Derek Winnert


This article was written on 15 Jun 2017, and is filled under Reviews.

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The Black Camel *** (1931, Warner Oland, Dorothy Revier, Bela Lugosi, Sally Eilers) – Classic Movie Review 5612

Director Hamilton McFadden’s exotic, well-plotted 1931 mystery thriller is the earliest surviving Fox studio Charlie Chan series entry for which a print still exits. The first one – Charlie Chan Carries On (1931) – and the next three – Charlie Chan’s Chance (1932), Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), and Charlie Chan’s Courage (1934) – are all missing, lost in two fires.

However, Fox simultaneously filmed a Spanish-language version of Charlie Chan Carries On, Eran Trece, which survives.

Oddly enough, Swedish star Oland seems perfect as Earl Derr Biggers’s famed wily oriental detective character in his second appearance as Chan in the fifth of the Fox studio’s likeable Chan series. And there is also Bela Lugosi (playing famed Hollywood mystic adviser Tarneverro / Arthur Mayo) as a bonus, reunited with Dwight Frye (playing Jessup the butler), who had appeared with him in Dracula in the same year.

It is the film debut of Robert Young, as Jimmy Bradshaw. C Henry Gordon, who was in Charlie Chan Carries On, re-appears in three more Chan films. The later Chan Sidney Toler, appears uncredited as Huntley Van Horn. Also in the cast are Dorothy Revier as Shelah Fane, Sally Eilers as Julie O’Neil, Victor Varconi as Shelah’s ex-husband Robert Fyfe, Marjorie White, Mary Gordon as Mrs MacMasters, J M Kerrigan as Thomas MacMasters, Robert Homans, Violet Dunn, Richard Tucker, Murray Kinnell, Rita Rozelle, William Post Jr, Louise Macintosh, Hamilton McFadden and Otoo Yamaoka.

Barry Conners and Philip Klein base their screenplay on the novel of the same name by Earl Derr Biggers. In the story, Honolulu Police Inspector Charlie Chan investigates when a sexy young movie star Shelah Fane (Dorothy Revier) is killed while filming in Honolulu after consulting psychic Tarneverro (Bela Lugosi) over marrying wealthy Alan Jaynes (William Post Jr). There is revealed the little matter of the unsolved murder of film star Denny Mayo three years earlier.

Publicity director Jimmy Bradshaw (Robert Young) finds Shelah’s body. So of course Number One Chinese detective must sift through all the suspects and revelations to solve murder most foul. Tarneverro tells Chan that Shelah mentioned she was in love with Denny and was responsible for his death.

Filming took place in April and May 1931. Much of the film is shot on location in Honolulu, with shooting at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and it is unique as the only entry in the 47 Charlie Chan movie series shot on location in Honolulu.

The next existing Chan film is Charlie Chan in London (1934).

Biggers visited the Hawaiian set and gave a copy of his 1929 novel to Chang Apana, the Honolulu police detective who inspired Chan.

It is included in 20th Century Fox’s restoration of the Charlie Chan films in the Charlie Chan Volume 3 DVD box set.

© Derek Winnert 2017 Classic Movie Review 5612

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