*. Charlie Chan in colour!
*. Well, it’s a fudge. To be honest, I was so disappointed in the run of Monogram Charlie Chan movies that by the time I came to The Scarlet Clue I was thrilled to find a colourized version that I could watch online (the film had fallen into the public domain). This isn’t to say that I’m a fan of colourization, because I’m not, but I was looking forward to anything that would lighten up what had become a menu of grim fare indeed.
*. The colourization process seems to be a borderline adequate job. But these movies didn’t give much to work with (Monogram sets and costumes are drab and spare), and noir lighting in general is a poor fit for colour anyway. The opening scene, with a man being trailed on a foggy, dockside street at night, shifts in tonal values like a cuttlefish stalking a crab.
*. Still, the colour here cheered me up. I have no idea what the story was about, but it had Charlie (Sidney Toler) along with Number Three Son Tommy and his usual Monogram sidekick Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland) investigating a case of spies trying to steal some radar technology from a company that shares a building with a television and radio station.
*. Does that make a lot of sense? Don’t let that bother you. If you do then you’ll really be flummoxed by the murder method. Are you ready? Gelatin capsules of gas are concealed in radio microphones and then detonated by signals beamed in from another part of the building. Now the gas doesn’t do anything, but when the victim then smokes a cigarette that has been laced with some weird element the combination causes instant death! Why the bad guys don’t just shoot their victims is beyond me.
*. I’m pretty sure that’s the loopiest thing I’d ever seen in a Charlie Chan up to this point. Throw in a tunnel room that exposes anyone who goes into it to both extreme heat and cold (with snow!) and you’ve got a very high nonsense quotient. But as I said about the colour, at this point I wasn’t taking marks off for any signs of life.
*. The best part though is the back-and-forth between Moreland and his nightclub partner Ben Carter, where they recreate a classic routine of finishing each other’s sentences in impossible ways. You may recall this routine from Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. I thought this was very funny, and even better is the fact that it’s not racialized in any way. I could just enjoy it, which was a relief.