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Charlie Chan In Honolulu (1939)



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"What, again?"

When Warner Oland, the greatest of the Charlie Chans, the one who made the role famous and made the series worth a bundle to 20th Century Fox, died in 1938, the studios had a problem. Would the public accept someone else in the role of the wise Chinese detective?

Their replacement was Sidney Toler, who would end up reprising the role more times than any other Chan actor. As if that doesn't answer the question, his first film, Charlie Chan In Honolulu was a financial success. Toler would make ten more Chan films at 20th Century Fox for a total of eleven, then continue to star when the series was picked up by Monogram Studios in 1944.

Regarding Chan's dubious assistance from his enthusiastic "offspring," this was also the first episode to feature Chan's number two son (Charlie Chan At the Olympics notwithstanding), named Jimmy Chan and played by Victor Sen Yung. Yung would also reprise his role for several successive episodes. Keye Luke, who played Chan's number one son Lee, would not return until the tail end of the Monogram Studios run.

There are two further curiosities about this episode. One, that Charlie Chan's employer is, and always was, the Honolulu Police Department, yet throughout the series, he was so rarely ever in Honolulu solving cases on the home turf that when the writers decided to set this episode there, it was noteworthy enough to announce in the title of the film.

The second curiosity regards Tom Layne, Jr., who plays Willie Chan, the number five son. He and Jimmy are both on hand to help their father out. Layne's Willie Chan would return later in the series, in Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, but in that film he is referred to as the number seven son.

Regarding the film itself, now that I'm finally done with the historical background behind this episode, it's not a shining example of the series as a whole. The movie gets distracted by mishaps and goofy co-stars that it neglects the mystery itself. It's not very involved, and nor is the detective work that unravels it. Somehow it's still engaging, however, and it was obviously good enough to ensure the success of the future of the series.

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