Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)

Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)

Run time: Unrated | 68 min | Comedy, Musical, Mystery
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone
Writers: Scott Darling, Charles Belden
Stars: Warner Oland, Boris Karloff, Keye Luke
In one of the best in the Chan series, the inscrutable one finds that high culture and  low-down murder are not incompatible. And then there’s Boris Karloff.

4 responses to “Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)”

  1. IMDBReviewer says:

    There were more than forty made between 1931 and 1949, Swedish actor Warner Oland appearing in 16 of them, Sidney Toler in 22 and Roland Winters in a round half dozen…

    Before the appearance of Chan, screen Orientals were often portrayed as being subhuman, always the villain and never the hero… If producers wanted a villain of the deadliest kind, then they chose an Oriental Chan, and to a lesser extent, other Eastern detectives like Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff) and Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) changed all that and helped make the celluloid "Wily Oriental Gentleman" more respectable…

    Shrewd, courteous and slow moving, Chan’s trademark was a cut price wisdom, expressed throughout all his films in phrases like "Too many mixed drinks make big headaches," and "Silence is golden except in police station."

    Like Vance and other popular detectives he would gather his suspects in one room, going round each in turn and finally pointing to the guilty person with the words: "You murderer." As much of his detection was based on bluff as on deduction; the condemned criminal might well have been better advised to stand his ground and challenge Chan to prove his case rather than make the traditional break for freedom…

    The film that is widely regarded as being one of the best Chan films is Bruce Humberstone’s "Charlie Chan at the Opera." Not unlike a poor man’s "Phantom of the Opera" it has Boris Karloff (in this case not the villain, just a red herring) as an operatic tenor suffering from aphasia (psychosomatic dumbness) who escapes from a mental asylum bent on revenge on his double-crossing opera singer wife… The wife duly dies and so too does her operatic lover but on this occasion the murderer is not Karloff but someone less obvious…

    The old Chinaman is true to form, making the police look even more heavily and slowly than usual ("Oh, no, we’re not calling Chop Suey again," groans Sergeant William Demarest) and dropping his verbal gems at every twist and turn… Although set within the normal 70 minute formula for the Chan films it is faster paced than most in the series combining thrills and music and including a special opera, Carnival, composed for the film by Oscar Levant…

    Stars who appeared in the series and later became famous included Rita Hayworth (then Cansino), Ray Milland, George Brent and Cesar Romero…

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    This is my favorite of the Warner Oland Chan films and my second favorite of the series. This one is loaded with atmosphere and has Boris Karloff in it,too! It starts off with an escape from an insane asylum during a thunderstorm at night and gets better from there! Most of the action takes place backstage at an opera house. The opera "Carnival" was written especially for this film and I wish it would be performed so I could see the entire work. Karloff in his Mephisto costume is impressive. In this film, Chan is assisted by Number One Son, Lee, played by Keye Luke. Luke is at his best in this one. He and Oland make a great team. This is another Chan film that even when you know the identity of the murderer, you still want to see the film again and again just for the atmospheric fun. A real pleasure.

  3. tfsadmin says:

    My favorite of the Warner Oland Chans, Charlie Chan At the Opera, is an excellent entry in the series. It begins like a horror film, on a stormy night, as Boris Karloff overcomes a guard in a sanitarium, then escapes. We are then introduced to a motley group of characters, including a temperamental opera diva, who has been recieving threatening notes, then Charlie and son arrive, and soon the action moves to the opera house, where the film remains. Karloff turns up backstage, where he is hiding, above the dressing rooms, and we soon learn the truth: he is a famous singer who had supposedly died in a fire but escaped, and has been suffering from amnesia ever since. He has only recently begun to remember who is, and is now looking for the person who tried to kill him.

    There’s a lot of plot in this film, and it isn’t brilliantly developed. What makes the movie so watchable is the acting, which is uniformly good (and in Karloff’s case outstanding); the music, courtesy of Oscar Levant, who wrote the score; the set design, which is marvelous; and occasionally the dialogue, which is often funny. Director Bruce Humberstone juggles all these elements masterfully, making the movie hum. Karloff brings gravitas and real menace to his part, and elicits pity as much as terror. Oland is his usually Buddha-like self, delivering his fortune cookie homilies with aplomb. William Demarest is the Irish cop this time around. As was so often the case with murder mysteries, a suggestion of the supernatural helps the mood enormously. Karloff isn’t quite the phantom of the opera, but people react to him as if they’ve seen a ghost, since they all assume that he’s dead.

    The movie is a very accomplished piece of work. Its theatre and backstage atmosphere give it the feeling of a show within a show, and it’s a pretty good one whichever way you look at it.

  4. IMDBReviewer says:

    I've seen at least half of the Chan movies, and this one is easily the best. First of all, the pacing is incredible. This movie doesn't let you catch your breath for the first 50 minutes or more. No slow, dragging plot or padding. It starts off with an ominous thunder storm at an insane asylum, moves to a violent escape (did Gravelle kill or just knock-out the intern?), then moves to a cavernous opera house that provides an opportunity for Karloff to play his own version of phantom of the opera.

    I love how the movie starts out with opera music under the credits. It's extremely powerful, moving music and literally sets the stage, warning viewers that this is no regular Charlie Chan movie. It's big, it's powerful, and you better hold on tight because the foot's on the pedal and we ain't slowin' down!

    Next is Karloff's performance. This is my favorite role I've ever seen him in. He was perfect as a quirky, amnesiac. I loved the way he always had a far-away look in his eyes when he talked, kind of like members of the Manson family when you would see them on TV. He always seemed like he was in another world (a world of music, right?) – kind of spaced-out, detached, and disoriented. And near the end, he was a very sympathetic character with Kitty. If you think about all that Gravelle had to endure, it was heart-breaking. I think Karloff did a top-notch job!

    The only thing that detracts from this film is Uncle Charlie's (Wm. Demerest) relentless abuse of Mr. Chan. A little bit would be OK, but it became nauseating after awhile. I'm not one these politically correct types, but it's just too much here. Demerest reminds me of cranky Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, when she's in one of her moods where nothing makes her happy.

    If you've never seen a Chan film, don't start with this one. You'll be disappointed with the rest…

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