Monday, 18 October 2010

The Last Tolercoaster Ride

The Trap 1946 US
Directed by Howard Bretherton
Monogram DVD Region 1

And so we come to the last of the Charlie Chan films starring Sydney Toler in the role (although the Chan films would continue with Roland Winters). By this time Toler had been dying from intestinal cancer for a while and could barely walk some days and the last few films do kinda show a lack of energy from the title character. But the Chan films have always had a good supporting cast to share the action with... they’ve never really been completely Chancentric... even in the films when he was without the aid of number 1, 2 or 3 son. And by this time the Toler movies had not only one of his famous sons, Victor Sen Young back as Jimmy Chan, but also the regular presence of Mantan Moreland doing his regular Birmingham Brown routine. So the running around doing legwork scenes could be easily handled by two competent foils.

Even so, though, this is not exactly a great Chan film. It’s a bit slow and plodding and really just not as pacey as some of the others in the series. The cinematography isn’t bad though... but not as brilliant as it had been slightly earlier in the series. Most of the action takes place in sets of a house with a few small scenes on a highway and on a beach. There’s a really terrible beach set which looks really claustrophobic with a load of people grouped in it and which really draws attention to itself when it’s cut against some location shots of an actual beach. But this may have been written as having less locations due to the deteriorating state of the lead actor for all I know.

There are some great little character actors in this piece and... wait for it... Kirk Alyn turns up playing the usual policeman-who-needs-Charlies-help-with-the-case role. It was great to see him in this but, honestly, what a come down for the Man of Steel. When you think that this guy, just a few years earlier, had been the star of the two Superman serials! This guy is easily my favourite Superman (and a solid, no nonsense Clerk Kent for that matter)... why was he relegated to these kinds of roles? Oh well... at least they didn’t make him the “bumbling, comic relief” version of the policeman in this one... they save those kinds of scenes for Mantan Moreland... still he doesn’t exactly get a chance to shine either. Poor Kirk.

The acting in this one is a bit hit and miss. There are some irritating “screamers” in this house! But the saddest thing is when Charlie Chan goes off in hot pursuit of a suspect. How he caught him in his car is anybody’s guess because instead of walking to the vehicle in question, he slowly shuffles towards the vehicle aided by Jimmy and Birmingham and it really hits home that this guy can’t be playing Chan for much longer... he was dead within a year.

The revelation of the murderer actually was a revelation to me (I was hedging for Kirk Alyn’s policeman being behind the murders) but I barely recognised the character and her identity didn’t mean much to me. Just a quick pay-off to signal that the end of the movie is approaching, and with it the end of a second great era fr the Charlie Chan films. Warner Oland was always my favourite Chan but Toler also had a certain charm about him. Never seen a Roland Winters Chan movie but I have, "just one", on ice so I’ll uncork that dubious but hopeful pleasure in a week or two.

I really love the Charlie Chan movies but I’d have to say, if you’ve never seen a Charlie Chan movie before... don’t put this one anywhere near the top of your “to see” list.

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