"Charlie Chan on Broadway" is somewhat of a misnomer, since most of the New York City action takes place far from the bright lights of the theater district, and instead are presented in the setting of the Hottentot Club, a premier night club run by mobster Johnny Burke (Douglas Fowley). The film begins aboard an ocean liner, where we observe Burke's former flame Billie Bronson (Louise Henry) conceal a package in the Chan luggage; it turns out to be a diary containing information on mob rackets, and there are plenty who would pay dearly for it. When Billie turns up dead in the Club, along with her shipboard tail Tom Mitchell (Marc Lawrence), the hunt is on for the killer.
Keye Luke is on board again as Number #1 Son Lee, and Harold Huber joins the Chan series as Police Inspector Nelson, quick to jump to conclusions based on partial evidence. It's this somewhat annoying aspect of Huber's character that makes one wonder how he became an inspector in the first place. Quite a few characters are placed at the center of the mystery, including newspaper reporter Speed Patten (Donald Woods), photographer Joan Wendall (Joan Marsh), and New York Bulletin Editor Murdock (J. Edward Bromberg). Of course, Burke is a prime suspect, along with henchman Buzz Moran (Leon Ames), but editor Murdock arouses suspicion when he arrives early for an appointment with the murdered Billie, as his newspaper would have the inside scoop on the diary's secrets.
With crafty precision, Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) unravels the case based on evidence provided at the Bronson crime scene in mobster Burke's office - a photograph of the murder victim's location with it's effects, and the subsequent discovery of missing elements from the photo. They include a napkin and the key to the Chan hotel room! All of this sleight of hand casts suspicion on the main suspects - both Burke, and his current girlfriend and nightclub dancer Marie Collins (Joan Woodbury), who believes Billie's return from self imposed exile is a threat to her relationship with Burke.
The final revelation of the killer's identity is typical of Chan films - reporter Speed Patten is involved in the mob rackets, and his access to the other suspects places him at the center of the action. The diary has enough information to put him and his cronies away for a long time, and ultimately, it does, as the Oriental Detective lays out the missing pieces of the case for the viewer.
Warner Oland would go on to portray Charlie Chan only one more time for an adventure in Monte Carlo, before his untimely death shortly after from bronchial pneumonia. His health problems appear to have taken their effect on Oland's performance in this film, in which he appears less animated and jovial than in some of his prior efforts.
3 out of 5 found this helpful