Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)

*. A real shame. In many ways Charlie Chan at the Race Track was one of the best Chans yet. It has a script that, while complex, I actually managed to follow pretty well. There’s the interesting introduction of technical matters like blood-spatter evidence and light-triggered photo guns at the track. Charlie’s folksy wisdom is colourful and direct (“Man who flirt with dynamite sometimes fly with angels”). Director H. Bruce Humberstone uses some delightful whip pans in the final act to add to the sense of a swiftly approaching climax.
*. But I say it’s a shame because of the character of the indolent and cowardly Black groom Mainline, who is clearly a stand-in for Stepin Fetchit from Charlie Chan in Egypt. He doesn’t have any essential role to play but is only included for comic relief. And I suppose audiences at the time got some laughs out of him. But he sure doesn’t play well today.
*. What makes this all the more difficult to take is the way Keye Luke’s Number One Son on two separate occasions makes fun of Asian stereotypes to get out of trouble, with lots of bowing and “oh, vely solly!” apologies. So Asian stereotypes are to be turned on their head while Black stereotypes are fully indulged. It’s jarring.
*. Of course there are other cultural assumptions that are easy to glide by too. When Charlie tells the young man at the end that “Good wife best household furniture” we’re meant to laugh along with that as well. But at least that’s meant as a joke. I think.
*. The plot is a bit far-fetched, though apparently there really was a problem at the time with substitute horses being used as ringers that was only solved by tattooing IDs onto their inner lip. In any event, it’s basically a straight lift from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. Production values are relatively high, with some good race track stuff mixed in and a fire in a horse stable (on a ship) that’s pretty impressive. Apparently Warner Oland was drinking heavily and was barely awake in some of his scenes but Humberstone found some workarounds so you don’t notice too much. It’s a shame about Mainline but I don’t believe in cleaning these things up so you’ll either have to put with him or pass.

34 thoughts on “Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)

      1. tensecondsfromnow


        Can you describe the devices you are using to do this? You watch a tv, right? What device plays the films? How do you get the image onto your computer?

        Was the original title Charlie Chan at the Racist Track?

      2. Alex Good Post author

        *sigh* *face palm*
        I watch the movies on TV. Then I make the screen captures using a computer. Back before there were tablets and people watching movies on cellphones, all computers used to come with a disc drive that could be used to play DVDs.

      3. tensecondsfromnow

        So you see an interesting newspaper headline, bottom or bus. You then remove the disc from the tv, start your computer, copy the image, then put the disc bakc in the tv and continue watching? Every single time? Does that not drive you to distraction?

      4. Alex Good Post author

        I make a note of the chapter the image appears in. Then, using my notes (which are usually made on the back of an envelope or a grocery receipt) I can find the images quickly later, either for posting with my reviews or for the quizzes. You see how quickly I’ve adapted to the technology?

      5. tensecondsfromnow

        It sounds like a felony. So why were you collecting ‘cinematic’ images of bare buttocks? How many have you collected? What percentage are for your own enjoyment?

      6. Alex Good Post author

        In Canada and the rest of the modern world it falls under “fair use.” In Scotland it’s a perversion.
        Off to the bins. Don’t bother to sigh. Not much to put out this morning.

      7. Alex Good Post author

        I never thought I’d have to explain the meaning of Silent Night Deadly Night 2 to anyone. And yet, here we are.
        You’re the corpse lying beside the bin, Bunny. I’m just leaving you out there to be recycled with the organics.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I don’t know if I’ve even done half of them yet. They were basically like a serial and the studio just kept churning them out.
      Dix is definitely being Dixy. I think he’s angling to be the lead singer for the Dixy Lads. Plus he seems to really want another man-ass quiz. I’ll see what I can pull up from my files.

  1. Bookstooge

    I watched Murder by Death that had a parody of Chan, along with other great detectives. If I liked that, would I probably like the original thing?

    Anything that gets Dix going about woke issues can’t be all bad after all…

    1. Alex Good

      Well, if you like those golden age detectives then I’d recommend it. But the movies themselves are pretty slight and mainly of historical interest today. And parts of them, like the obvious racism, haven’t aged well. I think you mainly have to be a fan of ’30s B-movies generally to be into these.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        You’re going to have to remind me what the fiasco was yesterday. Not liking women fighting, or liking women fighting too much?

      2. Alex Good Post author

        So much for any plans on reviewing women-in-prison movies. And I was so looking forward to revisiting Caged Heat and Reform School Girls.

      3. Over-The-Shoulder

        Afraid you’re going to have to take one for the team there. Yes, there are some masterful women-in-prison films, but, as Charlie would want, you’re going to have to wait it out with some men-in-prison films for a while. Not my decision!

      4. Alex Good Post author

        It’s more a question of when I get around to posting notes I’ve already made. The notes for tomorrow’s post were actually written over five years ago. That’s the last time the draft was updated. Some of the Shakespeare posts go back a long way.

      5. Over-The-Shoulder

        Woah. That is impressive. Ok, a few more questions. Number one: how many films do you watch a year? Or, maybe easier, a week? Or even a day? Secondly, how many drafts do you currently have? As in, posts waiting to be published or touched up?

      6. Alex Good Post author

        In a week maybe four. Drafts I’m not sure. Enough to tide me over the slow days, or at least until I decide to shut things down.

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