Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Believe it or not, until the other evening, I'd never seen an entire Charlie Chan movie in my life. These films weren't regularly broadcast on television in Austin as they were in other American cities during the 1960s and 1970s. I had a passing familiarity with the character and the series, but I had never actually watched a Charlie Chan movie.
I fixed that by watching CHARLIE CHAN IN EGYPT (1935) the other night. I had recorded it off of TCM. It's a fairly routine whodunit spread over a brisk running time of 73 minutes. There's some nicely atmospheric scenes set in Egyptian tombs and secret treasures and a mummified murder victim add spice to the goings on.
This was the eleventh of a total of forty-seven Charlie Chan films produced over the years and it's the eighth of sixteen films to feature Warner Oland in the title role. I don't know what bothers me more, the fact that Oland, a Caucasian actor of Swedish descent,  played an Asian detective in sixteen films or the appearance of black actor Stepin Fetchit as a comic relief character named, I kid you not, "Snowshoes." Fetchit's character is a slow-moving, mush-mouthed, dim-witted, cowardly "yassuh boss" of a fellow and he's an absolutely repellent racial stereotype. Thank goodness things have changed.
I can't really recommend this one unless you're a die hard Chan fan. It's not a bad film really. It's competently directed and played (a young Rita Hayworth is in a bit part) but I suspect it's no better or worse than any of the other Charlie Chan films. Plus, it's hard to overlook the politically incorrect casting and racist caricatures. I don't want this film censored in any way or taken out of circulation however. It is what it is, a product of its' less enlightened times and as such is an interesting historical artifact, much like the treasures Chan finds in the tombs of Egypt.

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