MOVIES: Charlie Chan in the Secret Service

At the house, Chan is greeted by Sargeant Billings, and old friend from Honolulu, and fellow Secret Service agents Jones, another old acquaintance, and Lewis.  He is led to a roomful of people whom Melton had invited to a cocktail party prior to his death.  Chan begins to question each member of the assembled group: Mrs. Winters, a flighty socialite; her chauffeur, Birmingham Brown; Louis Vega, a war refugee who is now an importer; Inez Aranto and her wheelchair-bound brother Paul Aranto; David Blake, a pompous politician; Melton’s housekeeper Mrs. Hargue; and Peter Laska, Vega’s valet.  It is at this time that Chan’s offspring make their noisy entrance, as they run into Birmingham Brown in the dark basement of the Melton house.

Agent Lewis finds the plans for a torpedo hidden on the right side of a bookcase.  Chan immediately determines that they are a crude forgery and that it is unlikely that Melton had placed them there because he was left-handed.

Upstairs, Chan finds a book written by an electrical engineer named von Vegon entitled Magnetic Properties of Electricity.  While he is there, Mrs. Hargue brings the detective a knife.  As the two talk, a mysterious figure enters the darkened hallway below and removes a painting, revealing a wall safe.  Carelessly replacing the painting, the figure disappears into the darkness.  Noticing that the painting has been moved, Chan discovers the locked safe.

Later, Chan retires outside to speak to the agents in confidence.  Birmingham steps behind the nearby bar in the adjacent room to pour himself a drink and notices a reflection of a hand holding a gun that is pointed at Chan.  Brown screams, causing the assassin to miss his target and flee.  Chan then requests the key to the wall safe from Mrs. Hargue, but finds that none of the keys will open the safe.

Proceeding to search Melton’s upstairs laboratory, accompanied by Tommy and Birmingham, an assailant turns off the lights.  Chan tosses a book at the intruder who then begins to shoot wildly at Chan and the others.  Tommy hurls an explosive charge at their attacker, who runs off.

As Chan reassembles everyone in the living room, the coroner’s report arrives.  After examining the report, Chan calls the group into the hallway to demonstrate how Melton was murdered. With Birmingham’s help, Chan shows how, as Melton pulled the chain to turn on the light, the killer sent a lethal charge of electricity through it, electrocuting him.

Reconvening the group in the living room, Chan accuses Vega of being the celebrated electrical engineer and author von Vegon, whose book he had found earlier upstairs.  Chan adds that Vega had killed Melton in order to steal the secret torpedo plans.  As Vega begins to respond to Chan’s accusations, he collapses in great pain as he is mysteriously shot in the back.

After whispering something to Lewis, Chan begins to question everyone about their connection with Vega.  When Lewis, following Chan’s instructions, roughly confronts Inez, her brother springs from his wheelchair to defend her.  Paul then admits that after recovering from injuries suffered in an automobile accident, he remained in his wheelchair in order to test the intentions of his political enemies.

Mrs. Hargue finds a key on the piano that Chan uses to successfully open the wall safe.  Distracted by his son Tommy, he narrowly avoids being shot by a specially rigged gun that had been placed inside the safe earlier by the mysterious figure.

Deducing that von Vegon was killed while a number of persons were standing to his front around the piano, the murder weapon, a noiseless spring-gun had to have been placed on the wall behind the couch where the victim had been seated.  Chan concludes that the weapon was fired by means of a powerful electromagnet whose force was focused on the gun which was mounted on the wall.  The gun was fired by a switch that was concealed underneath a piano in the same room, and he accuses Peter Laska of pulling the switch as he was afraid that Vega would implicate him in Melton’s murder.

CONCLUSION:

As the pleading Laska is taken away, and the case is apparently solved, Chan dismisses everyone.  Mrs. Winters hurriedly begins to depart to “feed her Pekinese,” only to find her way blocked by Laska, who has just reappeared, and then Jones.  Explaining that she was seated at the piano, Chan points out that she was the only person who could have reached the switch.  Chan accuses her of Vega’s murder.  Taking a small figure of the Statue of Liberty, which Winters has concealed on her person, Chan smashes it to reveal the missing torpedo plans inside.  After thanking Peter for acting as a decoy, Chan concludes that Mrs. Winters, who in reality is master spy Fraulein Manlich, had killed her accomplice Vega, fearing that he was about to confess and then incriminate her.