The LaFontanne Chemical Company is shipping out a load of we\'re not sure what, disguised as something entirely different. Mr. Pereaux and Mr. Grock don\'t want that shipment to ever arrive anywhere, and they and a man named Aquirre mean to stop it at any cost. The ship\'s owner, Mr. Fontanne, smells a large rat and calls Chan in on the case, since the famous detective is in New Orleans because, well, because he felt like being in New Orleans, I guess. Chan gets what facts there are from LaFontanne, who is promply set upon by a gang who attempt to kidnap him, but fail. Mr. LaFontanne\'s partners come up with some insurance; just by chance they tell him, a partnership agreement (why they would have been running a company all this time without one is another large mystery which will not be solved) that bestows upon the living partners the portion owned by a deceased partner. Then the guy who invented the formula for the poison gas that the company is making but who was, in his opinion, swindled out of his rights to make a profit from it, shows up and threatens LaFontanne with a gun. Well, he turns out to be a harmless crank. Or is he? Everyone seems suspect, clues are boundless but don\'t seem to fit into any particular pattern or too many patterns, take your pick. But Chan must solve the mystery before Monogram is depleted of out-of-date film stock. Can he?
Roland Winters ... Charlie Chan
Virginia Dale ... Rene
Mantan Moreland ... Birmingham Brown
John Gallaudet ... Capt. McNalley
Victor Sen Yung ... Tommy Chan
Carol Forman ... Nito Aguirre
Douglas Fowley ... Grock
Harry Hayden ... Oscar Swenstrom
Howard Negley ... Pereaux
Stanley Andrews ... Von Scherbe
Emmett Vogan ... Henri Castanaro
Boyd Irwin ... Simon LaFontanne
Rory Mallinson ... Thompson
George J. Lewis ... Dansiger
Opposing forces are at work in a dual plot that makes \"Docks of New Orleans\" an interesting Charlie Chan mystery. An international gang attempts to steal a secret gas formula that they can no longer prevent from being shipped to rival forces in South America. At the same time, the inventor of the gas formula seeks revenge on the owner and partners of the LaFontanne Chemical Company who paid him a measly sum for the formula, while cutting him out of huge profits and a partnership for himself.
As usual, Charlie Chan casts a wary eye in all directions and pursues his investigation with excruciating patience. Roland Winters portrays Chan for the second time in this Monogram release. As before in \"The Chinese Ring\", Victor Sen Yung appears with a confused identity - early in the film, Pop Chan refers to him as Number #2 son, and somewhat later calls him by the name of Jimmy. Near the end of the movie, Chan calls out to Tommy. For those not as familiar with the Chan characters, Tommy as Number #3 Son was portrayed in earlier Monogram\'s by Benson Fong. Was this a confusing lapse in continuity, or was Monogram by this time goofing on it\'s audience?
Mantan Moreland is back again as Chan servant Birmingham Brown. In an interesting twist, son Jimmy/Tommy retrieves a hijacked vehicle from a parking garage with Moreland\'s character along for the ride as a passenger; Birmingham is the Chan chauffeur in earlier films. Birmingham also reprises a humorous exchange with an uncredited Haywood Jones as \"Mobile\" Jones, reminiscent of his \"Pidgin\' English\" dialog with Ben Carter in \"The Scarlet Clue\" and \"Dark Alibi\".
The key to solving the mystery is provided by Tommy and Birmingham in concert (no pun intended) when they offer a rendition of \"Chop Suey Boogie\" with Birmingham on piano and Tommy on violin. The high pitched screech of Tommy\'s violin causes a radio tube to break, leading Charlie to theorize that the deadly gas formula is released in the same manner. To eliminate the three partners who bilked him out of a fortune, inventor Swenstrom cleverly uses his wife\'s radio broadcasts to break tubes planted in the victims\' home and office radios, set to the precise station at the appropriate times.
Granted, \"Docks of New Orleans\" is not high drama, and there are slow moments. Captain McNalley (John Gallaudet) of the New Orleans Police Department is particularly inept in dismissing clues and evidence that Chan immediately considers important. All considered though, this is an entertaining mystery and a nifty entry in the Chan series.
Docks of New Orleans has one scene that makes the whole movie worth watching. Number Two Son Tommy Chan and chauffeur Birmingham Brown decide to play a duet of \' that old Chop Suey Boogie\', with Tommy on violin and Birmingham on piano. The look on Charlie Chan\'s face as he hears the off key tune from another room, while trying to solve the murder mystery, is priceless.
Spoilers ahead: The clever ending, with a captive Charlie Chan tricking the bad guys into believing they have been trapped in a room filled with odorless poison gas, is quite amusing. Roland Winters brought a very low key wit to his portrayal of Chan, which serves the character well; as Charlie frequently reacts to the outrageous events around him with one raised eyebrow and an air of humorous resignation at the idiocy he must contend with, from both dopey policemen and his enthusiastic assistants. This is one of the lesser films in the long running series, but fun for Charlie Chan devotees.
This is a Roland Winters\' Monogram made Chan flick. It is a remake of their earlier \"Mr. Wong, Detective\". Neither version is very exciting. Winters is a very weak Chan, at best. Only Victor Sen Young and Mantan Moreland brighten the film. This is one of the films that has Young playing \"No. 2 Son Tommy\"! He used to be \"No. 2 Son Jimmy\". Tommy was Benson Fong and No. 3 Son. It is sort of an ongoing blooper in the later Monograms.