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Charlie Chan Black Magic (1944)
Because Charlie Chan plans to return to Honolulu, he no longer needs the services of Birmingham, who gets a job as butler for William and Justine Bonner, two apparently phony psychics, who regularly host occult activities in their home.
When Charlie\'s pretty daughter Frances attends a seance out of curiosity, Mr. Bonner is shot, and she becomes an immediate suspect. Charlie postpones his trip home to help with the investigation, which is made problematic when no bullet can be found in the wound and a hypnotized Mrs. Bonner is compelled to commit suicide by jumping off the roof of a downtown building.
Sidney Toler ... Charlie Chan
Mantan Moreland ... Birmingham Brown
Frances Chan ... Frances Chan
Joseph Crehan ... Police Sgt. Matthews
Helen Beverly ... Norma Duncan / Nancy Wood (as Helen Beverley)
Jacqueline deWit ... Justine Bonner
Geraldine Wall ... Harriet Green
Ralph Peters ... Officer Rafferty
Frank Jaquet ... Paul Hamlin
Edward Earle ... Dawson, Police Lab
Claudia Dell ... Vera Starkey
Harry Depp ... Charles Edwards
Charles Jordan ... Tom Starkey
This late-entry Charlie Chan movie gets marks simply for the entertainment, not for a deep-thinking suspenseful \"whodunnit.\" It\'s just fun to watch with an always-smiling daughter (played by Frances Chen) replacing number-whatever-son and the eyes-popping-out-of-the-head Mantan Moreland adding humor, although of his humor is a bit stupid (and insulting to black folks, I\'m sure). However, Moreland is a likable guy so it\'s hard to get annoyed at his silliness.
The story is a familiar one of the day, about the occult (seances) and, thankfully, another that exposes the mediums as crooks.
These Sidney Toler-Mantan Moreland collaborations, as opposed to the early Warner Oland/Charlie Chan movies, replied more on comedy and gimmicks rather than brains, and once you accept that, you just go along with an entertaining hour of lamebrain fun, especially when Chan starts to put people down with his sarcasm.
Average Monogram Chan potboiler, in the Mongram House with some of the Monogram staff - but then, I\'ve always liked this one! The surviving print (in Chanthology) is in excellent condition, lending a nice overall atmosphere to the proceedings and helping a lot in following the story. One of the things that always makes me smile watching Monogram\'s is that the plots usually involve dispensing with some or a lot of accepted social conventions - they weren\'t meant to be analysed and mulled over decades later. In this Moreland and Frances Chan are in and out of the house like yo-yo\'s, and creeping all over the place unseen - it wasn\'t their house but as in a lot of Monogram\'s you weren\'t supposed to dwell on ownership issues which obstructed juvenile frisson or slapstick.
At a séance a man is apparently shot dead with what turns out to be an invisible bullet, as Charlie jocularly puts it. The quest is on to find out which of the clients around the table did it and how. The way in which Charlie solved it is depressingly familiar and trite, but everything was wrapped up nicely anyway. As usual Moreland was acting scared witless, in fact with \"gremlins galloping up and down his spine\" this time - a fantastic image! Frances Chan couldn\'t act very well but she certainly looked like she was enjoying the experience of making a movie with her constant smiles - her sunny disposition seemed to be rubbing off on Toler too who was enjoying his own aphorisms more than ever.
Overall, nice to watch once in a while especially in a Chan season. And I prefer big shoes to big corns.
\"Black Magic\" offers the usual cast of characters/suspects, in this case most of the seance members have an ax to grind with the victim, from cheated business associates to jilted lovers (which is a mystery in itself, as Bonner did not have the personality or looks when it comes to the romance department).
Mantan Moreland gains progressively more screen time in this third Monogram installment to the Chan series, and this is his best appearance so far, although the racial comments continue as in past Chan films - \"If spooks bother you, Sergeant will arrest them\".
Another welcome break from the standard Chan formula is the replacement of Number #1, 2 or 3 son with daughter Frances - \"Beauty of Chan family also have brains\". Sadly though, her portrayal is wooden and uncomfortable at times, with repeatedly wasted lines.
We\'ve seen it before - the seance, the lights out, the gunshot and the resolution exposed by Charlie. The frozen blood bullet is an interesting twist, but don\'t even try to understand the ballistics involved. A lot of liberty is taken to make all the pieces fit, nevertheless, prepare to be entertained by \"Black Magic/Meeting at Midnight\".
# Although Charlie Chan\'s daughters appeared with him in previous films (including Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) and Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)), this is the only film in which a daughter (Frances) plays the assistant role usually done by one of Chan\'s sons (Lee, Jimmy, Tommy).
# Actress Frances Chan didn\'t have to stretch too far in this role. She played a character named . . . Frances Chan!