Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)

*. 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.

57 thoughts on “Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)

      1. fragglerocking

        Took me through 4 links to get to the actual Alex Good, who is a lady photographer doing weddings, engagements and lifestyle shoots, and charging $3-4000 for a session.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Don’t think there’s enough danger pay to empty your bins. God knows what hazardous materials you put in there. You’ll have to manage on your own.

      3. fragglerocking

        No though at those prices I’ve missed a trick. I don’t think her photo’s are that good, lots are over exposed and blown highlights but good luck to anyone trying to go it alone. I’ve never been arsed to start my own photo business up, never thought myself all that good.

      4. Alex Good Post author

        I imagine working a wedding would be a lot of work, and pressure. Plus it’s a real skill being able to photograph people. The exposure might be a personal style I guess, or something clients wanted. That seems like a hard business.

    1. Alex Good

      Yes, I’m not sure if it’s the make-up or if Toler just didn’t feel as relaxed as Oland (who was apparently drunk on set quite a bit, which might have helped).

      1. Bookstooge

        I like to think of it more as “in touch with nature” but I guess some people might look at it that way. They are obviously nature haters.
        I bet this Chan was a real nature lover….

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Hard to say. He’s always fashionably dressed and likes to vacation in elegant settings. There’s no Charlie Chan Goes Camping.

      3. Bookstooge

        A real nature lover NEVER goes camping. That’s for people who THINK they love nature but actually don’t.
        I’d say Chan was ahead of his time in this regards. Maybe that makes up for the baby joke in some people’s eyes?
        As for that joke, all I could think of was jellybeans. Great big baby sized jellybeans….

      4. Bookstooge

        No jelly babies in my area so I guess we’re out of luck.
        If only Charlie Chan was here to solve the mystery of why North America doesn’t have jelly babies….

      5. Alex Good Post author

        I will get Fraggle on this, as she must know. I think Dr. Who eats jelly babies. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them here though.

      6. Bookstooge

        That would explain it. Dr Who interfered in our God given right to eat jelly baby’s. I’d say this is a declaration of war by the Beeb against our whole continent….

      7. Bookstooge

        I started watching when they rebooted with what’s his name, big ears guy. Then was a huge fan of the David Tennant run and gave up at the end of the Matt Smith dr.

      8. Alex Good Post author

        Yeah, I heard the Tennant was good. I think they had some good writers working for them then too. I always figured it would be too much work to get into them again. Too much good TV to catch it all.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I think Eddie was trying to communicate in some obscure variant of Glaswegian dialect where “coupon” means something that only a handful of cottagers understand. He does that sometimes.

      2. Bookstooge

        Georgetown, USA.
        oh, did you mean Denzelville?

        It gets really hard to keep track when you have so many famous people like the United States does.

        I’m just glad we don’t have to deal with keeping the Dooley’s straight. That would throw our entire voting system out the window….

      3. Bookstooge

        I don’t think he made any himself. He subcontracted to some guy named Lincoln, who Washington thought was honest enough to not con him. Of course, everybody knows Lincoln was funneling it all to the Contra’s in Iran, so not our proudest moment.

        I thought Betsy Ross invented ID4? It’s been a couple of years since my last history class so I’m definitely rusty. I’m always getting her and Rosa Parks mixed up….


        Lincoln made great cars. And honest Father Abraham was a friend to the Smurfs. Bill Pullman played him in ID4. He saved Iran from the Contras. No-one ever rode at the back of the bus again. Fact.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.