Distributed: Monogram Pictures Corporation, May 20, 1944
Production: January 11 to January 19, 1944
Copyright: Monogram Pictures Corporation, April 15, 1944; LP12667
Sound: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 5,824 feet
Running Time: 65 minutes
Source: “Based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Producers: Phillip N. Krasne and James S. Burkett
Director: Phil Rosen
Assistant Director: Bobby Ray (not credited)
Original Screenplay: George Callahan
Director of Photography: Ira Morgan
Production Manager: Dick L’Estrange
Music Supervision: David Chudnow
Music Score: Alexander Lazlo
Film Editors: Fred Allen and Martin Cohn (latter not credited)
Sound Recording: Tom Lambert
Sound Recording: Tom Lambert
Art Direction: Dave Milton
Set Decorations: Tommy Thompson
CAST (as credited):
Sidney Toler: Charlie Chan
Joan Woodbury: Leah Manning
Mantan Moreland: Birmingham Brown
Benson Fong: Tommy Chan
Ian Keith: Dr. Paul Reknik
Sam Flint: Thomas P. Manning
Cy Kendall: Webster Deacon [referred to as George Deacon in a newspaper headline]
Weldon Heyburn: Harvey Dennis
Anthony Ward: Catlen
John Davidson: Karl Karzos/Kurt Karzos
Dewey Robinson: Salos
Stan Jolley: Gannett
Betty Blythe: Mrs. [Thomas] Manning
Jack Norton: Hotel Desk Manager
Luke Chan: Wu Song
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
Fred Aldrich: Police Officer
Daisy Bufford: Carolina
George Chandler: Taxicab Dispatcher
Danny Desmond: Bellboy
Terry Frost: Police Officer Writing Ticket
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 seemingly 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 the desk.
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 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 discovering 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.
NOTES: This was Monogram’s second entry in the Charlie Chan series. The onscreen title is listed as Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat. The working title of the film was Murder in the Funhouse. The film’s title, The Chinese Cat, is doubtless a “nod” to the 1941 Humphrey Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
Murder is my business.Authors sometimes take strange liberties.
Bull in china shop is gentle creature compared to detective who make pass at man wearing glasses.
Expert is merely man who make quick decision – and is sometimes right.
Fear of future is wrong for young people in love.
Once you have large family, all other troubles mean nothing.
Dog cannot chase three rabbits at same time.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
Murder is my business. (To Birmingham Brown)
(Tommy: “Pop, I’ve got a case that will knock your hat off!”) Can remove hat without assistance, thank you.
Chan family always keep promises. (To Leah Manning)
Any detective will tell you, all mystery novels most horrible. (To Leah Manning)
(Tommy: “…Didn’t I get you a swell case?”) Every time you appear, I have swell case of assorted troubles.
Your assistance about as welcome as water in a leaking ship. (To Tommy)
(Tommy: “But, you’ve always said that two men can find a clue quicker than one.”) Where is other man? Do not see other man.
You talk like rooster who think sun come up just to hear him crow. (To Tommy)
Bottleneck of progress is number three son, Tommy. (To Harvey Dennis)
(Harvey Dennis: “We worked on it [the Manning case] for six months and got nowhere.”) Perhaps I work little while and get somewhere.
Peculiar trait in Chan family – children all think Pop pretty good. (To Paul Retnik)
(Tommy: “Why, gosh, Pop, are you a mind reader”) If mind not too small. (Touching Tommy’s head)
Fear you are weak limb, to which no family tree may point with pride. (To Tommy)
You are smart enough to keep eyes open? (Tommy: “You bet!”) Do likewise – keep mouth shut.
You put two and two together and get result bigger than national debt. (To Tommy)
How you feeling? (To Tommy after he was overcome by gas) (Tommy: “My head seems to be spinning.”) Then you’re all right – everything back to normal.
Never start anything unless I see end of road. (To Paul Reknik)
(Paul Reknik: “How are you coming along [on the case] to date?”) Did not say which end of road I could see.
Manning case like modern highway – sooner or later come to detour. (To Tommy)
Like puppy who come to smell subway third rail, you will receive complete information in few moments. (To Tommy as he unknowingly walks into the hands of the gang of jewel thieves)
(Birmingham: “Mr. Chan, I ruined your flashlight.”) Even trade – his light out, too. (Regarding a crook knocked out by Birmingham using Chan’s flashlight)
You are like turtle. After everything all over, you stick head out and find truth right under your very nose. (To Tommy)
THE WIT AND WISDOM OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN
“Every time I meet a Chan I meets trouble!”
“Murder’s all right, Mr. Chan, but you wholesale’s ’em.”
“Murders or no murders, I’m gonna collect my money before I’m bumped into bankruptcy!” (Upon being reminded that he failed to collect his taxicab fare from Charlie Chan)
“Meet a Chan, end with murder.”
“Instead of spots, I got corpses in front of my eyes.”
THE PROBABLE DATE OF CHARLIE CHAN’S INVOLVEMENT: Early March 1944 (The Manning murder had occurred “six months before.”)
DURATION: Three days
LOCATION: San Francisco, California
THE DATE OF THOMAS MANNING’S MURDER: October 8, 1943
THE NEWSPAPER SHOWN: Star Dispatch
THE OCTOBER 8 NEWSPAPER HEADLINE, STORY, AND PARTIAL TEXT:
THE OCTOBER 30 NEWSPAPER STORY AND PARTIAL TEXT:
THE NOVEMBER 21 NEWSPAPER STORY AND PARTIAL TEXT:
THE NOVEMBER 21 NEWSPAPER STORY AND PARTIAL TEXT:
THE JANUARY 15 NEWSPAPER STORY AND PARTIAL STORY:
THE NAME OF CHARLIE CHAN’S HOTEL: Hotel Francis
BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S TAXI DRIVER IDENTIFICATION:
BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S YELLOW CAB TAXICAB NUMBER: 605
THE LICENSE PLATE NUMBER OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S CAB: 51 840 (?)
THE WORDING ON THE “ON DUTY” SIGN ATOP BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S CAB: “DeSoto SKY-VIEW”
CHARLIE CHAN’S ROOM NUMBER AT THE FRANCIS HOTEL: 538
TOMMY CHAN’S PROBABLE COLLEGE: University of California, Berkeley
CHARLIE CHAN’S NEXT DESTINATION: Cleveland, Ohio
CHARLIE CHAN’S PLANNED TIME OF DEPARTURE FROM SAN FRANCISCO: “…48 hours from midnight tonight.” (stated on the day of agreeing to take on the Manning murder case)
THE TITLE AND AUTHOR OF THE BOOK THAT WAS WRITTEN ABOUT THE MANNING MURDER: Murder By Madame, by Dr. Paul Reknik
THE STATUS OF TOMMY CHAN’S ALLOWANCE, ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN: “…paid for next three months.”THE PRICE OF THE BOOK MURDER BY MADAM, BY PAUL REKNIK: $2.00
CHARLIE CHAN’S CAB FARE AS OWED TO BIRMINGHAM BROWN: $4.90
THE “OLD FRIEND” MENTIONED BY CHARLIE CHAN: Captain Harvey Dennis of the San Francisco Police, father of Harvey Dennis, also of the San Francisco Police. Charlie Chan had worked with the former “years ago.”
CHARLIE CHAN’S BET WITH DR. PAUL REKNIK: $2,000 (at 10 to 1 odds) Loser to donate the money to “Chinese war relief.” If Dr. Reknik lost, he would contribute $20,000.
ANOTHER FRIEND OF CHARLIE CHAN: Wu Song, an artisan, and owner of a curio shop in San Francisco.
THE STOLEN DIAMONDS: Stolen from the “famous Kellinor collection” a year ago in Chicago.
THE LICENSE NUMBER OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S SECOND CAR: 81V 515
THE LICENSE NUMBER OF WALTER DEACON’S CAR: 2A 3758
THE NAME OF THE REALTY COMPANY OWNED JOINTLY BY THOMAS MANNING AND WEBSTER DEACON: Manning-Deacon Realty Company
THE NAME AND LOCATION OF THE TRADING COMPANY JOINTLY OWNED BY DEACON AND MANNING: Sea Tide Art Company, located at Shore End Pier
THE SUPPOSED RADIO MYSTERY SHOW THAT IS HEARD ON THE CAR RADIO BY BIRMINGHAM BROWN: Lights Out. Versions of Lights Out aired on different networks between 1934 and 1947. Lights Out was one of the earliest radio horror programs.
THE NEWSPAPER HEADLINE, STORY, AND PARTIAL TEXT:
THE POISONOUS GAS USED AGAINST CHARLIE CHAN, TOMMY, AND BIRMINGHAM: Oxyzone
THE NAME OF THE PUZZLE GIVEN TO CHARLIE CHAN BY SON TOMMY: “Battle of Algiers”THE DIAMOND HIDDEN INSIDE OF THOMAS MANNING’S “CHINESE CAT”: The Kellinor diamond
THE LOCATION OF THE DIAMOND SMUGGLING GANG’S HIDEOUT: The funhouse at Shore End Pier.
THE TORTURE METHOD MENTIONED BY CHARLIE CHAN THAT THE DIAMOND SMUGGLING GANG USED ON SON TOMMY: “Third degree”
THE TIME, ACCORDING TO HARVEY DENNIS, THAT CHARLIE CHAN WAS TO MEET HIM AT THE MANNING HOME: “He said he’d be here by nine o’clock (p.m.).”
THE TIME AS HARVEY DENNIS AND LEAH MANNING LEFT THE MANNING RESIDENCE FOR THE GANG HIDEOUT AT SOUTH END PIER: 9:30 p.m.
THE OFFICIAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST THE DIAMOND SMUGGLING GANG ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN: “Grand larceny and murder.”
THE INITIALS ON THE MANNING MURDER GUN: “W.D.” (Walter Deacon)
THE APPROXIMATE TIME OF THE SOLUTION OF THE MANNING MURDER CASE: about 10 p.m.
duck soup – An easily accomplished task or assignment.
Tommy Chan: “It’ll be duck soup for a Chan!”
flatfoot – (Slang) A police officer.
Karl Karzos: “Chan’s no flatfoot.”
flew the coop – (Idiom) Having fled or run away.
Tommy Chan: “He flew the coop, Pop!”
hack – A taxicab.
Police Officer: “Well, Birmingham, get this hack out of here in a hurry.”
thirty-eight – A .38-caliber revolver.
Dr. Paul Reknik: “There was no thirty-eight in it.”
jitterbugging – The performing of a strenuous dance to quick-tempo swing or jazz music and consisting of various two-step patterns embellished with twirls and sometimes acrobatic maneuvers.
Birmingham Brown: “A jitterbugging skeleton! Now I’ve seen everything!”
oxyzone – A fictitious deadly gas.
Charlie Chan: “Oxyzone – very deadly gas!”
third degree – Mental or physical torture used to obtain information or a confession from a prisoner.
Charlie Chan: “You see? Third degree not work.”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.