*. Neither as good nor as bad as you’d be justified in expecting it to be. Warner Oland and Keye Luke were gone, to be replaced by Sidney Toler and Victor Sen Yung (as Number Two Son Jimmy Chan). But H. Bruce Humberstone, who had directed Charlie Chan at the Race Track, the Opera, and the Olympics, was back and there’s actually a decent little murder plot set aboard a freighter bound from Shanghai to Hawaii (despite the title, almost the entire film takes place on the ship and not in Honolulu, which isn’t even evoked in any stock footage).
*. I don’t think it’s saying anything surprising to recognize that Toler is no Warner Oland. As Chan authority Ken Hanke puts it in the DVD’s accompanying featurette there’s just “something about Toler that’s not as likeable.” He has a robotic delivery and always has a somewhat angry expression on his face (if that’s not just the make-up). Toler’s Charlie has none of the warmth or geniality of Oland’s, even when interacting with his family. A family that continues to grow, as there’s a subplot playing in the background throughout this movie that has his daughter giving birth to a Number One Grandson.
*. Victor Sen Yung is a step down from Keye Luke too, but he’s still energetic and has appeal. Elsewhere in the cast the presence of George Zucco helps quite a bit. He’s good in just about everything. And there’s also a good turn put in by Oscar the grumpy lion, as for some reason the freighter is conveying a menagerie.
*. At least we can be thankful that the animal handler who’s scared of his own shadow isn’t Black this time, though the script does throw in the one casually racist joke (Charlie is first shown a Black baby at the hospital and says “Wrong flavour”).
*. Given Oland’s illness it was likely always going to be an awkward transition for a series that had become a cash cow for Fox and so had to be kept going. Hanke describes this one as an uncomfortable apparition between the two eras, and thinks that when Norman Foster took over the directing reins for the next couple of films it helped. I don’t think Humberstone does anything wrong here, but Oland isn’t good, Charlie is no longer the focus even of the detective story, the villain is oddly laid back, and the animals are just something for the circus crowd. Not a good beginning then, but better (and worse) was to come.