Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A Channer Darkly

Dark Alibi 1946 US
Directed by Phil Karlson
Warner Brothers DVD Region 1

Finally, someone has released some more Chans on DVD! So I’m now catching up with the eighth Chan box set (eight if you include that lousy old UK Region 2 poorly transfered from TV screenings boxed set which was then superceded when the US started releasing the Chan’s right).

Dark Alibi is one of the later Monogram Chans starring Sydney Toler as Charlie. Now Sydney Toler was an excellent incarnation of Chan, no doubt about it... unfortunately he’s always compared unfavourably to Warner Oland, and yes there’s certainly no doubt in my mind that Warner Oland was the greatest Chan of all... but cut Sydney Toler some slack because he’s really pretty good in the role too!

This one co-stars Benson Fong as semi-regular character Tommy Chan aka Number Three Son (who you may also remember from his role 20 years later as one of the three evil scientist egghead villains from Our Man Flint) and Mantan Moreland as chauffer Birmingham Brown doing his usual scaredy cat role (NUTS4R@ readers who are regular horror genre enthusiasts may remember him playing almost the same role in King of the Zombies).

This movie starts off really well with some excellent chiaroscuro camera work. Silhouettes, shadows on walls, shots through bars... typical of the US film noir style which grew out of German Expressionism from two decades before (when is someone else going to figure that out... do I have to think of everything ;-). There is some really great, moody stuff in this opening robbery/murder scene but unfortunately the rest of the movie never again scales the visual heights so brilliantly introduced in this opening (which makes me wonder if the opening footage was lifted from another movie).

Still, it’s not a bad Chan movie. Not a patch on the Oland films of course, nor on the earlier Toler vehicles when the series was still at Fox! But it moves along at a pace... Benson Fong is pretty annoying however and Mantan Moreland, while always lovable, frays the nerves a bit on this one. Constantly talking to his legs to not run out on him there are numerous, repeated insert shots of his legs trembling which, it has to be said, really isn’t funny.

That being said, however, there are three nice scenes where Ben Carter, Mantan Moreland’s partner from his stand up comedy act runs some of their routines with him. While not as good as the routines they did together in the Chan movie The Scarlet Clue a year earlier, the scenes are still a welcome relief and one of them is chosen to conclude the picture by letting Charlie in on the routine himself. Sydney Toler would have been getting on a bit for now but he seems to do a pretty good job with his timing in this routine.

Other things of note in this entry in the series is a really intense scene where Charlie Chan appears to be shot at point blank range... I actually got nervous because there was no possible way out and I didn’t want to spend the rest of the movie with a recovering Chan in a hospital ward... however, the real villain of the piece has sabotaged the gun and the pseudo-henchman type villain only succeeds in killing himself with the booby trapped gun... which splits nicely into comical strips along the barrel.

Probably the worst thing about this movie, which is mostly set in a US prison, is its inability to leave you guessing on this one in the “whodunnit” stakes. The “surprise twist” villain at the end of this movie is almost a redundant scene because you pretty much guess the main culprit from that character’s first walk-on appearance early in the movie.

Still, all in all the majority of the Chan films are remarkably watchable and this one is no exception... even if Mantan Moreland was a little less on form than usual. Am looking forward to firing up the DVD player and putting the next one on soon.

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