My wonderful wife has informed me that, having become tired of my incessant whining, she has ordered Fox's Charlie Chan Volume 4 box set for me as a "Valentine's gift."
Now, that's true love.
I've written here before about my fascination with and affection for 30's and 40's B-unit series detectives, including Mister Moto, The Falcon, Mike Shayne, Dick Tracy and even Mister Wong. And while Universal's Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are probably my favorites in the subgenre, the Chan films are a close second – and, unlike those Holmes flicks, I haven't seen them all a dozen times!
The three previous Fox sets contained beautifully restored versions of all the surviving Chan mysteries starring Warner Oland. This latest volume moves on to the first four series entries starring Sidney Toler, who assumed the role upon Oland's death.
Now, Oland was the better actor, and his portrayal of Chan is undeniably definitive, but I rather like Toler's sly, slightly acerbic take on the Asian-American detective. He's definitely a bit harder on his offspring, but I really like the secret smile he gives whenever he's gotten a really good dig in, or when a malefactor falls unwittingly into his traps.
I've never actually seen any of the four films in this set – Charlie Chan in Honolulu, Charlie Chan in Reno, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, and City In Darkness – so, I'm especially eager to get this collection. I've read that Treasure Island has the best script and cleverest mystery in the entire series. I can't wait to finally see it.
When World War II came around, Fox dropped the series. At that time, Toler personally purchased the film rights to the character, and made a deal with Poverty Row studio Monogram to continue the series. Despite the drastically-reduced budgets and increasingly silly scripts, I still enjoy those films. Six of them were released on DVD by MGM a few years ago.
Anyway, according to the missus, the discs should be here in five to ten days. Knowing my luck, it'll be ten. Sigh....