Synopsis - Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat, released 5-20-44
A man is at his den's desk, a chess board in front of him has a few pieces positioned on it, as he works on chess moves, recording them in a log book. Someone has entered the room, closes and key-locks the door with a gloved hand. The sound of the closing door startles the man, he stands up, only to be shot dead. The victim reaches for all but one of the chess pieces, when he slumps over the board. He has left one piece on the board, a bishop. The shooter is seen going through a pivoting wall panel inside the den. The maid enters the foyer, outside the den, asks the step-daughter, Leah, what the noise was. Leah says it sounded like a gunshot. She goes to the locked door, screaming father, what's wrong, knocking, open up. Mrs. Manning comes down the stairs, together with the maid Carolina, Leah follows her mother up the stairs, to another entrance to the den. The three enter the den through the same pivoting panel. The body has slumped to the floor behind the desk. Leah finds the body, declaring Thomas Manning dead by gunshot. Mrs. Manning asks Carolina to call the police. The newspaper headline reads Thomas P. Manning mysteriously slain, wealthy socialite's second husband shot behind locked doors. Subsequent headlines speak of the D.A. grilling Mrs. Manning, the police being baffled from the Manning murder and the District Attorney dropping the case, months after the crime.
A doorman listens to Charlie Chan request a cab to the Francis Hotel, he steps into the cab driver by Birmingham Brown, they recognize one another, chatting to the hotel. The hotel desk clerk greets a woman asking for Mr. Charlie Chan, his reply is, he is not in. In comes Tommy Chan, overhearing, greeting the same woman, saying he is Mr. Chan, please, shall we sit down. A red-herring, slim-mustached man watches the two as he stands near another counter. Charlie exits Birmingham's cab, attempts to pay Brown, but he drives away, after hearing Jimmy Chan is coming to town today. Charlie goes to the front desk, the clerk points to Jimmy's location in the lobby with the woman, Lean Manning. The mysterious man looks on, as Charlie introduces himself to Leah. She realizes he is the Chan she wanted to see. Charlie suggests they discuss the case in his hotel room, while the bellboy and the desk clerk talk about who that lady is with Chan. The red-herring is heard talking on the phone about Leah Manning talking with Charlie Chan; he says he will tail him and call back later. Leah explains to Charlie that Detective Harvey Dennis handled her step-father's case. Charlie knew the Detective's father well. A book was written as a novel about the murder, describing the Manning household, scribed by Dr. Paul Recknik, criminologist. Leah explains her frustration to Charlie about the book's effect on her mother, accusing her of the murder. Leah describes a love for Harvey Dennis was detailed in the book, too. Charlie regrets he has a commitment in another city in forty-eight hours, but he promises Leah, he will do his best, after he reads the Recknik book, called Murder by Madame.
The bellboy is talking to Birmingham, he notices his fare-meter is still running, accusing Charlie of not paying the tab. Charlie, in a bookstore, looks for the novel, the red-herring is also there gazing at a book with an eye on Chan. Charlie buys the book, exits the store, while Birmingham inquires inside the hotel on Charlie's whereabouts to collect his fare. The bellboy tells Birmingham there is a man outside who wants to see him; turns out to be a policeman, writing Brown a ticket, for parking in front of the hotel. Three questionable men are shown in a room, one takes a phone call from the red-herring, ordering him to stay on Charlie Chan's tail. The oldest of the three dubious men is Carl Karzdas, with a twin brother, Kurt, at another desk, making the total four scrupulous characters.
Birmingham is at Chan's hotel room door wanting his fare, the phone rings before Charlie can explain Brown leaving in such a great rush, before he could pay him for the ride. The phone call is from the brother of Carl Karzdas, asking Chan to meet him in minutes, away from the hotel, with information of the Manning murder. Kurt Karzdas is seen stepping down stairs in a sub-street room, lighting candles at two tables, hearing footsteps, he asks Mr. Chan to come in, instead an unidentified stranger enters, seen putting on gloves, stepping down into the room where the bespectacled brother is strangled. Charlie follows in the cab, steps down into the dark room with Tommy, Charlie explains he was meet a man with information about the Manning murder. They find the dead man behind the fallen table, Charlie notes he has been dead only a short time. A man appears at the door, Chan says it is Lieutenant Detective Harvey Dennis. Dennis corrects him, stating the title has changed since the Manning case. Charlie says he knew Harvey's father back in San Francisco. Detective Dennis confides in Chan, he wants to work with Charlie on the re-opened Manning case. The Detective recognizes the dead man as someone specializing in stolen goods, particularly gems. Charlie points to bread loaves on a shelf, opening them, noting it was cut lengthwise, gives them to Tommy to keep as evidence. Birmingham is greeted outside by the other Karzdas, Carl, who is the identical twin to the dead brother.
Charlie, Tommy and Harvey are in the office of the author, Recknik, accusing the Detective of falling in love with the daughter, rather than solving the case. There is definitely animosity between the Detective and Recknik. According to Recknik, Mrs. Manning was not arrested due to lack of evidence; they could find the gun. Recknik says nobody else could have done in Thomas Manning. Detective Harvey insists he never found the murder weapon, after searching the entire house. A wager is agreed upon between Recknik and Charlie, at ten-to-one odds, favoring Chan, determining the actual murderer. Charlie questions Recknik's knowledge of the dead Karzdas brother. He said he read about it in the paper. The murderer must have worn gloves, apparent from the lack of evidence on the dead man's throat. Charlie points out the Manning murderer also wore gloves, as does Recknik, a badly burned hand requires him wearing the glove.
Chans and Dennis visit the Manning residence, are greeted by Leah, as Harvey shows the Chans the study when the murder occurred. Charlie observes figurines on study table identical to those found in loaves. Charlie opens secret panel. Harvey points out Mrs. Manning's room is at the top of the stairs from secret panel entrance. A noise is heard by Leah from her mother's room. It is Mr. Deacon, Thomas Manning's partner, adamantly pounding a chair to the floor, wanting no part of the murder case to be reopened. Charlie asks Mrs. Manning if she wants case stopped. She says it is up to Leah. Deacon storms out of the room. Chans follow him down the stairs, stopping him, requesting answers to his demands. Deacon tells Chan he doesn't want his business put in jeopardy by more bad publicity. Charlie says that is excellent diamond on his hand, as Deacon exits, without a reply. Charlie traces something out on the desk, putting the paper in his pocket. Chan asks Leah about the unhappy marriage rumor with her step-father. Leah confirms the marriage had been sour and it was because Manning married her mother only for the money; she said she was almost happy he died. A large, unidentifiable man places a device in the front seat of the cab, covering it with an outercoat. In the cab, Tommy says he would not trust Recknik. Birmingham says he hears two meters ticking, Chan orders him to turn into the next alley. The device placed in the cab explodes; it was a bomb intended to silence the three. Charlie says they will need a new cab in a half hour.
Charlie visits his old friend, Wu Song, producing the three figurines found in the bread loaves, explaining he recognized the work, and remembered the items always contained secret compartments. Wu Song twists the first artifact by the base, producing a diamond in a hidden compartment; Tommy and Charlie do the same with the other two. Charlie determines he is looking at part of the collection stolen a year ago in Chicago. Tommy recognizes a cat statue similar to that on the Manning desk. It too has a secret compartment, as Wu demonstrates. There were only two statues. A company bought the only other statue. Wu checks his sale records for Charlie, referring Chan to a small firm, headquartered near the piers, called Sea Tide Art Company. Wu said he believes the firm is closed for the duration of the war.
Charlie asks Detective Harvey about the chessboard picture, whether police asked about the lone bishop left on the board, the day of the murder. His response was negative. Chan ponders the single chess piece, repeating the word bishop. Tommy and Birmingham arrive on the waterfront, at the business location of Sea Tide Art Company. Birmingham kicks at the panel of the building, opening inside to the company. Tommy and Brown enter, looking at an apparent empty building. Brown exits, running into Karzdas, leaning on their car. They both duck in and out of the shop, and now he is gone. There is a Fun House adjacent to the art shop.
Harvey and Leah are worried Chan will not be able to solve the crime before he has to leave in twelve hours. Chan and son Tommy appear at the office of Manning-Deacon Realty Company, finding Deacon sitting through papers on his desk. Charlie says he is there to inquire about ownership of Sea Tide Art Company. Deacon is listed as the owner, according to records uncovered by Charlie. Deacon says he will get something to prove he longer owns the art company. Charlie finds another empty artifact in Deacon's desk drawer, and like the room he disappeared into, empty; Tommy confirms Deacon flew the coop. Deacon is seen speeding away from his office with Chans in pursuit. They catch up to the speeding Deacon car, parked at the art shop, they enter the empty building. The three discover George Deacon dead inside, as the newspaper would the next day read murdered.
At the hotel, Charlie sits at the room's desk, Brown tries to light his cigar and gets his matches blown out by a deadly gas coming from a tank pressed against the adjoining room door. Charlie directs Brown to open a window and help a passed-out Tommy into a chair. Chan enters the hallway, meets Recknik, he enters, notices the odor of the deadly gas, commenting, it is bad stuff. Recknik leaves the hotel room. Charlie tells Tommy three murders, all different. The real puzzle concerns Mr. Manning. Karzdas and Deacon represent the wrong pieces of the puzzle. Chan goes to the Manning house, enters the den, asks Mrs. Manning about cat statue formerly on desk. She had it removed after her husband's death. The maid, Caroline, says there were two men some twenty minutes ago asking about it, but they never entered the house. Tommy follows Mrs. Manning bringing back the cat statue to the desk, and Charlie asking if she knew how it worked. She says she did not know. He demonstrated, turning the cat's head, opening the secret compartment, revealing a famous diamond stolen a year ago. He says, no wonder men seek the cat statue. Charlie tells Mrs. Manning, he now knows who killed her husband.
Charlie, Tommy and Birmingham drive to the art shop, enter and walk into the fun house, where the bad guys are all waiting for him and the diamond, he is supposedly carrying. Catlen, Karzdas, Salos and Gannet gang up on the Chans in the back room of the fun house, punching both Charlie and Tommy for information of the diamond. Birmingham waits near the cab as ordered, then changes his mind, enters the fun house, and then enters the room filled with everyone else. Charlie tells Birmingham to leave quickly with the diamond you are carrying, as the crooks give chase. Charlie has Tommy untie his hands. Tommy is too stunned from the beating to untie his father's hands. Charlie has him hide under the desk, until he comes to, where he will be safe. Charlie escapes through the door into the dark fun house. Birmingham hears a shot ring out and he runs away in the house. Birmingham backs into Charlie, he unties his hands, Charlie seizes the gun, left in the room, breaks the glass of the numbered signals to the different fun house rooms, exits through the house with Birmingham. Leah and Harvey leave for the fun house because Caroline said Birmingham was going there to catch murderers. Harvey, Leah and policemen arrive searching for everyone. Charlie devises a way to catch the crooks with Birmingham. Brown opens the door like he was leaving, Charlie ducks out of sight, knocking out the crook Salos with his gun butt, as he was to chase Brown. Birmingham knocks out Karzdas with the flashlight, attempting to chase Charlie. Catlen and Gannet walk in on Brown and Chan, temporary subduing them. Tommy crawls out from under the desk, grabs a fire extinguisher, sprays the two remaining bad guys, slugging Catlen for revenge, moving them all against the wall when Harvey and Leah enter the room with more police.
Charlie explains to Harvey and Leah, Thomas Manning and business partner, Webster Deacon were connected with the original theft of the stolen Kohinoor diamond. Manning was also a crook, but he double-crossed his business partner, stealing the diamond for himself, thus creating the motive of the Manning murder. Charlie took the .38 pistol from Catlen tonight. Chan shows Detective Dennis the .38 pistol. It had the initials WD on the handle, standing for Webster Deacon, who shot Thomas Manning with that gun for double crossing him. Manning left the clue on the chessboard of who killed him. The word deacon can be substituted for bishop, a clergy member and a chess piece, hence, the clue Manning tried to leave, as he died near his desk. The lone figure remaining on the board was a bishop. Webster Deacon, wearing gloves, lock the study door, killed Manning, hid in the secret stairway, and when Leah, Mrs. Manning and Caroline enter the room, Deacon went up to Mrs. Manning's bedroom and out the front door while the ladies were in the study. Later, Deacon killed Kurt Karzdas, because he was going to inform the police. Deacon was killed because he was leading Charlie Chan to the location of the criminals. Dr. Paul Recknik was wrong. Charlie asks Detective Dennis to make certain Recknik pays for his bet, and requests Leah explain to her mother the final outcome of the case. Also, Recknik needs to write a new book in a hurry, with the new facts about the guilty parties, exonerating Mrs. Manning.