*. Black Magic (later retitled Meeting at Midnight to avoid confusion with Orson Welles’s Black Magic) was the third of the dismal Monogram Charlie Chan pictures and was directed by Phil Rosen, who had also helmed the previous two.
*. They were obviously out of ideas. Not only are the usual Chan tropes recycled — the hand holding a gun sticking through the crack of a doorway, the lights being suddenly turned off at a key moment — but the whole plot is just a pastiche of earlier elements.
*. Once again Charlie is investigating a phony magician/mentalist/hypnotist who is using the black arts for no good. This had already been done in The Black Camel, Charlie Chan’s Secret, and Charlie Chan at Treasure Island. This time out there’s a séance where someone is killed in a particularly mysterious way that Charlie proceeds to piece together.
*. Is there anything good to say about this? Well, they gave Tommy Chan (Benson Fong) the day off and have Frances Chan taking over her brother’s duties. Not Iris Chan, the daughter who appeared in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, but Frances Chan. Frances Chan is played by . . . Frances Chan! That’s neat. I guess they couldn’t resist.
*. Also neat is the killer’s method of using a mind-control drug to get his victims to walk off the roofs of high-rises. That actually gives us the movie’s one decent scene.
*. Mantan Moreland is back as Birmingham Brown, someone who just can’t get away from those darn Chans. Given the nature of the plot he gets to spend a lot of time being frightened of ghosts and such, while trying to make himself disappear by snapping his fingers and saying “Abracadabra!” Nothing funny or fresh about this at all.
*. Back in the ’40s and ’50s I guess it was common to pronounce “homicide” as home-icide. I don’t think that’s the way it’s pronounced today at all. This is something I mentioned in my notes on The Woman in the Window so it didn’t surprise me here. What did surprise me was the way séance was pronounced see-ance. Séances weren’t new in the 1940s so I don’t know if they were just being thick here or if that’s the way they really pronounced it back then in the U.S.
*. Getting through these Monogram Chans has become a bit of a chore and I don’t know if I’ll be able to soldier on through the whole canon. Or Chanon. But even if I make it, there’s no point in anyone else doing the same.