Fortune teller, Madame Clara, reading the palm of temperamental actor John Frederick, informs him that she sees no future for him.Infuriated, Frederick storms out, and is nearly run down by a passing car.Reaching for his heart following the close call, he opens a container and takes a pill.
Charlie Chan accompanies Inspector Marlowe at a restaurant before attending the opening night of a play starring John Frederick.Marlowe suggests that he might be able to take Chan back stage to meet the actor following his performance, although, owing to the actor’s temperament, they may be rebuffed.Backstage, an hour before curtain time, Frederick confronts stage manager Beck, threatening him with the loss of his job should anything go wrong during the play.Overhearing the argument, actress Margaret Archer, after sticking up for Beck, finds that Frederick has left her for other, younger women.As Frederick leaves her dressing room, she shouts that she could kill him.Upon reaching his dressing room, Frederick is met by an angry Jack Fane, a younger actor who is incensed at having his part cut by the jealous John Frederick.Inside his dressing room, Frederick’s dresser, Bendle, also falls victim to the actor’s anger.Taking another pill for his heart condition, Frederick finds that there is but one remaining in the container, and orders Bendle to go get more.Bendle leaves on his errand, noting the actor’s ingratitude for his fifteen years of service.
As the actors are called to take their places on stage, John Frederick is found dead in his dressing room.Chan and Marlowe who have arrived at the theater are informed of the actor’s demise.As Inspector Marlowe and Chan interview all of the actors and crew, it is quickly apparent that there were a number of persons who held John Frederick in contempt.To this, Chan states, “Can any person in this gathering say with truth they did not have desire to kill Mr. Frederick?”Searching Frederick’s dressing room, Chan sits at the makeup table where the actor was found dead, reenacting what might have happened to Frederick, and why his makeup had looked so grotesque when he was found dead.In drawers at the dressing table, the detective finds pill containers as well as a woman’s bracelet which he pockets as Marlowe enters with Doctor and Mrs, Moore.Dr. Moore had been treating Frederick for several years for a heart condition.Hearing that Inspector Marlowe believes that the actor was murdered, the doctor voices his disagreement, stating that death was a result of a heart attack.Chan, reviewing his reenacted findings, states his agreement with Moore.As Marlowe now concedes that the death was from natural causes, Chan interjects that he feels that, although the actor died from a heart attack, it is a case of murder.
Speaking with Mr. Bendle, who has just returned with the pills that he had picked up for Frederick, Chan finds that, although he apparently knows nothing of the actor’s murder, he shows no remorse, stating that he had it coming.Upon hearing that Marlowe has allowed Dr. Moore to return home, Chan requests that he be brought back to the theater to rejoin the rest of the suspects.
Visiting the chemist whose pharmacacy who has supplied Frederick’s heart pills over the years, including those picked up by Bendle that evening, he describes how the pills contain digitalis, prescribed as a stimulant for the actor’s heart condition.The right amount is safe, he tells the detective, but too much could cause death.Chan then shows the chemist another bottle that had not come from that pharmacy.It is a doctor’s sample which contains a more potent form of the drug, and, on the back of the bottle, the chemist reads the label stating the dosage as three pills – a deadly dose.
Back at the theater, Charlie Chan addresses the large gathering of potential suspects.He relates his findings in the case of Frederick’s murder, to which Dr. Moore admits having given the actor the bottle of the more potent pills, but with the instruction to only take one.Asking the doctor if he has a secretary who types out the labels for the medicines he issues, the tells Chan that his wife does that for him.The detective then pulls out the bracelet he found in the drawer of Frederick’s dressing table, which matches that worn by Mrs. Moore.She then admits that it was she who killed Frederick.She had asked her husband for a divorce, but then the actor left her.Stating her love for Frederick, she adds that if she could not have him, no one else could, either.