Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)

*. Believe it or not, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum starts out looking like it’s going to be something different. A killer named McBirney who’s been sentenced to the electric chair escapes from the courthouse and goes to visit a doctor who has a lucrative business performing plastic surgery on criminals seeking a new identity . . . while running a wax museum as a front! But McBirney is so impatient to get his revenge on Charlie (whose evidence had sentenced him to the chair) that he’ll risk everything to take our hero out even before the bandages are off. A trap is set . . .
*. In other words, not the usual whodunit and on the whole a pretty basic set-up. Until the second half, when things become bewilderingly complicated in the usual fashion. Even the murders are bizarre, from a rigged electric chair to blowguns firing darts dipped in tonga, “a poison used by the Dayak headhunters of Borneo.”
*. What we end up with then is not much different, and not much better, than the usual run-of-the-mill Chan adventure. Victor Sen Yung is the sole bright spot, even if he has to work harder than usual to sell the gags. The business of having someone turn the lights out while they run off or destroy some evidence had become an obligatory scene in the series, and here they use it twice.
*. Not bad. Maybe slightly above average, especially for the Toler Chans. The setting had unrealized potential to be used for more than just the usual “dummy” jokes played with the various effigies, but it still gives the proceedings a nice bit of atmosphere. But Toler is stiff as usual and the plot again tries to cram way too much into too small a box.

7 thoughts on “Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Oh they were a big deal. But a declining return on investment. The property got sold to Monogram (Poverty Row) shortly after this one, and then kicked around some other studios.

      And this was definitely an unoriginal franchise. They kept repeating the same scenes. Like someone turning the lights out. That happens all the time in these movies.


    Sigh. I think you’ll find that Borneo’s Iban people would have been more correctly known as Sea Dayaks, from the colonial period on. Easy mistake to make, schoolboy error.

    The set up here sounds like 1936’s The Devil Doll.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      I’ll inform the screenwriter about your knowledge of Iban culture and see if a correction can be made in post. It may be too late, though it’s a good catch and worth noting for posterity.


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