLYMPICS is currently available for viewing (in its entirety) on youtube.


  1. Certainly as timely as Chan films get! (Interesting that since Lucy Liu won't get to be Chan, she gets to be Watson on CBS in September...)

  2. Todd, I am so NOT awaiting that event. :)

    One can only wonder whose bright idea that was....

  3. I was kicking this one around lately, debating whether I'd have time to blog on it. You've done a swell job. Love your remark about Google. Not as much glamour as the old-time vamps, is it?

    I'm wondering how many other films of the period referenced the Hindenburg? I can think of one other.

  4. Which film would that be....?

    The Indiana Jones film with Sean Connery is maybe one, but I'm not sure if the ship was specifically named.

    I have a vague recollection of something but that's all.....

  5. The one I'm thinking of is "History is Made at Night" with Jean Arthur, released only a few months before the Hindenburg crash in 1937. In the film, she and her domineering ex-husband have tickets to fly from New York to Europe on the airship.

  6. I used to have a recording of the Hindenburg crash, with that reporter screaming and crying, it was like being there. Great post.
    Just watche Eleanor Powell tap
    dance, she was so wonderful. I have That's Entertainment video
    that is almost worn out.


  7. The Hindenburg is also featured in The Rocketeer. Love that movie.

    I think modern society has pretty much put vamps and cads out of business. Too bad, really.

  8. Don't think I've ever seen that one,, Jacqueline. Or at least not so I can remember it. :)

    Though the title is awfully familiar....

  9. Yvonne I have that recording on a cd that came with a book I got a couple of years ago. Hard to listen to, though.

    I like Eleanor Powell, thought she was so talented. Fred Astaire said she was the most talented tap dancer ever.

  10. I agree, Lauren. Vamps and cads are the staples of the kind of movies I love. :)

    Oh, THE ROCKETEER, good one.

  11. A delightful choice for this week! It's easy to criticize certain aspects of the Chan films, but I always enjoy them for what they are: above-average "B" mysteries. I had forgotten that the owner of Mister Ed's voice was in this one!

  12. I love them, Rick. I never get tired of re-watching my favorites. For me, Charlie Chan was always the smartest man in the room - how can that be bad?


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