On his return to China, Charlie is honored at a Shanghai banquet for his many accomplishments. Prior to his speech Sir Stanley Woodland, a prominent official in the colony, confides to Charlie that he has discovered some sinister activities and wants to share the information with the detective as soon as they are alone.
When Sir Stanley is silenced by a booby-trapped box, Charlie seeks to discover the undivulged secret as well as the killer. Along with Col. Watkins, the police commissioner, and G-Man James Andrews, Charlie works to expose an international opium-smuggling ring operating out of Shanghai. With the help of son Lee, he survives a kidnapping and murder attempt while exposing the identity of the head of the drug ring.
Warner Oland ... Charlie Chan
Irene Hervey ... Diana Woodland
Jon Hall ... Philip Nash (as Charles Locher)
Russell Hicks ... James Andrews
Keye Luke ... Lee Chan
Halliwell Hobbes ... Colonel Watkins, police commissioner
Frederick Vogeding ... Ivan Marloff (mistakenly listed as 'Burke' in on-screen credits) (as Frederik Vogeding)
Neil Fitzgerald ... Dakin - Colonel Watkins' Aide
Max Wagner ... Taxi Driver Henchman
This was another very-solid entry in the long-running series that mainly featured either Warner Oland or Sidney Toler as "Charlie Chan." It's generally considered that Oland's films were superior. I enjoy both of them and, after just completing watching the Chan DVD set that were all Toler's films, this return to Oland was a shocker in a way.
I say "shocker" mainly because Chan was so nice and respectful to his kid. In the latter films, Toler's Chan does nothing but insult his son, whichever one accompanies him on various cases. Here, Oland's warmth for his Number One Son "Lee" (Keye Luke) is more than evident and "Lee" helps keep the case alive with a daring rescue of his kidnapped father.
The story is played much straighter, too, than the Toler versions. There is still levity with Chan' many profound-yet-funny proverbs but this is an action-packed short story played more like the mysteries they were supposed to be. Good stuff
Filmed in 1935, CHARLIE CHAN IN SHANGHAI is the 9th film in the Fox series. It is also, rather curiously the only Chan film that would be set in Asian--the only time Hollywood allowed Chan to make it back to China.
In this episode, Chan travels to China--presumably on holiday. But Chan's holidays have a way of being investigations in disguise, and no sooner does his ship dock than he receives a warning note; later that evening a close personal friend is unexpectedly killed by an ingenious booby trap which may have been directed at Chan himself. Needless to say, Chan assumes a major role in the investigation, and quickly finds himself the target of several murderous assaults. Could it all be tied to an infamous opium smuggling ring? Could be! Although this particular Chan film does not offer a notable supporting cast, Keye Luke is once more along for the ride as Chan's "Number One Son" Lee, and every one plays a smart pace. The plot, while typically gimmicky, is superior and offers a final twist that Chan fans may see coming in advance--but only if they know Chan's character and very high standards.
Chan films are often accused of being racist, and critics often complain that the actors playing Chan wore "yellowface" make up. The films, however, must be seen within the context of their era. In the 1930s, Hollywood presented most Asian characters as either servile or as Fu Manchu-like entities; Chan was actually just about the only positive Asian character going, and as such the films were tremendously popular with Asian-American audiences of the era.
True enough, Chan is inevitably played by an occidental actor, but this was typical of the era, in which star status was considered more important than racial accuracy. (Other Asian characters were always portrayed by Asian actors, Keye Luke being a case in point.) Whatever the case, neither Warner Oland or the later Sidney Toler wore significant make-up for the role, and Oland--although a Swede by birth--actually had a strong strain of Asian ancestry in his family tree.
While I cannot say that CHARLIE CHAN IN SHANGHAI is among my favorite Chan films, it is well-made, a solid entry in the series. Chan fans should enjoy it quite a bit.
"Charlie Chan in Shanghai" opens with a playful Oriental Detective aboard ship entertaining a group of young children, to the point of singing the saga of Ming Lo Fu. We learn Charlie's age in this film as he states to the ship's captain - "Sixty summers young, sixty winters old." The tone of the film changes quickly though, as a note is secretly passed to the detective: "Shanghai is an unhealthy place for you. If you are wise, you will not leave this ship." Of course, Charlie Chan does not heed the message, and disembarks in the land of his ancestors. Quite coincidentally he runs into Number #1 Son Lee (Keye Luke), sent to Shanghai by his firm to look into trade matters. Of course, we never get to see Lee in his official capacity, he's too busy getting into trouble helping his "Pop".
The mystery begins at a testimonial dinner for Charlie. Sir Stanley Woodland, about to toast the invited guest, is shot to death by a rigged jade box meant as a gift for the honoree. Soon we are introduced to a host of characters, including Woodland's daughter Diana (Irene Hervey), her fiancé Philip Nash (Jon Hall), Police Commissioner Watkins (Halliwell Hobbes), and U.S. special agent James Andrews (Russell Hicks). Nash appears to be the fall guy in the early going, as he had unlimited access to Woodland as his personal secretary, and his movements are sufficiently suspicious. But as in every Charlie Chan film, not everything is as it seems - "Spider does not spin web for single fly." Number #1 Son Lee tries to get some investigative work done in between lengthy phone calls to a romantic interest named Sun Wong. His effort as a feeble street beggar is actually rather well done, although it obviously gets him into trouble along the way, providing the film's comic relief.
Ultimately, we learn that Chan's mission in Shanghai is an investigation into an opium smuggling ring, masterminded by the phony agent Andrews. Leaving no stone unturned and trusting no one, Chan had learned earlier that the real agent Andrews never smoked or drank. The giveaway occurs early in the movie, although the viewer is not privy to the information until the case is solved. In that respect, "Charlie Chan in Shanghai" is rather typical, as the ending brings us full circle to a conclusion that could only be guessed at until the final details are revealed by Chan.
Others will disagree, but I regard "Shanghai" as one of my more favored Chan films. It's intelligently laid out and involves the viewer in the mystery with enough blind alleys to keep one guessing. Granted, one does need to overlook the fact that there are no other significant Oriental characters in the movie besides Chan and Son Lee, given the exotic locale. That aside, the film does it's job in presenting a credible mystery on it's way to a satisfying conclusion.