Daily Archives: July 8, 2021

Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

*. A movie that’s primarily of historical interest today. Charlie heads off to the 1936 Berlin Olympic — where his son Lee is swimming in the 100 m freestyle race — in order to retrieve a device that allows for the remote radio control of airplanes, effectively turning them into drones.
*. What makes this interesting for viewers today is the way the Nazi swastikas have been crudely painted over in all the shots where they appear. A nice indication of how attitudes toward Germany were hardening. Note that in the film itself the police inspector Strasser is a martinet, but honourable, and that the bad guys are from some unnamed Ruritania (the chief villain is named Zaraka, which is exotically indeterminate). It wouldn’t be until Charlie went up against them in City in Darkness that the Germans would become the enemy (and even then it was a precocious call).
*. But I found lots of other historical footnotes interesting as well. Take the men’s 4×100 m track race. The American team win with a time of 39.8, which was a new world and Olympic record. Did you know that in the 2016 games in Rio the same race was won by Jamaica in 37.27? I would have thought they would have lowered the time by more than that. Today’s runners seem a lot faster.
*. Some curious word use. The remote-control device is called a “robot.” This was a new word, invented by a Czech writer named Karel ńĆapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which was published in 1920. By our standards it really doesn’t seem like much of a robot, since it’s just a small box that fits into the plane’s control panel. But I guess if you stretch the definition of “robot” enough it might work.
*. Another word is “filibuster.” One of the characters here is called “a notorious filibuster” because he “made a fortune selling arms to revolutionists in every part of the world.” This is a historical usage of “filibuster,” where it referred to “a person engaging in unauthorized warfare against a foreign country.” I don’t think it’s used that way today. Instead it’s meaning only has reference to a legislative tactic.
*. Explaining how he’s going to get to Berlin from Honolulu Charlie says how he’s going to “take Zeppelin Hindenburg from Lakehurst, New Jersey.” Well, I guess that was better than taking the Hindenburg to Lakehurst, which is where it turned into a fireball just two weeks before this movie was released. Ouch.
*. That’s Katherine DeMille, adopted daughter of Cecil B. playing Yvonne Roland. She was actually born in Vancouver and later married Anthony Quinn. Quite a looker, but I don’t think I’ve seen her in much else.
*. Ironic that the movie begins with Charlie getting a physical. This was nearing the end of the line for Warner Oland, who would die the next year, his body weakened by heavy smoking and alcoholism. He was only 58.
*. That’s all I’ve got. The actual movie here was a let-down for me coming after Charlie Chan at the Opera. This just seemed like standard spy nonsense, with another plot I had trouble following. Charlie Jr. was cute at the beginning, and DeMille looked sultry, but aside from that . . . historical interest.