MOVIES: The Chinese Cat

When Thomas Manning, the second husband of a wealthy socialite, is murdered in his locked study, the police are baffled and, months later, with the case at a seeming dead end, the district attorney decides to drop the case.

Charlie Chan, who is spending a couple of days in San Francisco after having completed government work there before heading on to his next assignment in Cleveland, is approached by Manning’s step-daughter Leah, who asks for help in solving the crime.  Rumors, caused in large part by a book written by an eminent criminologist, Dr. Paul Reknik, have cast a shadow of suspicion both over her family as well as her love relationship with police detective Harvey Dennis who had been working on the case.  While Leah and Chan carry on their conversation, a man secretly eavesdrops.

Chan agrees to review the case, and despite his protests, number three son Tommy ignores his studies at the University of California to assist his father.  By chance, the detective takes a taxicab whose driver is Birmingham Brown, who had been involved in Chan’s recent murder case in Washington, D.C. (Charlie Chan in the Secret Service). Brown, while terrified of danger and dead bodies, ends up chauffeuring the detective around town and assisting, in his unique way, Chan and Tommy with the investigation.

Chan and Tommy proceed to a book shop to purchase a copy of Dr. Reknik’s book, Murder By Madame, which details the known facts of the Manning murder case, while presenting the conclusion that it was Mrs. Manning, Leah’s mother, who had murdered her husband.  While at the shop, the same man from the hotel lobby is tailing the detective and his son.  The man, named Catlin, then returns to the hideout of a gang of jewel thieves which is located in a fun house at a pier amusement park.  Catlin reports Chan’s activities to the gang including Karl Karzos, whose twin brother Kurt, sneaks out and secretly sets up a meeting with Charlie Chan.

By the time Chan arrives at the meeting location, he finds that Kurt has been strangled.  Soon after, Detective Dennis, who had been alerted by Leah, arrives at the scene and identifies Kurt Karzos as a fence specializing in stolen gems.  After Chan invites Dennis to join the investigation, the two men, searching the room, notice several loaves of stale bread with small Chinese statuettes inside.

The next day, Chan pays a visit to Dr. Reknik to discuss his book and his theory, with which the detective disagrees.  Chan comments that the person who killed Kurt Karzos wore gloves, noting that Retnik is wearing a similar one on his left hand.  The criminologist explains that he wears it to protect a bad burn received in a fire.  Leaving, Chan adds, “May interest you to know murderer of Thomas Manning also wore gloves.”

Chan then proceeds to the Manning house to examine the scene of the murder, which, he is told, has been left untouched since the police had made their investigation months earlier.  While there, he finds a statuette matching those found at the scene of the Karzos murder.  Chan also notes that something rather large has recently been removed from where it had been originally positioned on Manning’s desk, as indicated by the absence of dust at that location.

In another room of the house, after ascending a flight of hidden stairs, Chan is confronted by Manning’s business partner, Webster Deacon, who vehemently objects to the reopening of the Manning case, claiming that it will hurt his business.  As he leaves, the detective comments on the large diamond sported by Deacon on his ring finger.  Returning to the study, Chan makes an exact tracing of the clean spot on deck.

After narrowly escaping the explosion of a hidden bomb that was placed in Birmingham’s taxi by the jewel thieves, Chan then visits the shop of artisan Wu Song.  Chan is familiar with the artisan’s work, and, as it turns out, Wu Song had indeed crafted the statuettes found at both the Karzos murder and in Manning’s study.  Wu Song shows Chan that each statue contains a hidden compartment, and as he opens one, a large diamond is revealed.  The other two are found to contain diamonds as well. When Tommy casually notices a rather large statue of a cat, Chan keenly realizes its importance.  Wu Song demonstrates that the cat statue also contains a hidden compartment. Chan then compares the drawing that he had made in Manning’s study with the cat sculpture’s base, finding it to be an exact match.  Records show that a matching cat sculpture was sold to the Sea Tide Art Company.

Chan visits Deacon at his office, and questions him about the Sea Tide Art Company which he owns.  Deacon, pretending to get documents that prove he no longer owns that company, flees out the back door.  While in the office, Chan and Tommy find another of the statuettes that had contained diamonds, but it is empty.  Jumping into Birmingham’s car, Chan and Tommy pursue Deacon to the pier where the Sea Tide Art Company and the jewel thieves’ fun house hideout are both located. By the time they arrive, they find Deacon strangled.

Chan, Tommy, and Birmingham return to Chan’s hotel room.  When Tommy passes out, Chan opens the door and discovers that someone has been trying to pump deadly oxyzone gas into the room through the keyhole.

Deciding to examine the cat statue, Chan returns to the Manning house.  After Mrs. Manning produces the statue, the detective opens the secret compartment, revealing a famous diamond that had been stolen the year before.

Going to the fun house, Chan is captured by members of the gang who, knowing that the detective has the diamond, demand that he turn it over to them.  When Tommy stumbles upon this dangerous scene, the thieves begin to pummel him, intending to coerce Chan into revealing the location of the diamond. At this moment, Birmingham suddenly appears at the door, and Chan shouts to him to run away with the diamond, thus convincing the gang that Brown has it.  As the thieves chase Birmingham, Chan helps Tommy, who has been severely weakened by his ordeal, to hide under a desk in the gang’s office. Chan then escapes.

Detective Dennis, learning that Chan has gone to the fun house, goes there himself.  In the meantime, Chan and Birmingham lead the gang on a chase through the fun house.  Returning to the thieves’ office, Chan and Birmingham take out two members of the gang, with a recovered Tommy coming out of hiding to finish the job with a well-aimed spray from a fire extinguisher.


Dennis and Leah arrive, and Chan explains (so that Dennis will receive the credit for solving the case) that Manning and Deacon were partners in the theft of the famous diamond.  When Manning had double-crossed the gang, keeping the diamonds for himself, Deacon killed him.  To prove his supposition, Chan produces the gun that was used to murder Manning, bearing the initials “WD.” Chan continues that Deacon had killed Kurt Karzos after descovering that he was about to betray him.  Chan then pulls the murder gloves from Catlin’s pocket, concluding that it was he who had killed Deacon to prevent him from leading Chan to the hideout.