Monday, December 10, 2007

B-Movie Detectives: Part 4


Charlie Chan is always both the smartest and the nicest guy in the room.
-
Based on a character created by novelist Earl Derr Biggers, the Chan movies were huge money makers for 20th Century Fox back in the 1930s & 1940s. (Late in the series, production jumped from Fox to Monogram.) Like most B-movies of the era, the stories were well-constructed and well-told.
-
But the Chan movies are among the best because the main character is one of the most appealing personalities ever brought to the silver screen. He's honest, brave, intelligent and a devoted family man. Once again, he's always the smartest AND the nicest guy in the room.
-
This is especially true of the character when played by Warner Oland, the first and best of the actors to portray Chan. His chemistry with Number One Son (joyfully played by Keye Luke) was perfect and it was easy to accept him as a brilliant detective. Films such as Charlie Chan at the Olympics and Charlie Chan at the Opera are wonderful examples of good mystery fictions both because of strong plots AND great characters.
-
Of course, Oland wasn't Chinese. Nor were his successors in the role--Sydney Toler and Roland Winters. It probably never occured to the studio executives to cast an actual Chinese in a leading role. This was a function of the racism inherent in American society at that time. It's important to take note of this.
-
But despite this, Oland brought real dignity to his portrayal of Chan. There's no question but that we are supposed to admire and respect Chan. He catches bad guys, he outsmarts everyone else on a regular basis and he obviously loves his family. What's not to like?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...