Daily Archives: May 27, 2021

Behind That Curtain (1929)

*. A movie that probably deserves to be forgotten entirely today, its one claim to minor fame being that it’s the earliest surviving appearance of the detective Charlie Chan on film (a couple of earlier silent Chan films are now lost).
*. Despite that billing, Charlie Chan doesn’t show up until the movie is nearly over, and even then plays a very minor role. The novel by Earl Derr Biggers is very freely adapted, making the Scotland Yard detective Sir Frederick Bruce the hero. So it’s not really a Charlie Chan movie despite its pedigree. It’s also about twenty minutes longer and a lot duller than the Warner Oland films. That said, there are a few points worth noticing.
*. In the first place, Charlie is played by a Korean-American actor named E. L. Park who looks like a bouncer. Not ethnically Chinese then, but Asian. Though this may also be why he was relegated to such a bit part and we have to make do with the boring old stick from Scotland Yard.
*. Also worth flagging is the presence of Boris Karloff, pre-Frankenstein, as Beetham’s manservant. Not a big role, but he does stand out, even if he doesn’t have many lines.

*. It’s 1929, and Iran is still called Persia and China has an emperor. Another world! It’s also a time when women were more worried about the scandal of divorce than about marrying a murderer. Frustrated passion leads to some poetry in the desert: “If you think it easy to be a man and to know that you, a woman like you, is in the next tent, looking out over the same desert, feeling the same loneliness, staring up at the same moon wandering, with only a bit of tent between us . . . ” Whew!
*. At one point, while interviewing a suspect, Sir Frederick stops to ties his shoes. I was amazed by this. I couldn’t think of another movie where I saw a character tying their shoes. I still can’t.
*. Kind of hard to get excited by this one. It’s not a Charlie Chan movie. It’s not a mystery since the killer can only be one of two people and we’re shown who the “bounder” is pretty early. The script sounds like a radio play. The direction is uninspired, begging for the various conversation scenes to be broken up with the odd one-shot or close-up. This never happens. Oh well, it was the early days of sound. Just hearing anything was novelty enough back then.