20 May 2008 | MartinHafer
A rare chance to see an early Charlie Chan film--and well worth finding
This is a gem for film historians. Almost all the early Charlie Chan films are lost--the silent ones and even several sound ones. This is one of the earliest known Chan film, though it's a Spanish language version using the same sets yet an alternate cast. That's because in the early days of talkies, Hollywood studios often filmed several alternate language versions of the same film instead of dubbing the films or using captions. Most had entirely different casts that filmed at night when the American cast went home to bed. In a few odd cases, such as with Laurel and Hardy, the stars appeared in multiple versions of their films--learning lines phonetically in German, Spanish, Italian or French. As for the Chan films, this is the only one done in multiple versions and this is a blessing as the original version starring Warner Oland is lost.
In this case, Manuel Arbó stars as the intrepid detective. While Oland was a Swedish-American and didn't exactly look or act authentically Chinese, Arbó looked and sounded even less like a Chinese-American than Oland. Also, oddly, Chan doesn't even appear until about half way through the film--something that also apparently occurred in other earlier Chan films. Instead, a murder mystery is being competently investigated and Chan only enters the scene once the trail has gone completely cold.
While this is an odd entrance for Chan compared to the later style of the series and Manuel Arbó isn't the greatest Chan, the script is definitely a winner. In fact, it compares very well to the rest of the Fox series and is better than most. This really, really makes me hope that someday they'll unearth the Oland version ("Charlie Chan Carries On")--and fortunately, in recent years, many supposedly lost films have been uncovered.
By the way, this film was included as an extra in Volume 1 of the Charlie Chan collection which was released by Fox in 2006.