Castle in the Desert (1942)

*. The last of the 20th Century Fox Chan films with Sidney Toler, and while nothing new I still thought it was one of the better entries and not one that registers any dropping off.
*. The set-up is delightful. It’s basically a manor-house mystery, only the manor in this case is a medieval castle that’s been built out in the desert by a “scholarly millionaire” who thinks that by not having a phone he’s living like they did in the Middle Ages. In a castle. In the desert. Like I say, delightful. Delightfully silly.
*. Apparently the castle is based on Scotty’s Castle, a Death Valley villa still operating as a tourist site that I’d never heard of. I’d thought of it as a cross between Hearst Castle/Xanadu and Manderley. These would have been locations in everyone’s mind since Rebecca had just come out in 1940 and Citizen Kane the year before. Not to mention that the scholarly millionaire’s family name is Manderley. But scholars say Scotty’s Castle is what was meant, so there you have it.
*. This Manderley fellow (Douglass Dumbrille) has married a Borgia. Yes, one of those Borgias, a descendant of the infamous Renaissance Italians. He also wears a black mask over half his face and suffers from a weird psychological condition that makes him suffer anxiety attacks whenever his social status is threatened. What a weirdo! And then there’s a mystic kook named Madame Saturnia making surprisingly accurate prophecies, Henry Daniell playing . . . someone shady, Jimmy Lee running around in armour, and the usual gang of suspects (a doctor, a butler, a lawyer, a beautiful young woman, a handsome young man).
*. I don’t think the various plots make a lot of sense, but at least this time I could follow the basics of what was going on.
*. Busy and with decent production values it’s a lot of fun throughout. They might have gone on forever but with the coming of war it wouldn’t do for Fox to have an Asian hero. Monogram would pick the series up though, and Toler, who had purchased the film rights, would continue to star. Things would kick off with 1944’s Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, which had Charlie working for the U.S. government’s war effort. But the later movies would be a big step down in budget and quality. For the good Chan movies, this was pretty much the end of the line.

11 thoughts on “Castle in the Desert (1942)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      It was always a low-budget franchise and at the time Fox figured it was dead. Toler actually bought the rights from the widow of Earl Der Biggers, the author who created Chan. Probably got them pretty cheap. Not quite Disney buying Star Wars!

      Reply

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