*. It’s easy to dump on these Charlie Chan movies put out by Monogram. They were lousy. So I’ll try to start off being positive here.
*. The plot is once again bewildering in its complexity. I honestly had no idea what was going on, or even what the title was referring to. But this is par for the series. What I enjoyed this time was the bizarre setting. Once again we have one of those labs that some rich gentleman-scientist has set up in his isolated, palatial estate. I’m not sure how far back this idea goes, but it had legs. It shows up again in the original version of The Fly (1958), for example.
*. In this case a Dr. Harper is doing investigations into poisonous gases, which means he has a gas chamber in his basement. Harper ends up dead and it seems everyone is a suspect since everyone hated him. And since the government has an interest in finding the formula for a gas Harper was working on, Charlie, who is still working for the Secret Service, is called in to investigate.
*. The proceedings aren’t just complicated but bizarre, involving the aforementioned gas chamber, secret passageways, a door that can only be opened by a voice-recognition system, poison darts fired out of a ventriloquist’s dummy, a cast of the killer’s ear that provides the final clue, and, capping things off, the hilarious bit of Scooby-Doo business where a mask is taken off of one character revealing that they’re actually one of the other characters. Wow. That’s some mask! And it just pulls right off!
*. Well, to be fair they were doing the same thing with the masks in all of those early Mission: Impossible movies, where it was no less ridiculous. Some plot devices you just have to roll with.
*. Unfortunately, all this wackiness is let down by what are some of the worst performances in any of the Chan movies thus far (and that’s a long, long list). Sidney Toler appears almost comatose, and even his put-downs are tired (for example: “If silence is golden then you are bankrupt”). Mantan Moreland joins him again as Birmingham Brown, but this time he has nothing to do. Then there’s Number Four Son Eddie Chan. Eddie is a bit different from his siblings in being a bespectacled egghead. I liked the change-up, but he has no energy and the actor playing him (Edwin Luke in what I believe was his first and only credited film role) is no Keye Luke (in fact he was Keye’s younger brother) or Victor Sen Yung.
*. Most of the supporting players are dreadful. Al Bridge plays Sheriff Mack and he’s one of the only bright spots. A lot of the other faces seem like total non-actors. If you want to see what people who can’t act do when they’re thrown in front of a camera, here’s your chance.
*. To be honest, the only way I can manage getting through these later Chan movies is because they’re short, coming in between 60-70 minutes. This one has enough weirdness about it to make it sporadically interesting, but it’s still a terrible movie that feels thrown together, and it lost me entirely at the end.