Saturday, 4 September 2010

Chantastic Voyage!

Dangerous Money 1946 US
Directed by Terry O’ Morse
Monogram DVD Region 1

This review kinda contains spoilers... not that you’d know it.

Gee pop!

Yes, the Chan is back... well he’s back for me at least, in this 1946 far-from-classic adventure. Hot on the heels of the blistering Dark Alibi, here’s a Chan tale that I thought would be a really good one. All the signs were great... for starters, it’s set on a cruising liner (woohoo... love thrillers where the detective has to solve the murders while on a touring, luxury cruise)! And then, during the opening credits I let out a startling and, apparently, scary whoop as Tristram (King of the Rocket Men) Coffin’s name came up on the credits.

My joy was short lived however... in this one there has been a change of assistants. We’re back to Victor Sen Yung as Number Two Son replacing Benson Fong’s Number Three Son for a stint, although Charlie does receive a helpful telegram from Number Three Son during the voyage. And Willie Best is back as the racial stereotype black comedy relief, taking over again from Mantan Moreland for one film only before they switch back to Mr. Moreland. Although referred to as an “assistant” in this one rather than a chauffer... he still retains his chauffers cap. Just to make sure you are not confused that it’s a different person than the last film, Best plays Chatanooga Brown... as opposed to Moreland’s Birmingham Brown. So... must be a family thing I guess... although why Charlie Chan would need a chauffer on a luxury cruise is anybody’s guess. As an aside though... turns out Chattanooga’s legs shake in close-up under duress just like Birmingham’s... odd that ‘-)

This film is a hundred times weaker than the previous movie. Dark Alibi had some pretty creative photography and a certain amount of innovation in the shots... on this one we’re back into standard Monogram potboiler mode and I’m afraid any pretensions to creativity have been firmly picked up by the scruff of the neck and tossed aimlessly out of the window. And it’s quite obvious when actors miss their cues or, in one case, where Sydney Toler as Chan keeps looking around to read his script off of cue cards, that Monogram were way too cheap a studio to bother with retakes.

This story of murder, blackmail and conspiracy to launder “hot money” on an ocean liner suffers terribly from... well, being terrible I guess. For starters, the guy doing the actual murders is really easy to spot. He spends the whole movie masquerading as a woman and not being allowed to say anything... presumably so the audience doesn’t cotton on to the fact that this “dame is a man”. Secondly... you know those films that have so many suspects that you don’t know which person has the strongest motivation for being the culprit of the crime, in this case the crime of money laundering... well you don’t have to worry about any clever writing on this one because the writers have gone for something very much resembling Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express when it comes to the final solution to the problem. Honestly, if you kept just the people who aren’t guilty of this crime on the boat and threw everyone else off... you’d have a luxury ocean liner transporting just three people around the world... and two of them would be crew members.

Oh... and it turns out that my whoop of joy at a Tristram Coffin was short lived. Within the first 5 minutes of the film he reveals himself to Chan as an undercover government agent... and you just know that means this character is in for an early demise. Sure enough... after another five minutes have played out he’s survived one attempt on his life only to have a knife thrown into his back a couple o’ minutes later. Poor Tristram... never the starring role he deserved.

If you are a fan of Earl Der Biggers oriental detective and you like the Charlie Chan films in general, then you are duly warned that Dangerous Money is one of the dullest and badly made in the series... even the usually witty Chantastic aphorisms are slight and badly written. Not a happy viewing.

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