Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films Tuesday: Charlie Chan in MURDER OVER NEW YORK starring Sidney Toler

Charlie Chan in MURDER OVER NEW YORK (1940), a film directed by Harry Lachman, is my entry in today's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, a weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Don't forget to check in later and pick up the links to today's participating bloggers, there are bound to be some intriguing films and/or audio visuals listed.

The Plot:

For reasons that are never adequately explained, Charlie Chan is on his way from Hawaii to New York to attend a police convention - something he does with amazing regularity over the course of several films. (Do they even have those things anymore? I mean, a trip from Hawaii to NYC in the 1940's was a heck of a trek.) And of course, murder always ensues. Usually the victim is a policeman friend from Scotland Yard. (The Yard is slowly but surely being plucked of its inspectors - at least those who are friendly with Charlie Chan.)

It's no different in this particular film as Charlie meets up with former Scotland Yard and now Intelligence agent, Hugh Drake (Frederick Worlock). Of course the minute they meet on the plane, it's uh-oh. You know the poor guy is doomed. It's too bad because Frederick Worlock can be (and is in this film) a very charming actor. You'll probably recognize him from the Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone.

While on the plane, Drake and Charlie get to talking and Drake reveals that he's on the hunt for a saboteur. You wouldn't think this is the sort of thing that would be discussed out in the open for anyone to overhear, but apparently that's not an issue in these films. Maybe all the other passengers had cotton in their ears. After all, we need to find out immediately (and quickly) what Drake is up to since we know he's not long for this world.

Turns out Drake has chased the elusive saboteur (a master of disguises) from pillar to post, well, from England to India then all over the east until finally settling on the saboteur's wife (who ran away from her nasty brute of a husband and has since been traveling incognito, on her own, doing odd jobs all over the world - yeah, I know, SO far-fetched). The wife apparently knows next to nothing about anything - she's played in a typically vacant manner by the exceedingly vacuous Marjorie Weaver, a staple in several of the Charlie Chan films.

Anyway, everyone winds up in NYC and presumably the master saboteur is there as well, disguised so well that even his own wife doesn't recognize him. She is useless as a witness.

A favorite character in the film is George Kirby (Ricardo Cortez) - you know my crush on Ricardo. I watch this film all the time just to reacquaint myself with his smoldering good looks. Unfortunately he gets bumped off later in the film and we never really know whether he was good or bad - his constantly shifty eyes made me think he was guilty of something, for sure.

Kirby meets the plane in NYC (literally, since in those days you could walk out on the tarmac and up to the plane). It turns out he's giving a dinner party for Hugh Drake that night with a guest list suggested by Drake.

Also at the airport, unexpectedly, is Jimmy Chan (Victor Sen Yung) who has driven cross country with a friend to attend the World's Fair (if memory serves) of which we hear nothing further in the rest of the film.

Later that same night, Drake is found dead in a room Kirby had turned over to him as an office. Oh, meant to mention, George Kirby is president of an aircraft company which has recently been hit by saboteurs. Coincidence? I think not. Though he seems remarkably unconcerned.

Among the guests for dinner at Kirby's are Ralph Percy, an engineer at Kirby's company, played by the gorgeous and resolute Kane Richmond. Richmond was a fixture in mysteries, noir films and serials of the 40's.

No reason to show this pix of Kane Richmond other than the fact that he's a hottie.

Back to the plot:

It's a relatively small dinner party with those in attendance presumably having something or other to do with the saboteur case, though Chan and the police are unsure just how they're all connected since the man who might have told them is dead. Hugh Drake was apparently killed by poison gas released from a glass pellet. The type of gas, 'tetragine' is somehow deduced by Jimmy Chan who has, apparently, been studying untraceable poison gasses at college. (!?)

It's obvious that the elusive saboteur is one of the men in attendance - but who? Suspicion falls on Kirby's butler, Boggs (Leyland Hodgson - yet another refugee from the Sherlock Holmes films). The butler did it? Nah. Don't you believe it.

The next twist comes when the saboteur's wife Patricia Shaw (Marjorie Weaver) is tracked down by Charlie Chan. The rather boring Robert Lowery in his usual role of romantic interest plays Shaw's boyfriend. He's a chemist. Get it? Chemist. Explosives. He's been working on his own, developing a new type of.......all together now: explosive! - of course.

Charlie Chan, with Jimmy in tow, must now chase around New York looking for clues. They are shot at prompting Jimmy to say, without any trace of irony, "This is the last time I go on a case without a gat." Oh Jimmy, Jimmy, get hold of yourself.

The two break into an antiques shop in the Village being used as a front for poison gas manufacturing (!?) and Charlie eventually brings all the suspects together for an unexpected flight on a new experimental plane designed by the deceased Kirby's company.

As usual, it's all preposterous (the plot really makes little sense) but tons of fun. If you like early 40's mysteries, you'll love this one. I do. But then, as many of you know, I'm a Charlie Chan fan-girl.


  1. I read the words "Murder over New York" and my mind immediately went to Ricardo Cortez and Kane Richmond - and then Shemp Howard got in the way!

    Over the years I've become quite fond of the Toler - Sen Yung pairing and "Murder Over New York" creates its own nice little atmosphere.

  2. I knew I'd hear from you, C.W. After all, we are the Charlie Chan Committee. One of us is the Prez, the other, the Vice. We alternate from day to day. HA!

    Kane Richmond. Swoon. But what a dull personality on screen. But at least his looks don't put me to sleep as Robert Lowery's do. :)

    Actually, the truth is, I find Robert Lowery annoying. But maybe that's just me.

    Doesn't Ricardo just make you wonder in this? All that shifting of the eyeballs....Gotta' be up to something.

  3. I think Richmond really tries and that adds to his appeal.

    My husband always (always, always) calls Robert Lowery "Cuthbert" from the part he played in "McLintock!". Lowery may have been a really swell guy, but once you're labeled a "Cuthbert" it's game over.

    Cortez always makes me wonder about him! Such a good host. Such an interest in so many varied people. Must be up to something.

  4. I don't think I have ever seen one of these films all the way through. Not sure why.

  5. I think you're right, C.W. Kane did try. I'll accept that. :)

    'Cuthbert' yeah, game definitely over. :)

    Yeah, Cortez practically salivates over having he ex-Scotland Yard guy at his party and then acts all roly-eyed after the murder. What gives?

  6. Patti, you're too reality-based to appreciate Charlie Chan and I mean that in the nicest way possible. HA!

  7. I just treated myself to two more sets of Charlie Chan movies, thanks to my husband's gift card generosity.

    Some are definitely better than others, the later ones being almost slapstick. But I love the atmosphere of films shot in the 1930s and 1940s, especially mysteries. Sydney Toler is my favorite Chan.

  8. I'm going to admit (rather sheepishly) that I've never seen a Charlie Chan movie. This looks like a good opportunity to make some popcorn and sit in front of the TV (in the air conditioning).

  9. I have strong memories of this one, specially the climax with the rolling ampule! I think it must have been one of my first encounters with Charlie Chan since I would not now consider it one of the better Toler titles, while certainly entertaining. The budget certainly feels stretched thin (not compared with the later Monogram productions, I grant you) but I enjoyed it then and I have been an addict ever since! One of the interesting aspects of the film is also that it's an uncredited remake of the Biggers Chan novel, 'Behind That Curtain'.

    By the way Yvette, I see your security setting for posting comments seem to have tightened up again for those not of the blogger persuasion ...


  10. Yvette, your reviews are always fun to read and I usually pick up a lot more than just your take on films and books. I enjoyed reading about this film though I have never seen a Charlie Chan movie before. I know I'm missing something good.

  11. Thank you, Prashant. I'm pleased you enjoy my reviews. :) It's always nice to know that one's hard work is appreciated.

    Now, we simply must get you to view a Charlie Chan film, somehow, someway. Are they not available in your part of the world?

  12. Joan, I definitely do NOT like the later 'comedic' ones with Mantan Moreland thrown into the mix with his usual brand of movie foolishness. (Though I did love him in TOPPER RETURNS) and as Rochester, Jack Benny's perenially disgruntled chauffeur. (I think it was Moreland as Rochester.)

    Anyway I have one of the collections and the only one missing that I'll have to buy separately is CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA which I love.

    Many of these films are also available for free viewing on youtube, which is nice.

  13. Lauren, time to amend this oversight! MURDER OVER NEW YORK is an excellent way to do it. You might also try CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA which features Boris Karloff as an opera singer. I kid you not.

    If you stick with the Chans of the 30's and early 40's, you really can't go wrong. :)

  14. Sergio, do you have a new blog name?

    Well, none of the Charlie Chan films with perhaps the exception of CHARLIE CHAN ON TREASURE ISLAND and maybe CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA, are known for their high production values.

    But really, I think my favorites do well enough. It's the atmosphere that counts, for me. And mostly they get that right.

    I did fool around with the security thingy - is it too cumbersome?

  15. Sergio might be referring to Mike Doran's attempts, w/o a blog id, to post a comment for this post...he went ahead and left it at mine:

    Mike Doran said...

    I was unavble to post a comment at Yvette Banek's place, which no longer has Name/URL as an option.

    So Yvette, if you should see this ...

    "Rochester" was Eddie Anderson, not Mantan Moreland.

    Interestingly, the two comedians appear together in an early segment of Love American Style, which stars Flip Wilson as a pool husler who gets hustled himself by Gail Fisher of Mannix.
    Anderson and Moreland are two old guys who bet on the game.

  16. Thanks for the correction, Mike and Todd. I checked the settings on my blog and it does say that it includes Open ID. Is that what Mike referring to? He should have been able to post. I'll have to find out why didn't go through. Sorry about that, Mike.

  17. Mike's looking for the option that allows you to post just by entering your name and any web address you want...if you look at comments on my blog, you're able to do that...but no longer(?) on this one. This is different from OpenID.

  18. Okay, I don't have that choice on my blog. I went back to 'anyone' can post a comment. But I'm not keen on anonymous comments which I have to allow with 'anyone'.

    If it becomes a problem, I'm going to have to switch to something else.

    Another choice is those with google accounts. How would that affect Mike?

  19. Mike would have to be willing to use his Google account, assuming he has one. Dunno what his status or desires are in this manner...

  20. Hello again Yvette.

    First off, I haven't got a Google account. Tried to get one, but instructions in Technoslavian throw me.
    Same with Open ID.
    That leaves Name/URL: I have at least one of those, so there you are (and there I am).

    If you check your archives you'll see that I've been here before, starting with the Adrian Messenger from a while back.

    This place of yours is a favorite of mine (as is Charlie Chan), and I'd hate to lose access to it because I have such oedipusrexing luck with the tech end of things.

    I do fare somewhat better with those "security" gibberish word thingies, if that helps any.

    Thanx and apologiez.

  21. Mike, I changed back to the version you had no trouble with - at least for now. As you can see. I wouldn't want to lose even a single person who follows and comments on the blog. I mean, that's what it's all about.

    I've just been hit with a lot of spam lately and I'm hesitant to go to the full fledged 'approval' comment thing.

  22. You left me at Kane Richmond: The car went screech on the road and I stopped right there while blogging. Go no further! What is it with us women of a certain age? We still look at the young, sexy guys?

  23. Kathy, we are NEVER too old to appreciate a good looking man. At least, I hope I NEVER get that old. Ha!

    I also have a crush on Jean Luc Picard....uh, I mean, Patrick Stewart. So that balances young and older. :)


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