Introduction to The Charlie Chan Film Encyclopedia
Who or what is a Charlie Chan fan? Is it someone who
carefully programs the VCR for the late night (or early morning) reruns on
television? Is it someone who struggles to possess the complete collection of
Charlie Chan films on videotape, even though it is currently impossible?
Is it someone who trades Chan trivia and aphorisms with friends and others on
the internet? Is it someone who shows 16mm Charlie Chan films at a local
library and, just before Charlie Chan is to reveal the killer, stops the film
and has the audience try to guess the identity of the murderer? If this were a
multiple choice test, the best answer would be "all of the above." As
Charlie Chan would say, "Humbly admit to same," and I personally have
41 of the 47 films (six films are considered to be "lost"). My wife
and children think I'm nuts.
Earl Derr Biggers penned his first novel, House Without a Key, in 1925. 47 movies and six Charlie Chans later, fans of the best known Oriental detective have been around for quite a long time. My first recollection of Charlie Chan movies is from television in the late 1950s, even before I was a teenager. Since then there have been periods of strong interest and decline. However, the VCR changed all of that for me. I could record my own copies and enjoy them whenever I liked. I was in seventh heaven.
The Charlie Chan Film Encyclopedia contains virtually everything you wanted to know about Charlie Chan films in an A to Z accumulation of over 1,900 entries of facts, characters, actor and crew biographies, filmographies, and plot summaries, plus over 270 of Charlie's famous aphorisms and 89 movie stills, photographs of actors and actresses, and illustrations. All told, you will find very few facts missing. If they have stuck in your memory, they're probably here.
The arrangement is completely alphabetical. With some exceptions, alphabetical order is followed along normal dictionary and encyclopedic lines. Mac and Mc are treated as one, although the spelling is kept distinct. Entries that begin with numbers in numerical form are placed in numerical order at the beginning of the particular letter. Entries beginning with an abbreviation are alphabetized as if they were spelled out (e.g. "Mr." is alphabetized as "mister"). For some proper names (both English and foreign) I have tried to use a "best guess" spelling, particularly when the word is fictitious or is not definitively documented elsewhere.
In writing this book, the intent was to make The Charlie Chan Film Encyclopedia the reference bible for Charlie Chan lovers everywhere, with something inside for everyone. Some just like Charlie's pearls of wisdom; others like to identify famous actors and actresses who may have been relative Unknowns when they appeared in a Chan film, such as Rita Cansino (later Rita Hayworth). Some know their favorite scenes and dialogue by heart. Other fans simply enjoy seeing the films over and over again, and thanks to unedited commercial videotapes, cable television movie channels, and 16-mm films, they now have that opportunity. Since the series has lasted so many years (despite its obvious character and racial stereotypes), Charlie Chan still appeals to a wide audience, both here and abroad.
A number of concerns arose when l first thought of writing The Charlie Chan Film Encyclopedia. First, I wondered if Charlie Chan fans would appreciate such a detailed breakdown of the series, but I felt that nearly everyone who watches the Charlie Chan films frequently thinks of something he or she would like to check For many of the entries it was necessary to check a number of reference books, a task that was sometimes easier said than done. Many of these books are very popular (some even considered ''classics") and were often the ones that had been stolen from public libraries or had pictures and pages neatly (and not-so-neatly) removed by individuals who could be characterized as no better than selfish and irresponsible thieves.
The aim of this encyclopedia is to bring together information from many sources, both published and Internet, into a single volume. I knew that I could assemble a great deal of the detailed data from my own copies of the movies, literary sources, and modern technology (the Internet, with its movie databases, Charlie Chan web sites, and message boards, makes vast amounts of information readily available with the click of a mouse button). Despite the information highway and all the other resources available, some sources nevertheless contain factual and spelling errors, and there was no well-organized Charlie Chan reference in a single place. After all, inquiring minds want to know.
A second concern was how to handle what little information and details exist on the first two pre-Oland silent films--The House Without a Key (1925) and The Chinese Parrot (1927)--as well as the four early Fox films considered to be "lost"-- Charlie Chan Carries On (1931), Charlie Chan's Chance (1932), Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (1933), and Charlie Chan's Courage (1934). The answer was, "The best I can."
A third concern was whether to include the later Chan movies and TV series such as the movie The Return of Charlie Chan (1971) with Ross Martin; the 1957 TV series The New Adventures of Charlie Chan starring J. Carroll Naish; and the Peter Ustinov spoof, Charlie Chan and fhe Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). As the sole honorable judge and jury, I decided against it. In many ways I am a traditionalist. The original Charlie Chan movies, if nothing else, were black and white films made for the big screen. They were not comedies or satires, although they did have their moments of comic relief. With very few exceptions, the original screen series was a virtual continuum of movies released over an 18-year period. Like it or not, the later candidates failed to measure up to my standards.
When researching biographic information about actors and actresses, sources very often were at odds with each other regarding dates of birth. When such discrepancies occurred, I usually cited the earlier date, taking the position that film stars will try to make themselves seem younger rather than older. In some cases, doubtful dates are prefaced by" c." (circa), and unknown dates of birth or death are marked by an asterisk (*). For each Charlie Chan film, cast and crew lists, running times, release dates, etc., were primarily obtained from the American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States, on-screen credits, sources contemporaneous to the film's production, and later dated sources. In cases where a film is known by more than one title, the title used in this book is the one that the film is cataloged under in the American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States. Release dates are assumed to be national release dates as determined from studio records or release charts of The Motion Picture Herald. In the cast lists, brackets are sometimes placed around portions of certain on-screen credits. If, for example, a character s name in the on-screen credits was simply "Fletcher" but the film states a full name or professional title, i.e., Arthur Fletcher, the credit will appear as "[Arthur] Fletcher."
Most of the films produced after 1934 have a Production Code Administration (PCA, a.k.a. the "Hays Office") certification number listed. These numbers were issued to films that adhered to standards of the Motion Picture Production Code. This book could not have been written without the assistance of those who provided needed stills and photos, advice, and factual information. "Raspberries" and "Bronx cheers" go to those few individuals and institutions who never bothered to respond to my requests and inquiries. For those who were considerate in sharing their time and resources, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the following:
· Organizations and Companies:
American Film Institute, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, Honolulu Police Department, Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee, Boeing Company, Jesse Owens Foundation, and Everett Collection.
Jessica Berlin (my daughter), John Betancourt, Bob Boatman, Steven Brown, Ed Carr, Gary Crawford, Joseph S. Devaney, Paul Dial, Christopher Ellis, Robert J. Hiza, John Hunt, Ed Kasprowicz, Virginia Kay, Jim Knoppow, Claude Litton, Glenn Malme, Paula McHale, Steve Owens, James Robert Parish, Don Rogers, Sheila Sacks, Bruce Salem, Richard Salomon, Kurt Schmidt, Stephen Wong, and the many individuals on the Charlie Chan Message Board on the Internet.
Unlike several of the review articles and movie guides which have assigned some sort of numerical rating to each film, I have chosen not to follow this practice, for such a system is far too subjective in my opinion to be useful here. For the record, my favorite actor playing Charlie Chan is Warner Oland. My favorite Chan film is Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, with Charlie Chan in Egypt (and its opening title music from Swan Lake) a close second. I think the worst Charlie Chan movie is The Trap, although probably several others are close behind in this category. My favorite aphorism is, "Mind like parachute, only function when open!" (from Charlie Chan at the Circus), which I often place at the beginning of exams in many of the college courses I teach.
Hopefully, I have done my homework better than the villains did theirs in the films, for they are always caught and are sometimes greeted with Charlie Chan's damning accusation, "You are murderer!" As for this book, both my Jewish grandmothers would often say when giving a present or gift, "Enjoy. Use it well!" I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did writing it, and will use it well. As Charlie Chan often says, , translating to, "Thank you, so much."
HOWARD M. BERLIN
© 2000, Howard M. Berlin. January 1, 2000.