Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)

*. There’s a story behind the title. This is one of the relatively few Charlie Chan movies to be based on one of the novels by Earl Derr Biggers, in this case Charlie Chan Carries On. Now Charlie Chan Carries On had been filmed previously. It had been the first of the Warner Oland Chans, released in 1931, but the only prints had been destroyed in a big fire at Fox which resulted in the studio wanting to remake them. I don’t know if this was because they figured it was something the public wanted or because they figured nobody would even remember the earlier movie so they could just do some recycling.
*. In any event, this all led to a legal suit because the Biggers estate wanted the credit that the movie was based on an original screenplay and not the novel because that way they’d get more money (I’m not sure how this worked, but that’s how it’s explained in the documentary The Chan Era). The credit ended up saying that it was based on a Biggers story, even though it’s quite a loose adaptation.
*. Given that it had an actual literary source I was expecting something a bit tighter. As it is, even after having just watched it I’m not sure I can explain what it was about. Charlie is alerted to the fact that one of the members of a tour group is a strangler. He joins the group on a cruise from Hawaii to San Francisco hoping to uncover who it is. I’d go into more detail, but the plot synopsis you get on the IMDb is nearly 4,000 words! It’s just too confusing to sort out in a few sentences here.
*. Confusing and not at all satisfying. I didn’t care who it was running around in the mask at the end. Nor is there anything entertaining going on. The usual Chan formula is in play. Jimmy Chan bumbles around. They trap the killer but the lights go out and the killer escapes, etc.
*. A few points stand out. In the first place, I mentioned in my notes on Behind That Curtain that it was maybe the first movie I’d seen where you see a character tying their shoes, or at least where this act is made the focus of attention. But in City in Darkness the business of tying shoes comes up again, and in this movie shoelaces are a clue. I wonder why there was such consistency.
*. Another point has to do with spanking. In a couple of earlier movies Charlie identifies his sons (both Lee and Jimmy) from behind when they have their bums stuck in the air, saying he is able to do so because he was acquainted with this part of their anatomy because he’d administered corporal punishment on them when children. This movie begins with Charlie about to administer a spanking to one of his younger sons only to be interrupted by an old friend.
*. Attitudes have changed toward spanking children. I’m against it, but in 1940 I suppose it was fairly common. It doesn’t make me warm to Charlie very much though. Especially since Toler’s Chan is a cold fellow to begin with.
*. Finally, one clue Charlie picks up on is the way the bed has been made in a hotel room. The sheets have been tucked in the wrong order. Of course today all we have is fitted sheets, but back in the day any cleaning lady or nurse had to know how to make proper hospital corners! Now how many people alive today know how to make hospital corners? It’s yet another lost art.
*. Not a cruise worth taking, I’m afraid. It’s surprising that they made a story this weak into a movie twice, but the first is lost and the second best forgotten.

19 thoughts on “Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      They’ve all passed on to the great film archive in the sky. As poor as some of these Fox Chans were, they were miles ahead of what Monogram did to the franchise.

      Reply
      1. Bookstooge

        True that!
        I always hold off on switching to our flannel sheets as long as possible because that means I need to turn our furnace on, which means our fuel bill will go up dramatically.

        Isn’t life messy?

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I think the last one was back in the ’80s with Peter Ustinov. Don’t know if I’ll do them all, but I think there are about 10 left. The Monogram movies are pretty bad.

      Reply

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