Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Distributed: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, March 27, 1936
Production: Began January 6, 1936; retakes early February 1936
Copyright: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, March 27, 1936; LP64092
Opened: Center, New York, N.Y., the week of March 18, 1936
Sound: Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 7 reels, 6,500 feet
Running Time: 72 minutes
Production Code Administration Certificate Number: 1978
Source: “Based on the character ‘Charlie Chan’ created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Director: Harry Lachman
Associate Producer: John Stone
Original Screenplay: Robert Ellis and Helen Logan
Photography: Daniel B. Clark
Art Direction: Duncan Cramer
Assistant Director: William Eckhardt
Film Editor: Alex Troffey
Costumes: William Lambert
Sound: Arthur von Kirbach
Musical Direction: Samuel Kaylin
CAST (as credited):
Warner Oland: Charlie Chan
Keye Luke: Lee Chan
George Brasno: [Colonel] Tim
Olive Brasno: [Lady] Tiny
Francis Ford: John Gaines
Maxine Reiner: Marie Norman (also known as Marie Normand)
John McGuire: Hal Blake
Shirley Deane: Louise Norman (also known as Lou; also known as Louise Normand)
Paul Stanton: Joe Kinney
J. Carrol Naish: Tom Holt
Boothe Howard: Dan Farrell
Drue Leyton: Nellie Farrell
Wade Boteler: Lieutenant Macy
Shia Jung: Su Toy
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
John Aasen: Tower the Circus Giant
Esther Brodelet: Circus Performer
John Dilson: Doctor
Franklyn Farnum: Mike
Charles Gemora: Caesar the Ape
Faye Hee: Number Five Chan Daughter
Eugene Hoo: Number Three Chan Son
Frances Hoo: Number Two Chan Daughter
Hippie Hoo: Number Five Chan Son
Anna Mar: Mrs. Charlie Chan
Paul McVey: Ringmaster
Lily Mui: Number Six Chan Daughter
Stanton Mui: Number Four Chan Son
Helen Quon: Number Four Chan Daughter
Mae Jean Quon: Number Three Chan Daughter
Anita Thompson: Circus Performer
Florence Ung: Number One Chan Daughter
Richard Ung: Number Two Chan Son
Charlie Chan takes his wife and twelve children, who are sightseeing on the mainland, to a circus owned by kindly John Gaines and his unscrupulous partner, Joe Kinney. Kinney, who had sent Chan free passes to bring him to the circus, tells Chan that he has been receiving threatening letters. Prior to the evening’s performance, Kinney asks Chan to meet him at the circus’ business office at 9:00 where he can fully explain his concerns.
After Chan returns to the performance, Kinney and Gaines quarrel over money matters. Kinney then tries to discipline Caesar, the circus’ ape, with a whip, but the handler, Hal Blake, warns Kinney that he treats Caesar too roughly. Kinney tells Blake that he is fired, and the two men get into a scuffle, during which Kinney drops a key that is picked up off the ground by an unidentified hand. Hal seeks solace from his girlfriend, Louise Norman, whose sister, aerialist Marie Norman, is Kinney’s fiancé.
Meanwhile, during the show, Chan leaves his family to meet with Kinney at the appointed time. However, arriving at the office wagon, Chan, who runs into Gaines, dancing midgets Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny, and the circus giant discovers that Kinney has been murdered. Because the wagon had been locked from the inside, and because of the animal hairs that are found on the window sill, it is suspected that Caesar the ape, who had been mysteriously let out of his cage, had climbed through the window, killing Kinney. Chan, however, withholds judgment and turns the case over to a local police official, Lieutenant Macy, and returns to his family to continue their vacation.
Later that night, however, as Chan’s “multitudinous” family packs their belongings for the next leg of their trip, Tiny appears at their hotel and pleads with the detective to continue the investigation to clear Tim and Gaines, who are both being held for questioning. She tells Chan that if the circus is not allowed to move on, it will not be able to make the money that is needed to survive. Chan’s family also tries to convince the detective to stay to work on the case. “Jury seem to render judgment without retiring,” states the smiling Charlie Chan, continuing, “Final decision in hands of judge.” “Judge say ‘yes,’ too!” answers Mrs. Chan.
At the local police station, Chan successfully convinces Lieutenant Macy to release Tim and Gaines, and to allow the circus to move on to its next stop, in hopes that the killer will reveal himself.
Chan, Lee, and Macy travel with the circus on its train and, despite an attempt on Chan’s life that night in the form of a poisonous cobra, reach their destination the next day. It is discovered that the business wagon has been broken into and that an unsuccessful attempt had been made to force the safe open. Opening the safe, Macy, Chan, and Lee find Kinney’s insurance policy that names Marie Norman as the beneficiary. They also find a marriage certificate stating that Kinney and wardrobe mistress Nellie Ferrell were married in Juarez, Mexico on May 30, 1935.
The trio later confronts Nellie and her brother Dan. Nellie asserts that, as Kinney’s widow, she is entitled to his half of the circus. Marie retorts that Nellie’s claim is false, as Kinney could not have been in Juarez on that date. However, before she can offer proof, Marie is called to her trapeze performance.
While Marie performs her act high above the crowd, someone shoots her rigging and she falls to the ground. Although Norman is alive, she is seriously injured, and the doctor who is summoned explains that she must be operated on immediately.
While the doctor is working on Marie, Chan looks through her scrapbook and discovers that on May 30, Kinney was being held as a witness to a murder in El Paso. While Lee telephones the police in El Paso for more information, Caesar is again released from his cage. Inside a circus tent, Marie is undergoing an operation. Suddenly, an attending nurse notices the ape about to throw a hammer at Marie and screams. The hammer misses, and the ape is shot dead.
Outside of the tent, Chan reveals that it is not Caesar who was shot, but snake handler Tom Holt who had disguised himself as the ape. The police confirm that Holt was the killer in El Paso, and Chan deduces that Kinney had covered up for Holt, but was later murdered by Holt after their quarrel over money. Holt had then attempted to kill Marie, who is recovering safely, and secretly, at a local hospital, because she could reveal the facts of the El Paso incident. Nellie and her brother Dan, who had forged the marriage certificate after Kinney’s death, are taken away by the police.
Chan tells Gaines that he would now like to attend the circus as a simple spectator, to which the latter states that the detective and his family will receive a lifetime pass to his show. “How many shall I make it out for?” asks Gaines, “Fourteen, or…” “Think fourteen quite sufficient,” answers Chan, who, noting Lee and contortionist Su Toy, whom his son has been romancing throughout the investigation, adds, “…maybe more, later.”
NOTES: According to Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts, June Lang and John Dilson were to be in the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to another Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was shot “on location at the Al G. Barnes winter quarters,” and a Motion Picture Herald pre-release article states that “the Barnes Circus [was] used as a background for production settings.” In a mid-1980s interview, Keye Luke mentioned that the winter home of the circus used in the film was in the eastern Los Angeles community of El Monte.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
Free ticket to circus like gold ring on merry-go-round – make enjoyment double.
Size of package does not indicate quality within.
Wise precaution to accept “applesauce” with large pinch of salt.
Curiosity responsible for cat needing nine lives.
More than one way to remove skin from cat.
Much evil can enter through very small space.
One ounce of experience worth ton of detective books.
Man who seek trouble never find it far off.
Frightened bird very difficult to catch.
Old English adage say, “Give man plenty rope, will hang self.”
Guilty conscience only enemy to peaceful rest.
Circus performer like detective – must be Johnny-of-many-trades.
Ancient adage say, “Music soothe savage breast.”
Question without answer, like faraway water, no good for nearby fire.
Enemy who misses mark, like serpent, must coil to strike again.
Very wise know way out before going in.
Very easy to read mind when clue like rag on sore thumb.
Facts like photographic film – must be exposed before developing.
Too soon to count chickens until eggs are in nest.
One grain of luck sometimes worth more than whole rice field of wisdom.
Cannot tell where path lead until reach end of road.
Good tools shorten labor.
Inquisitive person like bear after honey – sometime find hornets’ nest.
Better to slip with foot than with tongue.
Silent witness sometime speak loudest.
Magnifying female charms very ancient optical illusion.
Even if name signed one million times, no two signatures ever exactly alike.
Not always wise to accept simplest solution.
Mind, like parachute, only function when open.
Unloaded gun always cause most trouble.
No use to hurry unless sure of catching right train.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
Jack have no trouble sliding down beanstalk. (To Colonel Tim, about using Tower, the circus giant’s cane to enter the circus wagon office through its skylight)
(Lee: “Are you hurt, Pop?”) Side of wagon not like feather bed. (After having been attacked by Caesar the ape who had thrown him against the side of the circus’ office wagon)
(Lt. Macy: “You sure got a bright kid. He just gave me a good steer.”) Sometime suspect ambitious offspring of giving bull.
(Lee: “Gee, Pop, I hate to walk out on this case. I can see some interesting angles.”) Contortion lady? (Referring to contortionist Su Toy)
(Lee: “You know, I think we ought to stick with this case, Pop, and go to the next town with the circus.”) Have desire to remain permanently in monkey cage? (To Lee, referring to how Su Toy had earlier locked him in a cage)
Distinguished lieutenant of police act with streamline speed. (To Lady Tiny regarding Lt. Macy)
Jury seem to render verdict without retiring. (To Lady Tiny regarding his children unanimously desiring Chan to assist in the murder investigation)
Final decision in hands of judge. (To lady Tiny, referring to his wife)
(Lt. Macy: “I’m going to give them a few hours in the jug, and I’ll bet they uncork everything they know.”) Perhaps facts also remain corked in jug.
Trained mind of policeman work like lightening. (To Lt. Macy)
(Su Toy: [to Lee] “Good night!” [slamming train window shut]) Lady seem to have dropped final curtain. (To Lee)
(Ancient adage say, “Music soothe savage breast.”) Please to reserve for such an occasion. (To Lee regarding his phonograph records)
(Lee: “It’s kind of creepy here in Kinney’s room.”) Then recommend you brush teeth, say prayers, and go to bed.
(Lee: “…I’m going out on the platform and think this case over.”) Have new problem in female geometry?
Attitude prove Darwin theory correct. (To Lee regarding his attempt at contortions)
(Colonel Tim: “More trouble for Mr. Gaines.”) Trouble rain on man already wet.
Evidence like nose on anteater. (To Lee, regarding obvious clue [a pin belonging to Su Toy on his person] showing that he had seen her that day)
Very commendable research. Have discovered secret of perpetual agitation? (To Lee who was looking at a magnified photograph of Su Toy)
Death write finish to mystery. (To the assembled circus people and authorities following the death of the killer)
LEE CHAN’S “CHANISM”:
You know what you always say, Pop: “If you want to understand men, study women.” (Chan: “Pop say that?”)
Variety, March 25, 1936
Taking Earl Derr Biggers’ Oriental detective and his 14 [sic] children as the pivot an original yarn with a circus background has been written by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan. There have been better ‘Charlie Chan’ whodunits, And worse. This one may qualify as satisfactory companionship for another feature in need of a melodramatic running mate.
Story carries some charm in that Charlies [sic] Chan himself, as made real by Warner Oland, is always attractive and his over-size brood is good for some giggles along off-the-beaten-path humor lines. Cute twist too in having vaudeville midgets, George and Olive Brasno, prominently participating in the story and also doing a hot rhumba. Girl gets considerable close-up footage and photographs as a pretty doll-baby. Folks will respond to this bit. An exceptional pair, the midgets are one of the film’s chief merits.
Plot while worked out logically is not too griping. It’s the characterization that carries it. Comedy romance between Chan’s son (Keye Luke) and a Chinese performer (Shia Jung) is developed for laughs.
PROBABLE DATE: Late January 1936 (In signing his autograph for Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny, Charlie Chan first writes [see below] “Wishing prosperity and long life.” This is a traditional Chinese statement that is most appropriately used during Chinese New Year. In 1936, the New Year fell on January 24, thus, this is a very probably the season when Charlie Chan and his family were touring the mainland, in particular, the Grand Canyon.)
DURATION: Two days POSSIBLE LOCATIONS: Flagstaff, Arizona (first night, near the Chan family’s next stop, the Grand Canyon), overnight circus train, Albuquerque, New Mexico (two days)
THE NAME OF THE CIRCUS VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND HIS FAMILY: “Kinney and Gaines Combined Circus” (also known as “Kinney and Gaines Greater Circus”)
ANNOUNCED ATTRACTIONS AT THE KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS: Madame Beardo, “The World’s Wonder,” Gangor, the snake charmer, Su Toy, “The Human Knot,” and Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny, “The Biggest Little People On Earth”
THE COST OF A TICKET TO THE “GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH”: 25 cents
THE CURRENT NUMBER OF CHILDREN IN THE CHAN FAMILY: 12
MRS. CHAN HOLDS THE CHAN FAMILY’S “LATEST BLESSED EVENT”:
OTHER CIRCUS ACTS NOTED THROUGH SIGNAGE: “London Punch and Judy Show,” “Samson the European Strong Man,” “Hawaiian Princess” (“Princess Aloha”), Tower the Giant, “The Tallest Man in Existence”
A FEATURED ANIMAL ACT AT KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS: “Caesar the Ape”
THE HEIGHTS GIVEN FOR COLONEL TIM AND LADY TINY: 42 and 40 inches respectively
THE DANCE PERFORMED ON STAGE BY COLONEL TIM AND LADY TINY: Rumba
THE AUTOGRAPH SIGNED FOR LADY TINY BY CHARLIE CHAN: It reads: “Wishing prosperity and long life.” It is very probable that it was Keye Luke’s hand that actually penned these words.
OTHER COLORFUL DESCRIPTIONS OF SU TOY “THE HUMAN KNOT”: “That beautiful little flower of the Orient,” “The Human Puzzle.”
CHARLIE CHAN’S APPOINTMENT TIME WITH JOE KINNEY: 9:00 p.m.
THE PROBABLE STARTING TIME FOR THE PERFORMANCE UNDER THE BIG TOP: 8:30 p.m.
ACCORDING TO JOHN GAINES, THE “TAKE” FOR KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS THAT NIGHT: “Twenty-six hundred and eighty.”
ACCORDING TO THE CIRCUS RINGMASTER, THE UNIQUE MOVE DEMONSTRATED BY MARIE NORMAN ON THE TRAPEZE: “The only artiste in the world with any circus today doing a forward somersault from a flying trapeze and catching by her heels.”
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, JOE KINNEY’S CAUSE OF DEATH: “Neck broken. Strangled by very powerful hands.”
THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR SUMMONED BY JOHN GAINES: Dr. Mead
THE NAMES OF TWO OF THE CIRCUS WORKERS WHO WERE DIRECTED BY HAL BLAKE TO LOOK FOR THE ESCAPED CAESAR THE APE: Jerry and Frank
THE TEXT OF THE SIGN ON THE ANIMAL CAGE THAT IN WHICH LEE CHAN LOCKED SU TOY FOR HER PROTECTION: “Royal Bengal Tigers”
HOTEL ROOM NUMBER OF CHARLIE CHAN AND FAMILY: 410
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE CHAN FAMILY’S PLANS FOR THE NEXT DAY: “…to observe wonders of Grand Canyon.”
ACCORDING TO LADY TINY, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT SHE AND COLONEL TIM HAD BEEN WITH JOHN GAINES AND THE CIRCUS: “We’ve been with him for five years…”
ACCORDING TO LADY TINY, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT JOE KINNEY HAD BEEN PART OWNER OF THE CIRCUS: “Just the last two seasons.”
ACCORDING TO LADY TINY, THE AMOUNT OF THE CIRCUS THAT WAS SOLD TO JOE KINNEY BY JOHN GAINES: “…he sold him a half-interest”
THE NAME OF THE OFFICER TOLD BY LT. MACY TO “BOOK” THE CIRCUS PERFORMERS: Stone
ACCORDING TO JOHN GAINES, DEPARTURE TIME FOR THE KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS TRAIN: “Midnight.”
CHARLIE CHAN’S BREAKFAST WITH THE “LITTLE PEOPLE”: Coffee, toast, and doughnuts
VARIOUS ANIMALS SHOWN, HEARD, OR OTHERWISE SUGGESTED IN THE KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS: “Royal Bengal Tigers” (sign on cage), camels, elephants (one named “Jumbo”), zebras, lions, hippopotamus, horses, seals (sea lions) (heard in the background), snakes (cobra)
THE NAME OF LADY TINY’S ELEPHANT FRIEND: Jumbo
THE VALUE OF JOE KINNEY’S LIFE INSURANCE POLICY THAT WAS FOUND IN HIS SAFE: $50,000
ACCORDING TO LT. MACY, THE BENEFICIARY OF THIS POLICY: “…changed last month to Marie Norman.”
ACCORDING TO LT. MACY, THE TOWN (AND THE DATE) WHERE NELLIE FARRELL AND JOE KINNEY WERE SUPPOSEDLY MARRIED: “Juarez, Mexico, May 30, 1935.”
THE MEXICAN MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE SHOWING THAT NELLIE FARRELL AND JOE KINNY WERE SUPPOSEDLY LEGALLY MARRIED:
THE LOCATION OF THE LAW OFFICE VISITED BY NELLIE FERRELL AND HER BROTHER DAN: 402 Arcade Building
THE NAME OF THE ATTORNEY VISITED: Frederick Garner
ACCORDING TO NELLIE FARRELL, THE DATE OF HER SUPPOSED MARRIAGE TO JOE KINNEY: “It was on May 30, 1935 – Decoration Day.” (Nellie Ferrell: “…five months ago.”)
THE NAME OF THE WARDROBE MISTRESS AT THE KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS: Jenny
DR. MEAD’S DESCRIPTION OF MARIE NORMAN’S INJURIES: “There are two compound rib fractures and a possible spine injury.”
THE DATE OF THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SHOWN FROM MARIE NORMAN’S SCRAPBOOK: May 31, 1935
THE HEADLINE AND STORY AS SEEN ON ONE OF THE SCRAPBOOK ARTICLES:
THE PHOTO AND CAPTION UNDER FROM ANOTHER SCRAPBOOK CLIPPING:
THE CAPTION UNDER THE PHOTO: “Marie Normand, Aerial Star”
THE DATE OF THE OTHER NEWSPAPER ARTICLE FROM MARIE NORMAN’S SCRAPBOOK ABOUT THE MURDER IN EL PASO, TEXAS: May 31, 1935
THE NAME OF THE NEWSPAPER: “–y Times” (El Paso Daily Times?)
THE HEADLINE AND STORIES IN THE ARTICLE:
THE PARTIAL TEXT OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE: “Juarez, May 31. – Blood mingled with chips at the [Ace Casino last] night, when deputy Pedro Ramirez at…”
THE POSSIBLE NAME OF THE MURDERED DEPUTY: Pedro Ramirez (determined from the partially visible text of the above newspaper article)
THE POLICE AGENCY TELEPHONED BY LEE CHAN: “…police headquarters, El Paso, Texas.”
MARIE AND LOUISE NORMAN’S “ALTERNATE” LAST NAME: Marie Norman is referred to as “Marie Normand” in one of the two newspaper clippings from her scrapbook. Also, a sign is shown which reads: “Marie and Louise Normand.”
applesauce – (Slang) Nonsense; foolishness.
Charlie Chan: “Wise precaution to accept applesauce with large pinch of salt.”
beat it – (Informal) To leave or depart.
Colonel Tim: “…so, I beat it.”
big top – The main tent of a circus.
Dan Farrell: “Don’t let him get near the big top.”
bull – (Slang) Ridiculous nonsense.
Charlie Chan: “Sometime suspect ambitious offspring of giving bull.”
burn me up – (Idiom) To cause one to become angry or annoyed.
Louise Norman: “…he comes around here just to burn me up.”
cinch – A sure thing; a certainty.
Lt. Macy: “It’s a cinch.”
clear all wires – (Idiom – as used) To give an emergency telephone call top priority.
Lee Chan: “Clear all wires!”
comes to – Recovers consciousness.
Lt. Macy: “If something doesn’t break when she comes to…”
daily dozen – (Idiom) Originally a reference to a daily regimen of twelve specific callisthenic exercises that were devised by famous Yale football coach, Walter Camp (1859-1925). The term later came to refer to any exercise regimen.
Lee Chan: “I was just doing my daily dozen.”
Decoration Day – Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day to remember those who have died in our nation’s service. After the Civil war many people in the North and South decorated graves of fallen soldiers with flowers. Decoration Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan and was first observed officially on May 30, 1868. The South did not observe Decoration Day, preferring to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and soldiers who had died in other wars were also honored. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.
Nellie Ferrell: “It was on May 30, 1935 – Decoration Day.”
dope – (Slang) Information.
Lee Chan: “I can give you the dope, Lieutenant Macy.”
finish…off – (Idiom – as used) Kill.
Lt. Macy: “…and tried to finish her off.”
fluoroscope – A device equipped with a fluorescent screen on which the internal structures of an optically opaque object, such as the human body, may be continuously viewed as shadowy images formed by the differential transmission of x-rays through the object.
Dr. Mead: “I sent for the fluoroscope…”
grilling – (Slang) To question relentlessly; cross-examine.
Lt. Macy: “We better round up the whole outfit and give them a grilling, Mr. Chan.”
honkey-tonks – Cheap bars or dance halls.
Lady Tiny: “He was only used to honky-tonks.”
in the red – Operating at a loss; in debt.
Joe Kinney: “…the show went in the red.”
“Johnny-of-many-trades” (jack-of-all-trades) – A person who can do many different kinds of work.
Charlie Chan: “Circus performer, like detective, must be Johnny-of-many-trades.”
jug – (Slang) A jail.
Lt. Macy: “I’m going to give them a few hours in the jug…”
knock off – (Idiom) To kill or overcome.
Lt. Macy: “He tried to knock her off.”
once-over – (Slang) A swift cursory examination or inspection.
Lt. Macy: Go ahead, fellas, give the place the once-over.”
on the up and up – (Idiom) The truth.
Lt. Macy: “This marriage certificate’s on the up and up.”
pinch – (Slang) To take into custody; arrest.
Lt. Macy: “We’ve got enough on him now to make a pinch.”
put something over – (Idiom) To fool or deceive with some trick.
Marie Norman: “…you’re just trying to put something over.”
rumba–(1) A dance of Cuban origin, combining complex footwork with a pronounced movement of the hips. (2) A modern ballroom adaptation of this dance. (3) Music for this dance or in this style.
Lee Chan: “Oh, boy, I’ll bet you can shake a mean rumba.”
snappy – (Informal) Quick.
Lt. Macy: “And make it snappy!”
stateroom – A private cabin or compartment with sleeping accommodations on a ship or train.
Tom Holt: “Mr. Gaines never let it out of his stateroom.”
steer – (Slang) To direct the course of.
Lt. Macy: “You sure got a bright kid, he just gave me a good steer.”
streamline speed – (Idiom – as used) Quickness similar to a device of sleek, modern design.
Charlie Chan: “Distinguished lieutenant of police act with streamline speed.”
squawk –(Informal) To complain loudly or vehemently.
Lt. Macy: “Somebody was afraid Marie Norman would squawk…”
two-timing – (Slang) To be unfaithful to a spouse or lover.
Lt. Macy: “The Norman girl must have found out he was two-timing her…”
yellow – (Informal) Cowardly.
Joe Kinney: “Even the ape knows you’re yellow.”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.