Monogram Pictures Corporation
Distributed: Monogram Pictures Corporation, May 11, 1945
Production: January 1945
Copyright: Monogram Pictures Corporation, April 1, 1945; LP13234
Opened: Strand, Brooklyn, N.Y., the week of May 10, 1945
Sound: Western Electric Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 5,808 feet
Running Time: 65 minutes
Production Code Administration Certificate Number: 10732
Source: “Based on the CHARLIE CHAN character created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Producer: James S. Burkett
Director: Phil Rosen
Assistant Director: Eddie Davis (not credited)
Original Screenplay: George Callahan
Director of Photography: William Sickner
Production Manager: William Strohbach
Editor: Richard Currier
Technical Director: Dave Milton
Musical Director: Edward J. Kay
Sound Recording: Tom Lambert
CAST (as credited):
Sidney Toler: Charlie Chan
Mantan Moreland: Birmingham Brown
Ben Carter: Ben Carter
Benson Fong: Tommy Chan
Virginia Brissac: Mrs. Marsh
Robert E. Homans: Captain Flynn
Jack Norton: Willie Rand
Janet Shaw: Gloria Bayne
Helen Devereaux: Diane Hall
Victoria Faust: Hulda Swenson (alias Janet Carter)
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
Kernan Cripps: Detective
I. Stanford Jolley: Ralph Brett (alias Rolf Brott and Britt)
Charles Jordan: Nelson
Kenner G. Kemp: Police Radio Expert
Milt Kibbee: Herbert Sinclair
Reid Kilpatrick: Wilbur Chester
Frank Mayo: Hodge
Leonard Mudie: Horace Karlos
Tom Quinn: Chemist
Charles Sherlock: Sergeant McGraw
Emmett Vogan: Hamilton
Charles Wagenheim: Rausch
Crane Whitley: Cooper (alias Carper and Cauper)
On the trail of a spy ring intent on stealing government radar plans, Charlie Chan, working as a federal agent, enlists the aid of Captain Flynn of the New York City police. Unfortunately, Flynn follows Chan’s lead to one of the spies, named Rausch, too closely, causing the spy to be killed by his mysterious boss.
Discovering that the murderer escaped in the stolen car of radio performer Diane Hall, Chan and his two assistants, number three son Tommy and chauffeur Birmingham Brown, go to the Cosmo Radio Center. There, they find a footprint identical to the bloody impression left by the murderer at the scene of the crime.
Meanwhile, Ralph Brett, the studio manager, telephones the leader of the spy ring, who uses a Western Union teletype machine to communicate with him. The message warns Brett to be more careful or meet the same fate as the murdered Rausch.
Later, Chan goes to the Hamilton Laboratory, which is located in the same building as the radio center. He is told of many unsuccessful attempts to break in and steal the radar plans from the laboratory’s safe. Chan then places phony radar plans in the safe in the event that the spies are more successful in the future.
After actress Gloria Bayne attempts to blackmail Brett, having found his matches in Diane’s recovered car, she is killed suddenly by an unidentified poison. Realizing that Chan may now be onto him, Brett telephones his boss, asking for help in escaping. The instructions that are teletyped to Brett lead him to his death via a service elevator with a trap door.
Upon finding the murdered studio manager, Chan has a voice impersonator call the spy leader, who, thinking that Brett is still alive, instructs him to use the service elevator once again. However, as Chan and Tommy step out of the gimmicked elevator, Birmingham suddenly has the floor drop out from beneath him. Holding on for his life and calling out for help, Chan, and Tommy, rescue him. Chan then questions the people who had worked with Brett and Gloria but receives no useful information.
Later, actor Willie Rand dies suddenly while performing on a live television show. He had just told Chan that he may have uncovered some important information. The detective soon finds, through laboratory analysis, that both Gloria Bayne and Willie Rand had been killed by a poisonous gas that was activated by a reaction to the nicotine inhaled through cigarette smoke.
Chan, Tommy, and Birmingham search the building, and the spy leader’s office is eventually found. The mysterious leader, trying to escape, is killed when the trap door in the service elevator accidentally opens. In the basement of the building, Chan and his assistants find the lifeless body of Mrs. Marsh, the ruthless radio sponsor who was also the mysterious leader of the spy ring.
NOTES: The working title of this film was Robot Murder. The title card reads: “Charlie Chan in The Scarlet Clue.” Hollywood Reporter production charts include Harry Bradley and William Gould in the cast, but their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter production charts also note that director of photography William Sickner was borrowed by Monogram from Universal to work on this film. The minor role of actor “Horace Carlos” is obviously based on film actor Boris Karloff, while the film’s killer wears a mask modeled on actor Rondo Hatton. Modern sources add the following actors to the cast: Charles Jordan (Nelson) and Kernan Cripps (Detective).
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
Contents of safe are only secure so long as someone outside watching safe.
What detective needs is great patience.
Suspect everyone on general principle.
So many fish in fish market, even flower smell same.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
(Tommy: “You know we have to look after you.”) You look after me until I’m out of sight.
(Tommy: “…no trouble is too big for us.”) Some of your trouble too big for me.
Number Three Son have excellent head. Question have always been, what it contain. (To Capt. Flynn)
(Tommy: “Well, I had an idea, but it’s gone now.”) Possibly could not stand solitary confinement.
(Tommy: “When it comes to detective work, I know my Ps and Qs.”) But are you familiar with rest of alphabet?
(Capt. Flynn: “Hey, it looks like the place has been robbed!”) Looks in this case not deceiving.
(Mrs. Marsh: “It’s an outrage!”) Murder also outrage.
THE WIT AND WISDOM OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN
(To Sgt. McGraw) “If he ain’t a black market man, my name ain’t Birmingham, and I can prove it is.”
Tommy: “He’s [Birmingham] right! That man’s business is as dark as –“
“It ain’t that dark.” (a brief bit of “indefinite talk”)
Sgt. McGraw: Can you identify him through a picture?”
“Yes sir! As mad as I am with that man, I hate to think of what I think of him; it makes me blush!.”
Sgt. McGraw (After Birmingham Brown’s elaborate explanation regarding his photo being included in a book of mug shots): “Do you expect us to believe that?”
“Well…it could be.”
Tommy (After Charlie Chan states that he’s now investigating a murder case): “Murder? Well, here I come!”
“Here I go!”
(In his haste to avoid another murder investigation, accidentally locking himself inside a holding cell) “The end of the line! She can’t do that to me! I paid my alimony this morning! Well, she can’t do that to me! Mr. Chan! Mr. Chan! Come get me out, please! I done changed my mind!”
Birmingham Brown and Ben Carter engage in “indefinite talk”:
“Well…if it ain’t, uhhh…”
Ben Carter: “Ben Carter’s my name.”
“Benjamin Carter, yeah! Boy, it’s been a long time! I haven’t seen you since –“
Ben Carter: “Longer than that!”
Ben Carter: “The last time I saw you, you was living –“
“Well, I moved from there.”
Ben Carter: “Yeah?”
“Sure! Well, I moved over to –“
Ben Carter: “How can you live in that neighborhood?”
“I don’t know.”
Ben Carter: “Now, where I’m living, I only pay –“
“It ain’t that cheap, is it?”
Ben Carter: “Sure it is.”
“Hey, look here.”
Ben Carter: “What?”
“Is you still married?”
Ben Carter: “No, I divorced her.”
“Yeah? (laughing) I know you got a lot of –“
Ben Carter: “No, you got me wrong, you got me wrong. I got married again.”
Carter: “I sure did.”
Ben Carter: “Say, I’m not changing the subject –“
Ben Carter: “Have you got any –“
“No, I don’t smoke.”
Ben Carter: “No?”
“Hey, look here; wasn’t you in the –“
Ben Carter: “Yeah, but I got a honorable discharge.”
Ben Carter: “Sure did.”
“What was the matter?”
Ben Carter: “Well, I developed a kind of –“
“Well, that’s a terrible pain!”
Ben Carter: “Yeah.”
“Yeah, it starts right along –“
Ben Carter: “No, more in the back.”
Ben Carter: “Mm-hm.”
“What are you doin’ for it?”
Ben Carter: “Well, I was takin’ some –“
“Don’t take ’em, man, they’ll make you sleep!”
Ben Carter: “Yeah?”
“Sure! Now, what you should have taken –“
Ben Carter: “I did.”
“You know, that’s why I like to talk to you!”
Ben Carter: “Yeah?”
“Because me and you seem to agree with each other.”
Ben Carter: “We certainly do!”
Ben Carter: “Oh, it’s about, uh –“
“Is it that late?”
Ben Carter: “It sure is.”
“Well, thank you.”
Ben Carter: “I’ll be seein’ you.”
Ben Carter: “Au revoir.”
Ben Carter: “Hasta manana.”
Tommy: “Who’s your friend?”
“Uh, he didn’t say.”
“No, he didn’t say.” (laughs)
(To Tommy, after seeing Horace Karlos pass by dressed as a monster) “I just saw somethin’ go in there that’s a combination between Dracula and a zombie…just fresh out of a graveyard!”
“I got a urge I wanta leave, but my legs won’t cooperate with me.”
“Radar? Radar? What is radar?”
Tommy: “Well, radon is, uh, well, it’s sort of a… Birmingham, don’t you know anything?”
“I know as much about radar as you do!”
Tommy: “What other people try to grab often turns out to be a valuable clue.”
“Clue to what?”
Tommy: “That’s what we’ll have to find out!”
“You just included me out!”
Tommy: “Someone’s coming!”
“It must have been a race-bookin’ office, because it was just as clean as I is when I make a bet.” (Regarding the sparseness of Cooper’s secret office)
Tommy: “Boy! Here we go again; surprise visit!!”
“No surprise to me!”
Tommy: “Birmingham, we’ve got to find George Brett.”
“Well, what’s the rush?”
Tommy: “Because he’s a killer!”
“Yeah, it’ll be just my luck to catch up with him!”
Birmingham Brown and Ben Carter engage in more “indefinite talk”:
“Uh, looky here. Did you see a –“
Ben Carter: “Not for the last ten minutes.”
Ben Carter: “No, but there was the fella –.”
Ben Carter: “Yeah.”
“Oh, he ain’t the one.”
Ben Carter: “No?”
“No, the fella I’m lookin’ for –“
Ben Carter: “I didn’t see him. But if you wait till I can –“
” I ain’t got time.”
Ben Carter: “No?”
“But maybe if you could –“
Ben Carter: “But I’m busy that night.”
“Oh, sure ’nuff?”
Ben Carter: “Yeah.”
“So, looky here.”
Ben Carter: “What?”
“Do you think that –“
Ben Carter: “Uhh, no, it’s getting late.”
Ben Carter: “Why don’t you –“
“I ain’t got a phone.”
Ben Carter: “No?”
“But I could, if you –“
Ben Carter: “Well, my car’s in the shop.”
Ben Carter: “Mm-hm.”
“Well, I’ll be, I’ll see you, then.”
Ben Carter: “I’ll be-I’ll be seeing you. Call me, now…”
Ben Carter: “So long.”
“All right, goodbye.”
(To Tommy) “Do you know that he –“
Tommy: “He can’t be that bad.”
“Nobody home – let’s go!”
When you’re huntin’ a killer you’re supposed to have a guard on the outside just in case. So, I think I’ll stay on the outside just in case.”
Tommy: “In case of what?”
“That the killer’s in there.”
Tommy: “Birmingham, take [search] another office.”
“Alone? Not me, I like company.”
Variety, May 16, 1945
Somewhat on a better plane than prior attempts by Monogram to capitalize on its Charlie Chan series, “The Scarlet Clue” is a whodunit that should please fans of this type of film fare.
Picture actually has suspense, and the well-written script keeps viewers guessing as to the actual murderer. Acting, too, is better than average, probably because main members of the cast have better material than in several previous pix. Sidney Toler, as Chan, plods along to a successful solution of the killings with able support from Benson Fong, in the role of his son, and Mantan Moreland, who supplies the comedy relief. Helen Devereaux handles her role capably as do the other supporting actors.
Yarn deals with plot to steal radar plans from the Government, causing the death of several people by remote control. Chan and his side center their activities in the radar plant which is also in the building where a radio station is located. Film gathers momentum and the denouement actually catches the viewers off guard.
PROBABLE DATE: Spring 1945
DURATION: Two days
POSSIBLE LOCATION: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“In the Scarlet Clue the eastern seaboard city goes unnamed, but given the date an the suggestion that the Cosmos Radio Center is beginning to branch into television suggests only three possibilities: NYC, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, which were the only cities on the eastern seaboard with television licenses in 1945. We can eliminate NYC as this city is referenced as Chan’s prior location. Similarly, I feel comfortable eliminating DC as the setting as this is supposedly Chan’s base of operations during several films. As a result Philadelphia emerges as a leader, with some additional support. The licensed Philadelphia Station in 1945 was WPTZ which was owned by Philco. Philco was originally founded as the Helios Electric Company. I find the Graeco-Roman similarities between Cosmos and Helios highly suggestive perhaps even derivative.
THE ADVERTISED SPECIALTY OF THE “MARINE CAFE”: Fish dinners
THE TYPE OF BUSINESS LOCATED NEXT DOOR TO THE “MARINE CAFE”: A delicatessen
CHARLIE CHAN’S “OLD FRIEND”: Captain Flynn (Charlie Chan: “Most happy to meet old friend.”)
THE LENGTH OF TIME CHARLIE CHAN WAS IN TOWN BEFORE BEING TELEPHONED BY CAPT. FLYNN: One hour
THE NAME OF THE SECOND OFFICER WORKING WITH CAPT. FLYNN: Hodge
ACCORDING TO CAPT. FLYNN, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT HE AND HODGE HAD BEEN TRAILING RAUSCH FROM THE TRAIN STATION: “…seven hours.”
THE FACTS OF RAUSCH’S DEATH, ACCORDING TO CAPT. FLYNN: “Stabbed within the last twenty minutes.”
CAPT. FLYNN’S PRECINCT: 12th
THE CAR LICENSE PLATE NUMBER NOTED BY CHARLIE CHAN: 9B2X54 (the car belonging to Dianne Hall that was used by the murderer of Rausch)
THE NAME OF THE RADIO AND TELEVISION STUDIO: Cosmo Radio Center
THE LOCATION OF THE TELEVISION STATION OFFICES AS WELL AS THOSE OF THE HAMILTON RESEARCH LABORATORY: 10th floor
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN THE TYPES OR RESEARCH CARRIED ON AT HAMILTON LABORATORY: “Radar, radio.”
THE NAME OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S UNCLE: Nicodemus Brown
TWO “MUG SHOTS” AND PRISON INFORMATION FOR NICODEMUS BROWN AND BIRMINGHAM BROWN AS SHOWN IN THIS FILM:
BIRMINGHAM BROWN’S MARITAL STATUS: Divorced and paying alimony
THE RADIO BROADCAST STUDIO WHERE CHARLIE CHAN SPOKE WITH DIANE HALL:
THE TIME AS DIANE HALL’S CAR WAS NOTED AS MISSING: 8:30 p.m.
ACCORDING TO TOMMY CHAN, THE CITY FROM WHICH CHARLIE CHAN AND COMPANY HAD COME: New York
A FACT ABOUT THE BLOODY SHOE PRINT FOUND IN THE HALLWAY OF THE COSMO RADIO CENTER, AS NOTED BY CHARLIE CHAN: “Right shoe.”
RALPH BRETT’S POSITION AT COSMO RADIO CENTER: Studio manager
THE TYPE OF DEVICE THAT WAS USED BY THE LEADER OF THE SPY RING TO COMMUNICATE WITH GANG MEMBERS: A Teletype machine
RALPH BRETT’S TELEPHONE STATEMENTS WITH THE SPY LEADER’S TELETYPED RESPONSES:
Brett: “He [Rausch] was ready to blab because Charlie Chan was after him, too. But he can’t talk now – he’s dead.”
Brett: “I borrowed Diana’s car last night to go to meet Rausch.”
THE NUMBER DIALED BY RALPH BRETT FOR INFORMATION: 123
THE TELEPHONE NUMBER FOR WHICH RALPH BRETT WAS SEEKING THE ADDRESS: HArding 2535 (used by Ralph Brett to reach the head of the spy gang)
THE NAME GIVEN TO INFORMATION OPERATOR BY RALPH BRETT IN ORDER TO OBTAIN THE ADDRESS CONNECTED WITH THE SPY LEADER’S TELEPHONE NUMBER: “…Inspector Grady, Precinct Station 27.”
THE ADDRESS OF THE OFFICE BELONGING TO THE ABOVE TELEPHONE NUMBER: 211, Algard Building
THE INFORMATION ON GLORIA BAYNE, AS READ BY CAPT. FLYNN: “Radio actress, small time, until she made a hit on Mrs. Marsh’s program. She used to be a gold digger, but she’s a hard worker. No record.”
THE INFORMATION ON DIANE HALL, AS READ BY CAPT. FLYNN: “Radio actress from legitimate stage, New York. Came here two months ago. Nothing definite on her except that she lives with Gloria Bayne.”
THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT DIANE HALL HAD WORKED AT COSMO RADIO CENTER: 2 months
THE PRODUCT ADVERTISED DURING MRS. MARSH’S RADIO SHOW: Marsh’s Mellow (waffle) Mix
CHARLIE CHAN’S ACQUAINTANCE: Mr. Hamilton (scientist experimenting with radar)
HAMILTON’S PAST GOVERNMENT WORK, ACCORDING TO HIMSELF: “Right here we began the work that today allows our night fighters to hunt down and destroy enemy airplanes without even seeing them.” (radar)
RALPH BRETT’S SECOND TELEPHONE MESSAGE TO THE SPY LEADER’S TELETYPED ANSWER:
Brett: “Listen. Gloria Bayne, an actress here, knows that I used Diana Hall’s car last night. She’s blackmailing me. What’ll I do?”
NAME OF THE MAN MET BY RALPH BRETT AT THE ALGARD BUILDING: Cooper
RALPH BRETT’S FINAL TELEPHONE MESSAGE TO THE SPY LEADER WITH THE LEADER’S TELETYPED ANSWER:
Brett: “Listen. Charlie Chan knows all about the Rausch murder. He’s after me. You’ve got to protect me! What do I do?”
THE NUMBER OF THE OFFICE IN WHICH THE SPY RING LEADER HAD A HIDDEN SWITCH TO RELEASE A TRAP DOOR ON THE ELEVATOR: 702
ACCORDING TO WILLIE RAND, THE LENGTH OF TIME SINCE HE HAD SEEN RALPH BRETT LISTENING TO CHAN’S CONVERSATION THROUGH THE DOOR TO BRETT’S OFFICE: “About twenty minutes ago.”
FOLLOWING RALPH BRETT’S DISAPPEARANCE, THE LENGTH OF TIME, ACCORDING TO CAPT. FLYNN, SINCE HE WAS LAST SEEN: “…eight hours…”
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE LOCATION WHERE RALPH BRETT HAD LAST BEEN SEEN ALIVE: “…on second floor of Cosmo Building.”
ALIASES USED BY COOPER IN THE PAST: Carper, Cauper
WHEN AND WHERE, ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, HE HAD PREVIOUSLY ARRESTED COOPER: “Six years ago in Singapore…” (1939)
THE NAME OF THE RADIO IMPERSONATOR USED BY CHARLIE CHAN TO IMITATE RALPH BRETT ON THE TELEPHONE: Mr. Dixon
THE TELETYPED MESSAGE RECEIVED BY CHARLIE CHAN FROM THE SPY LEADER (AFTER DIXON HAD IMITATED BRETT ON THE PHONE): “USE SERVICE ELEVATOR COME SEVENTH FLOOR IF I NOT THERE COME TENTH FLOOR” (Italicized words as read by Charlie Chan)
THE TELEVISION STUDIO AT COSMO RADIO CENTER USED TO BROADCAST WILLIE RAND’S ACT: Television Studio Number 1
THE TIME REMAINING TO “AIR,” ACCORDING TO THE TELEVISION DIRECTOR: “We go on in twenty seconds.”
THE TELEVISION CALL LETTERS AS ANNOUNCED BY THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES: “This is television experimental station WXK9X…”
WILLIE RAND’S TELEVISION ACT, AS INTRODUCED BY THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES: “…presenting ace comedian Willie Rand in his own conception of ‘The Dance of the Spirit.'”
THE TELEVISION ACT THAT WAS SWITCHED TO QUICKLY IN “TELE-STUDIO 2” AFTER WILLIE RAND SUDDENLY BECAME ILL: Miguel Moreno and his Marimba Band
WILBUR CHESTER’S OFFICE NUMBER: 702 (with hidden control for elevator trap door used by spy gang head)
THE POISON USED TO KILL BOTH GLORIA BAYNE AND WILLIE RAND: A combination of gas in capsules and nicotine in a smoked cigarette. The capsules were broken by a shortwave radio signal.
ACCORDING TO THE CORONER, THE FACTS REGARDING THE POISON USED BY THE KILLER: “…alone, either the gas or the cigarette is harmless… The combination of gas and nicotine becomes a poison and kills instantly.”
THE NUMBER OF THE OFFICE USED BY SPY GANG HEAD: 703 (with Teletype machine and high-frequency shortwave radio transmitter used to break hidden gas capsules)
ALIASES OF RALPH BRETT: Rolf Brott and Britt (as he was known in France)
ACCORDING TO HERSELF, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT JANET CARTER, GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATOR, HAD WORKED UNDERCOVER AT THE COSMO RADIO CENTER: “I came here a month ago on Mr. Chan’s orders.”
battle-ax (or battle-axe) – (Slang) A woman held to be antagonistic or overbearing.
Willie Rand: “Oh-oh. the battle-ax.”
blab – To reveal indiscreetly and thoughtlessly.
Ralph Brett: “He was ready to blab.”
gab – Idle talk; chatter.
Willie Rand: “You, see, I gab a lot.”
glope– (Informal) A person who gapes in astonishment or fear.
Mrs. Marsh: “Learn how to talk like a human instead of a glope…”
gold digger– (Informal) A woman who seeks money and expensive gifts from men.
Capt. Flynn: “She used to be a gold digger…”
radar– (1) A method of detecting distant objects and determining their position, velocity, or other characteristics by analysis of very high-frequency radio waves reflected from their surfaces. (2) The equipment used in such detection.
Hamilton: “All of my radar equipment has been taken away by the government.”
slave driver – A hard taskmaster; an overbearing employer.
Willie Rand: “He’s the slave driver.”
Teletype– Trademark name of a device that can send typed messages over telephone lines to a receiving device.
A Teletype machine was used by the gang leader to communicate with gang members.
zombie– A corpse that has been reanimated through a supernatural spell or power.
Birmingham Brown: “I just saw somthin’ go in there that’s a combination between Dracula and a zombie…”
zoot suit – A man’s suit popular during the early 1940s, characterized by full-legged, tight-cuffed trousers and a long coat with wide lapels and heavily padded, wide shoulders.
Birmingham Brown: “Look at that zoot suit he’s got on.”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.