Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)

*. The banter from a loquacious cab driver (Eddie Collins, somehow even more irritating than he was playing the lion handler in Charlie Chan in Honolulu) lets us know what the purpose of Reno, Nevada, “the biggest little city in the world,” really is. Liberal divorce laws, passed in 1927, allowed people to divorce each other after six weeks of residency. So for six weeks you stayed at a Reno hotel and then left when your divorce was finalized. Maybe you gambled a bit while you were waiting. But in 1936 “Reno” was essentially shorthand for “divorce.”
*. Though this was common knowledge at the time, I think it was still a somewhat unseemly subject for movies to take on. But Charlie Chan in Reno doesn’t shy away from it. Indeed, it rubs our noses in the (then) shady business of divorce, as we’re immediately taken to a divorce hotel and introduced to Mrs. Bentley, a really unpleasant soon-to-be divorcee who is also soon to be murdered. This leads us into a plot where everyone is a suspect because the deceased was such a bitch. All Charlie has to do is get his chemistry set out (Number Two Son can help in this regard, as he’s studying chemistry at USC) and set his trap.
*. Not a bad entry, though Toler wasn’t warming up to the part yet. Director Norman Foster, who had been doing the Mr. Moto films, keeps things interesting on a visual level. It’s not much, but I like juxtaposing the high-angle shot looking down into the lobby when the body is discovered, and then the low-angle shot when Jimmy tackles Iris and they end up together on the floor. The cutting also seems to be a lot faster than in previous films.
*. The main story isn’t very interesting. Nor are some of the detours, like Jimmy having his car stolen. I’d like to know what happened with that. But the trip to the ghost town was fun and Slim Summerville as Sheriff “Tombstone” plays well as comic relief against Charlie. Ultimately though it’s not essential viewing for anyone but completists, and you should feel comfortable letting what happened in Reno to stay there.

16 thoughts on “Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)

  1. Over-The-Shoulder

    “This leads us into a plot where everyone is a suspect because the deceased was such a bitch”. Hmm… If the deceased was such a bitch, why investigate at all? That would save a lot of time – for good ol’ Charlie, and for us too.

      1. Alex Good Post author

        I think he knows one of the suspects and he gets called in to clear his name. I’m not sure. He might also have just been visiting. Charlie does get around.

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