Monogram Pictures Corporation
Distributed: Monogram Pictures Corporation, March 21, 1948
Production: November 17 to November 25, 1947
Copyright: Monogram Pictures Corporation, March 21, 1948; LP1610
Sound: Western Electric Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 7 reels; 5,802 feet
Running Time: 64 minutes
Production Code Administration Certificate Number: 12895
Source: “Based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Producer: James S. Burkett
Director: Derwin Abrahams
Assistant Director: Theodore Joos
Original Screenplay: W. Scott Darling
Photography: William Sickner
Camera Operator: John Martin (not credited)
Stills: Jim Fullerton
Supervising Film Editor: Otho Lovering
Editor: Ace Herman
Set Decorations: Ken Schwartz (not credited)
Musical Director: Edward J. Kay
Recording: Tom Lambert
Hair Stylist: Lela Chambers (not credited)
Production Supervisor: Glenn Cook
Technical Director: Dave Milton
Screenplay Supervisor: Mary Chaffee
Grip: George Booker (not credited)
CAST (as credited):
Roland Winters: Charlie Chan
Virginia Dale: Rene Blanchette
Mantan Moreland: Birmingham Brown
John Gallaudet: Captain Pete McNally
Victor Sen Young: Tommy Chan
Carol Forman: Nita Aguirre (alias Countess Allemand)
Douglas Fowley: Grock
Harry Hayden: Oscar Swendstrom
Howard Negley: Andre Pareaux (alias Mr. Fernand)
Stanley Andrews: Theodore Von Scherbe
Emmett Vogan: Henri Castanaro
Boyd Irwin: Simon Lafontanne
Rory Mallinson: Thompson
George J. Lewis: Sergeant Dansiger
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
Paul Conrad: Man from D.A.’s Office
Dian Fauntelle: Mrs. Swendstrom
Haywood Jones: Mobile Jones
Charlie Jordan: Fingerprint Expert
Forrest Matthews: Detective
Matthew McCue: Records Clerk
Fred Miller: Armed Guard
Cap Somers: Gangway Security Guard
Larry Steers: Doctor
Frank Stephens: Police Sergeant
Ferris Taylor: Dr. Dooble, Coroner
Jack Tornek: Sidewalk Passerby
Wally Walker: Chauffeur
Eric Wilton: Watkins
Simon Lafontanne, head of the Lafontanne Chemical Company, goes to consult Charlie Chan who is staying in New Orleans along with his number two son, Tommy, and his chauffeur, Birmingham Brown. Lafontanne thinks that he has an enemy who is having him followed everywhere he goes. The trouble started when he entered into a partnership with two foreigners, Henri Castanaro and Theodore Von Scherbe, to ship a chemical to South America. After Chan agrees to investigate further at Lafontanne’s office the next morning, Lafontanne, who is about to enter his car, notices that the person driving is not his chauffeur. The phony chauffeur speeds off, as the real chauffeur appears, with the assistance of Tommy and Birmingham, showing the effects of having been hit over the head.
The next morning, at his office, Lafontanne’s secretary, Rene, who is also his niece, tells him that his partners in the chemical deal are waiting to speak with him. Castanaro and Von Scherbe are concerned about the possibility of one of them dying suddenly, so a clause has been added to their agreement whereby, in the event of the death of any of the principals, his share of the profits will go to the remaining partners. After Lafontanne reluctantly signs the clause, Oscar Swendstrom shows up at the office, brandishing a gun and claiming that Lafontanne had swindled him out of his formula for the chemical. Rene phones police captain Pete McNally to have Swendstrom removed, but when McNally and his assistant Dansiger arrive, they find Lafontanne dead in his office.
Chan then arrives for his appointment, and the police inform him of Lafontanne’s death, suspecting that he has died of a heart attack. Chan investigates and finds that the radio in Fontanne’s office, which had been playing music earlier, is now silent, except for a humming sound. The detective finds that one of the vacuum tubes is broken and takes it with him for further study, and the police take Swendstrom in for questioning.
Meanwhile, Tommy and Birmingham, after a lengthy search, locate Lafontanne’s car in a parking garage. Later, as Chan inspects the interior of the car, he finds some cigarette ashes containing coquina bark, a special ingredient peculiar to certain cigarettes, which is used for flavoring.
Later, after Chan has replicated the radio tube from Lafontanne’s office, he discovers that a certain sound frequency will cause the very thin glass to shatter. Chan then visits Castanaro who is holding a small party at his home. While he is there, Andre Pareaux and Nita Aguire, who are posing as a countess and her cousin, and who have an interest in diverting the chemical shipment for their own use, arrive. Suspecting their identities are not what they claim, Chan asks Pareaux for a cigarette in which he detects the presence of coquina bark.
Later, a letter arrives for Castanaro, which prompts him to phone McNally, reporting that he believes himself to be in great danger. However, by the time the police arrive at his home, Castanaro is dead under circumstances resembling those noted at Lafontanne’s office.
Chan, investigating records concerning Pareaux, finds that he has used various aliases besides Fernand (including Citroen, Boronoff, and Rombauer), and is apparently after the chemical formula.
Back at police headquarters, Swendstrom, under the pressure of interrogation, tells McNally that the murderer is Von Scherbe. However, when they arrive at Von Scherbe’s residence, he is found to be dead, having been murdered in the same manner as the previous two victims.
Chan returns to his house finding himself a prisoner of the gang that is out to steal the chemical shipment. Pareaux and Aguire, along with henchman Grock, had arrived earlier, knocking out Tommy and Birmingham and locking them in a closet. They now question Chan about his knowledge of the chemical shipment and Lafontanne’s formula. In response, Chan tells them about the recent murders. He tells them of how the victims died, and then he informs the group that the tube in his possession contains the same poison gas. He then plays a recording of a soprano singing a note which is of a pitch high enough to shatter the tube. Chan tells Pareaux and his associates that the gas is now in the room. Through his effective use of the power of suggestion, Chan convinces the members of the gang that they are beginning to feel the effects of the poison. As they panic, Tommy and Birmingham, who had heard Chan’s dialog while still in the closet, break into the room and surprise Chan’s captors. They also realize that the detective’s comments were a ruse and that there is no poison gas.
McNally and his men arrive, arresting Parreaux and company, but Chan explains that it was indeed Swendstrom who had used the poison gas-filled vacuum tubes to kill his former business partner whom he felt had cheated him out of his formula. He was also responsible for the other two murders. Mrs. Swendstrom, who was in on the murders, had placed the tubes in the radios of the victims, and it was her singing voice on radio programs on which she had performed that had caused the tubes to shatter, thus releasing the deadly gas.
NOTES: The film’s title card reads: Charlie Chan in “Docks of New Orleans.” Despite the title, the docks are seen only briefly during the credit titles, and, during the opening scene of the film, they are suggested as the ship Presidente is being loaded through a cargo door with chemicals from the Lafontanne Chemical Company. Although not acknowledged in the onscreen credits, the film’s story was derived from Monogram’s 1938 picture, Mr. Wong, Detective. The working title for this movie was Charlie Chan in New Orleans.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
He who takes whatever gods send with smile has learned life’s hardest lesson.
Sometimes most essential clue very difficult to find.
If matter not solved, it is will of fate.
Death one appointment we must all keep, and for which no time set.
Looks sometimes are frightful liar.
Patience very lovely virtue.
Patience – must harvest rice before can boil it.
Even melon grown in shade will ripen in the end.
The ignorant always loud in argument.
Sometimes witness things without realizing importance.
Chinese funny people; when say “go,” mean “go.”
All cards should repose on table when personal liberty at stake.
Can fallen fruit return to branch?
He who squanders today talking about yesterday’s triumphs, have nothing to boast of tomorrow.
Must gather at leisure what may use in haste.
It is fool in hurry who drink tea with fork.
Necessity drive hard bargain.
He who goes into hills after tiger must pay price.
Ship with too many pilots sometimes have difficulty reaching port.
After dinner is over, who cares about spoon?
Wherever one is not, that is where heart is.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
How long you have been shaking hands with trouble? (To Simon Lafontanne)
(He who takes whatever gods send with smile has learned life’s hardest lesson.) I personally find it difficult to achieve that smile. (Regarding Tommy)
(Tommy: “I’m sorry, Pop.”) Please be sorry out of my sight, because, while in it, vision blurs and find self-control leaving me.
(If matter not solved, it is will of fate,) but, feel inclined to give fate small tussle. (To Simon Lafontanne)
Man would have to be dead whole year to be killed with this gun. Same have not been discharged for many moons. (To investigators)
Radio now as quiet as customary church mouse. (To Rene Blanchette regarding the radio in Simon Lafontanne’s office)
(Patience very lovely virtue) Your race, I perceive, does not regard patience with great favor. (To Pete McNally)
Honorable doctor tarnish lily with gilt. (Gilt: a thin coating of gold – in this case, truth. This regarding Dr. Dooble’s comment that Oscar Swendstrom is as sane as Pete Mc Nally after the latter had declared that Swendstrom was obviously insane.)
Luck has turned smiling continence. (To Pete McNally regarding Simon Lafontanne’s car which was found by Tommy Chan and Birmingham Brown)
Excuse interruption of music festival please, but would mind repeating excruciating sound made with assistance of cat intestine? (To Tommy, asking him to repeat the last notes of the “Chop Suey Boogie” on his violin)
(Nita Aguire [posing as a countess]: “It was a very gay evening” [referring to a supposed party at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the past]) Will remain forever golden item on scroll of memory.
Unfortunate famine of cigarettes. (To Henri Castanaro, to obtain a cigarette as evidence)
Cocktails are not one of Charlie Chan vices. (To Henri Castanaro)
Events now break rapidly like firecracker exploding in face of innocent passerby. (To Pete Mc Nally)
(Oscar Swendstrom: “I’m afraid I underrated you when first we met.”) Yes, that customary. Only important thing that you do not underrate me when we part.
Police department emerge in shining garments of success. (To Pete McNally)
On this am firm like Gibraltar rock. (Regarding Charlie Chan’s return to San Francisco)
THE WIT AND WISDOM OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN
Tommy: “This sounds like a very important case, and Pop needs all the help he can get. You can’t expect him to solve everything alone.”
“He don’t do too bad that way.”
Birmingham Brown engages in “indefinite talk” with Simon Lafontanne:
(Birmingham Brown opens the front door, allowing Simon Lafontanne into Charlie Chan’s residence)
Lafontanne: “I am, uh –“
“Mr. Lafontanne of the chemical company of the same name.”
Lafontanne: “I want to see, uh –“
“Mr. Charlie Chan the eminent Chinese detective.”
Lafontanne: “I have a –“
“At eight o’clock and it’s exactly eight o’clock now. Come this way and Mr. Chan will be with you at once.”
Lafontanne: “Uh, thank you.”
(Birmingham takes Lafontanne to Charlie Chan)
Tommy (to Birmingham after Charlie Chan caught his son hiding in his office listening in on his conversation with Simon Lafontanne): “That was a fine idea you had.”
“You’re now hip to the facts, ain’t you? You’re in possession of the ne plus ultra and the habeas corpus which will help us in our private investigatin’ of this case.”
Tommy: Pop’s pretty sore.”
“Nothin’ ventured, nothin’ overheard.”
“Hey, Tommy. I ain’t gonna investigate another parking place. This is the sixteenth time this mornin’, and my dogs is killin’ me!”
Tommy: “I’ve got a hunch this is gonna be the one. you know, Pop says the Chinese are a psychic race.”
“Yeah, but if you don’t want Birmingham Brown to fold up on you, you better start that psychic goin’ and full blast.”
Birmingham Brown engages in conversation with Mobile Brown, with moments of “indefinite talk”:
“Well, Mobile Brown!”
Mobile Brown: “Birmingham!”
“How is you?”
Mobile Brown: “How’s everything?”
“Oh, man, fine! You know what?”
Mobile Brown: “Uh-huh.”
“I was at home, sleepin’, thinkin’ about that money I owe you…”
Mobile Brown: “Uh-huh.”
“And I just rolled and tossed, rolled and tossed, and I couldn’t sleep. Nothin’ would do but for me to get up outta my bed to come down here to tell you…”
Mobile Brown: “Uh-huh.”
“…I can’t pay you.”
Mobile Brown: “Now you done fixed it so that we both can’t sleep. How come you can’t pay me?”
Mobile Brown: “Races? I play the races, the low down hounds.”
Mobile Brown: “That’s it.”
“What kind of races do you play?”
Mobile Brown: “Horse races.”
“What track do you play at?”
Mobile Brown: “I play over th –“
“That track’s crooked. Why don’t you play over here at –“
Mobile Brown: “That’s where I lost.”
“How much you lose?”
Mobile Brown: “I lost around –“
“You didn’t have that much. All you had was around –“
Mobile Brown: “I lost more than that. Don’t you know I bet on a horse over there and he didn’t come in–“
“Was he that far behind?”
Mobile Brown: “Sho’ was.” (getting into the car)
“Well, see you, Mobile!”
Mobile Brown: “Well, I’ll be seein’ you.”
Mobile Brown: “Bon soir!”
Mobile Brown: “Yes, see –“
Mobile Brown: “All right. Hey! There’s two bucks owed on that car!”
Variety, March 20, 1948
An implausible plot and mediocre acting won’t help “Docks of New Orleans” at the wicket. The latest in Monogram’s Charlie Chan series shapes up as below average program filler with little to recommend it. Production values are meager.
Yarn traces a complicated pattern liberally sprinkled with the standard Chinese philosophy of Chan, the Oriental detective. Latter is fairly well portrayed by Roland Winters, but the balance of the cast is relatively undistinguished. Better scripting by W. Scott Darling might have drawn the plot’s loose ends together into a more logical tale.
Case which Winters tackles involves the shipment of chemicals from the New Orleans docks. There are the usual cliches about various individuals receiving threats from unknown parties. Several killings result and the cops are baffled how these murders were accomplished. Out of a welter of suspects, including a chap who claims he was swindled out of a “secret” formula by the head of the chemical firm, Winters gets his man.
Mantan Moreland and Victor Sen Young supply the comedy relief. Virginia Dale has little to do as secretary to Boyd Irwin, her uncle and chemical firm exec. Story incorporates too many characters in the footage and as a result no one has a chance to demonstrate thesping ability. Title itself is a misnomer as action on the waterfront is negligible.
Direction of Derwin Abrahams is only fair in this James S. Burkett production. William Sickner’s camerawork is average while other production credits reflect the low budget.
PROBABLE DATE: Fall 1947
DURATION: Three days
LOCATION: New Orleans, Louisiana
THE NAME OF THE CHEMICAL COMPANY: Lafontanne Chemical Company
THE NAME OF THE CARGO SHIP: The Presidente
GROCK’S DESCRIPTION OF THE PRESIDENTE: “An old tramp steamer…”
THE LOCATION OF THE PRESIDENTE: Pier 52
ACCORDING TO ANDRE PAREAUX, THE DESTINATION OF THE CHEMICAL SHIPMENT ABOARD THE PRESIDENTE: “…South America…”
THE TIME OF SIMON LAFONTANNE’S APPOINTMENT WITH CHARLIE CHAN: 8 p.m.
THE NAME OF THE PERSON WHO REFERRED SIMON LAFONTANNE TO CHARLIE CHAN: Charlie Mitchell
ACCORDING TO SIMON LAFONTANNE, THE NAME OF THE PERSON WHO HAD COME WITH A LETTER OF INTRODUCTION: “…a Miss Aguirre…”
THE LAST NAME OF THE PERSON WHO HAD SUPPOSEDLY PROVIDED THE LETTER OF INTRODUCTION: Brenard
THE TIME OF CHARLIE CHAN’S APPOINTMENT AT SIMON LAFONTANNE’S OFFICE: 10 a.m.
THE NAME OF THE ANNOUNCER ON THE RADIO HEARD IN SIMON LAFONTANNE’S OFFICE: Henry Glover
THE NAME OF THE CHEMICAL BEING SHIPPED: Trichloride acid
THE AMOUNT THAT SIMON LAFONTANNE HAD PAID TO OSCAR SWENDSTROM FOR HIS CHEMICAL FORMULA: $500
ACCORDING TO SIMON LAFONTANNE, THE CLAUSE IN THE CONTRACT SIGNED BY SWENDSTROM THAT “GIVES THE SYNDICATE FULL CONTROL OVER THE FORMULA”: “…clause five…”
CHARLIE CHAN’S PLANNED DESTINATION AFTER NEW ORLEANS: San Francisco, California
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE SOURSE OF THE RADIO VACUUM TUBES THAT WERE CUSTOM-MADE FOR HIM: “…chemestry friends at State University.”
CHARLIE CHAN’S DESCRIPTION OF THE RADIO TUBES THAT WERE MADE FOR HIM: “Most fragile – would break easily.”
THE NUMBER OF GARAGES THAT TOMMY CHAN AND BIRMINGHAM BROWN CHECKED TO LOCATE SIMON LAFONTANNE’S MISSING CAR: 16
THE NAME OF THE GARAGE WHERE SIMON LAFONTANNE’S CAR WAS FINALLY LOCATED: Bourbon Street Garage
THE NAME OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S FRIEND WHO WORKED AT THE BOURBON STREET GARAGE: Mobile Jones
THE AMOUNT OWED ON SIMON LAFONTANNE’S CAR FOR PARKING TWO DAYS AT THE BOURBON STREET GARAGE: $2.00
THE LICENSE PLATE SEEN ON SIMON LAFONTANNE’S CAR:
ACCORDING TO TOMMY CHAN, THE LOCATION OF BOURBON STREET GARAGE: “…near St. Louis Street.”
THE INGREDIENT MIXED WITH THE TOBACCO IN THE CIGARETTE FOUND ON THE FLOOR OF SIMON LAFONTANNE’S CAR: Coquina bark
THE NAME OF THE SONG PLAYED BY TOMMY CHAN AND BIRMINGHAM BROWN: “Chop Suey Boogie”
THE TEXT OF THE NOTE SENT TO HENRI CASTANARO AS READ BY PETE MC NALLY:
“You’re in great danger.
Lock yourself in until you
receive police protection.
THE TIME SHOWN ON THE CLOCK SHOWN ON THE WALL AS OSCAR SWENDSTROM IS QUESTIONED AT POLICE HEADQUARTERS: 8:21 (p.m.)
THE NAME OF THE BUILDING WHERE THEODORE VON SHERBE LIVED: Sherwin Wilson Building
OTHER ALIASES THAT WERE USED BY ANDRE PAREAUX IN THE PAST: Citroen, Boronoff, Rombauer
THE NUMBER OF THE YELLOW CAB USED BY RENE BLANCHETTE TO REACH CHARLIE CHAN’S RESIDENCE: 1064
THE AMOUNT OF TIME GIVEN TO CHARLIE CHAN BY ANDRE PAREAUX TO “GIVE UP” SWENDSTROM’S CHEMICAL FORMULA: Three minutes
THE NOTE THAT WAS THE CORRECT PITCH TO BREAK THE RADIO TUBES: “E”
bumped off – (Slang) To have murdered.
Capt. Pete McNally: “…he bumped himself off before we got here.”
cat intestine (catgut) – A tough thin cord made from the treated and stretched intestines of certain animals, especially sheep, and used for stringing musical instruments and tennis rackets and for surgical ligatures.
Charlie Chan: “…would mind repeating excruciating sound made with assistance of cat intestine?”
Chinaman – (Today considered offensive) A person of Chinese descent.
Andre Pareaux: “But that Chinaman could possibly identify you.”
cinch – A sure thing; a certainty.
Pete McNally: “This looks like a cinch.”
coloratura soprano – A lyric soprano who specializes in coloratura (vocal ornamentation vocal music featuring trills and runs).
Charlie Chan: “Beautiful lady singing in high coloratura soprano…”
confab – (Informal) To engage in casual talk.
Pete McNally: “We ought to have a very interesting confab.”
curtains – (Slang) The end; death.
Pete McNally: “The old man has a weak heart and it’s curtains.”
dogs -(Slang) The feet.
Birmingham Brown: “My dogs is killin’ me.”
gilt – (1) To cover with or as if with a thin layer of gold. (2) To give an often deceptively attractive or improved appearance.
Charlie Chan: “Honorable doctor tarnish lily with gilt.”
habeas corpus – One of a variety of writs that may be issued to bring a party before a court or judge, having as its function the release of the party from unlawful restraint.
Birmingham Brown: “We’re in possession of the habeas corpus and the ne plus ultra…”
hip – (Slang) Keenly aware of or knowledgeable about the latest trends or developments.
Birmingham Brown: “You’re now hip to the facts, ain’t you?”
holding the bag – (Idiom) Getting the blame for a bad situation.
Nita Aguirre: “Why did you leave me holding the bag?”
ne plus ultra – (1) The highest point, as of excellence or achievement; the ultimate. (2) The most profound degree, as of a condition or quality.
Birmingham Brown: “We’re in possession of the habeas corpus and the ne plus ultra…”
stalling – To be deceptively causing a delay.
Nita Aguirre: “Can’t you see he’s only stalling…?”
tomato – (Slang) A woman regarded as attractive.
Pete McNally: “I know the tomato…”
tramp steamer – A commercial vessel that has no regular schedule but takes on and discharges cargo whenever hired to do so.
Grock: “An old tramp steamer…”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.