Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Winter’s Tale

The Chinese Ring 1947 US
Directed by William Beaudine
Monogram DVD Region 1

Well this was an... experience, shall we say?

The Chinese Ring is the 42nd of the 47 initial Charlie Chan movies and was the first to star Roland Winters as Charlie. It’s also the first time I’ve seen him in the role and, although I was expecting to be disappointed by the performance after all those “beyond excellent” portrayals by Warner Oland and the “more than competent” performances by Sidney Toler... I wasn’t expecting to be quite this disappointed. Although some (but not all) of that disappointment might well be shouldered by the less than perfect script which has been absconded with by... oh, wait, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here.

So... to smooth in the transition from Toler to Winters, Monogram have retained the services of Mantan Moreland “funny comic black stereotype” Birmingham Brown and “Number Two Son” Victor Sen Young (who has, for some bizarre reason, had his first name changed from Jimmy to that of number three son Tommy... WHAT?). However, they don’t get much to do on this show because... oh well... time to get to it then...

The Chinese Ring is a not very clever re-make (it even uses the same writer’s ever so slightly altered screenplay... and I mean “slightly”) of Mr. Wong in Chinatown from 8 years previous. My review of that little classic is right here. The thing is... this is really using the same script with just a few minor adjustments to get Moreland and Young in it... the original version’s equivalent characters of “bumbling police Captain” and “plucky but irritating female screwball comedy reporter” are still in place in this version and still doing all the things they did the first time around... so Moreland and Young really don’t have much to do in this one and their screen presence is kept to a minimum.

Winter’s Chan is somewhat less charming than the two previous actors. He is a consummate professional and you can see him “in character”, hanging on every word and deed of all the other characters in a scene... but the fact that you notice just how intently concentrated he is, when you know the real Chan would have had all that info sluicing into the back of his head while his real mental processes were hard at work trying to solve the crime, is enough to single this guy out as a “fake Chan”. At least in this one. Now it might not be his fault of course... this feels like a really hastily assembled rush-adaptation of the earlier script and as such, the different personality of Karloff’s Mr. Wong character may be what Winters is inadvertently channelling in this performance... I just don’t know. I’d have to see more of the Roland Winters Chan films and, as far as I know, this is the only one which is commercially available on DVD.

Added to this we have a script from one of the better Wong films which is not a shadow of its former self. Sloppily brought to the screen from a studio which is more than living up to its cheap-ass reputation on this one. There are some nice chiaroscuro effects with the lights and darks in some of the shots but mostly the camera work is uninteresting and pedestrian on this one and in no way saves or even helps the film. This is my least favourite Charlie Chan film so far... at least all the others I’ve seen had Oland or Toler in them to lighten the weight of some of the other performers. Winters might well have grown into the role for subsequent adventures and made it his own in some way but until I can get to see those... I’ll just have to reserve judgement on his competency to play Charlie Chan.

Move along folks, move along. Nothing to see here!

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