All about Charlie Chan -- Buy videos, bio, pictures, movie summaries
Eggs should not dance with stones.
Theory like balloon -- easy to blow up, quick to explode.
Insignificant molehill sometimes more important than conspicuous mountain.
o, they're not the aphorisms of Confucius. They're the words of the man who may have caused
an entire generation of Westerners to accept the idea of "Chinese
wisdom." He accomplished this feat not in a school or library, but in a
movie theatre. He is Charlie Chan, the detective whose adventures still
fascinate mystery-lovers of the present.
Charlie Chan wasn't entirely a fictional creation. The author Earl Derr
Biggers fashioned him after a real-life detective in Honolulu named
Chang Apana. The character appeared in six novels, the first of which
was The House Without a Key, but it was his presence in more than forty
movies that Charlie Chan replaced the then-pervasive image of the
devious, sinister "Oriental villain" (such as Fu Manchu) with that of a
calm, insightful, and never-failing sleuth who prevailed no matter how
clever his adversary, or how much bumbling interference he experienced
from one of his several wannabe sons.
Several actors have portrayed Charlie Chan on the screen, with little
variation in their potrayals. Despite his Honolulu home base, few of his
adventures were in Hawaii. Charlie Chan was probably the widest-traveled
detective in fiction. You could find him in London, Paris, Egypt,
Shanghai, Panama, Rio and Reno, New York and New Orleans, and a dozen
other locales where baffling cases of Murder and Grand Larceny were
waiting to be solved. He was sent to the Opera, the Race Track, the
Circus, the Olympics, even to a Wax Museum. Some of Hollywood's finest
and most charistmatic actors of the period accompanied him: Boris
Karloff, Bela Logusi, Lionel Atwill, Caesar Romero , Leo G. Carroll,
Pauline Moore, Lon Chaney, Jr. And, of course, his Number One or Number
Two Son was always there to assist their father in unraveling the
mystery, invariably becoming more hindrance than help.
One interesting aspect of the Charlie Chan stories is
cross-culturization. Charlie, being both Chinese, Hawaiian (and
therefore American) is also anxious to preserve the ideals of his
ancestry. His cases become especially interesting when the cultures of
East and West clash, adding an unusual and intriguing element to the
crime-fiction genre. (And speaking of cross-culturization, the first
actor to portray Charlie Chan was Swedish!)
Audiences fell in love with Charlie Chan, to such an extent that it gave
birth to what can only be called a "Charlie Chan Industry." Not only
were his movies popular, but there was a Charlie Chan radio series from
1932 to 1948, offering such stellar voices as Ed Begley, Walter
Connally, and Santos Ortega. After the last Charlie Chan movie set was
struck, Charlie was reincarnated on television, with J. Carrol Naish in
the title role. There was even a Charlie Chan comic strip, and an
animated series for children, of which the less said the better. The
late Ross Martin made a pilot of "The Return of Charlie Chan" which
included Leslie Nielson in the cast, but it never made the cut.
Fortunately, many of the Charlie Chan films are available on video, and
now a new generation can experience their unique blend of crime
detection and comedy. Most important, the video medium can bring them
one of the most original and entertaining characters in fiction.
It seems likely that the distinctive charm and wisdom of Charlie Chan
may never fade from our consciousness.