Monogram Pictures Corporation
Distributed: Monogram Pictures Corporation, September 29, 1945
Production: Late May to mid-June 1945
Copyright: Monogram Pictures Corporation, August 5, 1945; LP56
New York Preview: August 1, 1945
Sound: Western Electric Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 5,797 feet
Running Time: 64 minutes
Source: “Based on the CHARLIE CHAN character created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Producer: James S. Burkett
Director: Phil Karlson
Assistant Director: Eddie Davis (not credited)
Screenplay: George Callahan and George Wallace Sayre
Original Story: George Callahan
Director of Photography: Vincent Farrar
Editor: Ace Herman
Production Manager: Glen Cook
Musical Direction: Edward J. Kay
Art Direction: Dave Milton
Recording: Tom Lambert
Technical Director: Ormand McGill (not credited)
CAST (as credited):
Sidney Toler: Charlie Chan
Mantan Moreland: Birmingham Brown
Benson Fong: Tommy Chan
James Cardwell: Ned Stewart
Joan Barclay: Paula Webb (alias Pauline Webster and Paula van Horn)
Addison Richards: John Adams (alias Jan van Horn)
Arthur Loft: Bradford Harris (alias Special Agent Hume)
Janet Warren: Lorraine
Gene Stutenroth: Morgan
Joe Devlin: Taylor
James Flavin: H.R. Jarvis
Roy Gordon: Walter Fletcher
Walter Fenner: Inspector Harry Davis
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
Andy Andrews: Police Officer Outside Joe’s Coffee Shop
Bob Blair: Corning
George Chandler: Joe Nelson
Cyril Delevanti: Larkin
John Goldsworthy: Manwaring
Stephan Gregory: Samuel Black
Karen Knight: Telephone Switchboard Supervisor
Mary Moore: Rita
Tiny Newlin: Guard
Dianne Quillan: Telephone Operator
Bob Reeves: Police Officer
Jack Richardson: Mailman
Bill Ruhl: Gregory
After Samuel Black is killed by what appears to be a cobra bite, the third victim in a series of mysterious deaths, Inspector Harry Davis of the New York City homicide squad sends a telegram to his old friend from his early days on the beat in Honolulu, Charlie Chan, for help on this puzzling case. Davis knows that eight years ago in Shanghai, China, Chan had worked on a similar “cobra killer” case involving accused murderer Jan van Horn. Van Horn, who had been badly disfigured during the Japanese bombing of that city, escaped while under arrest and was never found.
Chan, continuing his work for the United States government during the war, arrives in New York and quickly learns that all three victims had been employed by the Sixth National Bank, whose vault contains millions of dollars worth of the government’s radium. With the help of his number three son, Tommy, and his chauffeur, Birmingham Brown, Chan learns that Ned Stewart, a novice private detective, had been seen with Black on the night of his death. After Stewart tells Chan that he had been hired by an unknown man to watch Paula Webb, the bank president’s secretary, Chan checks with Paula, who corroborates his story.
Meanwhile, Larkin, a police undercover plant working at the Sixth National Bank, disappears after calling Davis for help. Soon thereafter, Davis learns that gangsters Morgan and Taylor were seen in the office of bank president Walter Fletcher. Tommy and Birmingham, sighting the thugs on the street, follow them to a nearby laundry. Discovering a secret passageway leading from the laundry to the city sewer system, Chan’s two assistants stumble upon Larkin’s body.
An autopsy concludes that Larkin was also killed with cobra venom, so Chan reasons that there must also be a secret passageway into the bank. Back in the sewers, Chan, Ned Stewart, and Davis discover a secret entrance into Paula’s office.
The investigators then go to a nearby coffee shop, whose proprietor, Joe Nelson, tells them that he received his unusual video jukebox, which is connected to an operator in another location, from van Horn. Recognizing the female jukebox operator’s voice from the bank, Chan and Davis search the office of chemical engineer H. R. Jarvis, where they find Lorraine operating the jukebox from a hidden room. Chan quickly comes to the realization that Black and the other victims had been poisoned by cobra venom after they had requested change from the jukebox, pushing the coin return button.
Hoping to flush out the gangsters by forcing them to act, Chan sends a false story to the local newspapers that the government plans to remove its store of radium the next day. While Chan checks the vault, Tommy and Birmingham follow Morgan into the laundry. The two become trapped in the sewer as gangsters Morgan and Taylor drop a high explosive from above, attempting to kill them. Chan, hearing the muffled explosion from the bank above, hurries down into the sewer to see what has happened. As Chan tries to free his two trapped assistants, a loosened section of the sewer caves in, trapping all three. However, Chan notices a telephone line and uses it to send a Morse code message which is understood by a telephone operator supervisor, who relays the information to Inspector Davis. The police arrive in time at the bank to capture the gangsters, and they also rescue Chan, Tommy, and Birmingham.
Later, Charlie Chan concludes that John Adams, a bank guard, is actually Jan Van Horn, and Paula is his daughter. Van Horn tells how he had followed Jarvis to America eight years earlier, believing that he was one of the men who had framed him for murder in Shanghai. Chan then recognizes bank officer Bradford Harris as Special Agent Hume of the Shanghai police, and he is arrested as the real killer and leader of the gang.
NOTES: The title card for this film reads: “Charlie Chan in The Shanghai Cobra.” In The Shanghai Cobra, we see an odd one-way video jukebox operated from a distant location. This is very probably an adaptation of the idea of “Soundies,” which were popular during the early to mid-1940s. Soundies, precursors of today’s music videos, were viewed on special 16 mm rear-projected machines called Panorams. These machines were located in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, etc.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
In my business, always expect to find something wrong.
Rising generation sit too much.
Ancient ancestor once say, “Even wise man cannot fathom depth of woman’s smile.”
Buildings can be altered without altering plans.
Cannot sell bearskin before shooting bear.
Police do not read Emily Post.
Mice will never play so long as cat is in house.
Too many hands sometime spoil pudding.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
Much better for you to have dinner with young detective than with old detective. (To Paula Webb)You talk fast, you think fast. (To Tommy)
(Tommy: “Pop, I want to talk to you as man to man.”) I am ready, but you still have few years to go.
Lawbreakers make first move, so we make second one. (To Inspector Davis)
Must offend Emily Post once more; your company not desired. (To Fletcher)
(Harris [to Stewart]: “Where’d you come from? I didn’t see you come in.”) You can see us all go out.
(Davis: “You know, this is slightly illegal.” [upon entering H.R. Jarvis’ office with a skeleton key]) Four murders slightly more illegal.
(Tommy: “Want a suggestion, Pop?”) No.
THE WIT AND WISDOM OF BIRMINGHAM BROWN
Tommy: “Doesn’t the bank smell nice, huh?”
“Yeah, but that green stuff don’t look bad, either.”
Charlie Chan (to Birmingham): “You get illegal U-turn ticket?“
“Mr. Chan, I’ll tell you just how — Tommy, you tell him!”
Tommy: “I warned you, Birmingham, I said, ‘No U-turn here’.”
“Yeah, that’s what you said, ‘No, you turn here‘!
“Tommy: “I said, ‘No U-turn here’.”
“That’s what I did! You said, ‘No, you turn here’!”
Tommy: “Pop, I told him! I said, ‘No U-turn here’!”
“That’s what you said, No, you turn here’, and I did!”
Tommy: “You see what I mean, Pop? I said, ‘No U-turn here’!”
“Mr. Chan, did you hear? He said, No you –‘”
Charlie Chan: “Please! Please! You turn so many U-turns you have my head spinning like Merry-go-round!”
“Hey – where we goin’?”
Tommy: “We’re going to investigate on our own! We’ll show Pop!”
“You show him! I’m gonna stay right here!”
Tommy: “C’mon, we’re going to check-up on the sewer.”
“Sewer. Why this detective job ain’t sanitary!”
Tommy: “Birmingham! That’s them! The fellas whose pictures we saw at the Investigator’s office! Let’s follow them!”
“No, no! Let’s stay right here!”
Tommy: “Suppose Paul Revere had waited! Where would this country be now? Come on!”
“Now, wait a minute, I’m Birmingham, I ain’t Paul Revere!”
(After sitting on a table causing it to tip, opening a trap door) “Gracious! Earthquake! The floor’s movin’! And everything’s movin’! Tommy, I’m gonna move! Let’s get out!”
(To Tommy) “You said there was murderers here.”
“Now, why do you want to go down there and find out?”
(To Tommy as he and Birmingham investigate down in the sewer system) “Why don’t you investigate where all this light is? Why do you want to go down there in the dark?”
Tommy: “Birmingham! We’re going to stay down here [in the sewer] and solve these murders even if the water comes up to my neck!”
“Your neck?” (Noting that Tommy’s neck measures above Birmingham’s head) “Mm-mm! I’m goin’!”
(Moving along cautiously in the darkness of the sewer) “Take it easy…c’mon, feet.”
Tommy: (Noting a body): “Why, he’s dead! He’s gone!”
“He’s gone – I’m goin’!”
Tommy (Noting the absence of the trap door in the laundry that he and Birmingham had seen earlier): “Why – trap door’s gone!”
“Well, don’t look at me, I didn’t take it!”
Charlie Chan (To Tommy and Birmingham Brown): You two watch from across street. I see you later, hurry!”
“Thank you, Mr. Chan! Thank you very much!”
Charlie Chan (Speaking through the remote juke box): “Sorry to keep you waiting.”
Tommy Chan (Confused at hearing his Pop’s voice): “Oh, it’s okay, Pop! (To Birmingham) I thought I heard Pop’s voice!”
Charlie Chan: “You did!”
“Mm. I knew it! I knew it! You fool around with murders and you turn up a ghost!”
Tommy (Regarding the tall gang member he and Birmingham are following): “He must have gone in the laundry.”
“As big as he is, I don’t care where he went!”
Tommy: “Birmingham, if I didn’t know you better, I’d think you were scared!”“Well, I ain’t relaxed, either.”
Tommy (Regarding the gang member): “He’s down in there, the trap door’s open!”
“Well, I’m goin’ out!”
Tommy: “Do you think it [Chan’s emergency message] will get through, Pop?”
Charlie Chan: “If not, Number Three Son and father will join honorable ancestors.”
“Mr. Chan, tell your honorable ancestors to move over and make room for me.”
Variety, August 8, 1945
To the Charlie Chan addicts this may be par, but viewed as an ordinary whodunit it’s just slow-paced, talky material without particular flavor.
The Chinese dick employed by the U.S. Government is put on a case which involves the killing of people who are bitten by a cobra. There is a lot of pointless walking and riding to, and from, and in the sewers underneath a bank where the Government has stored radium. There is a lot of chatter which is supposed to be amusing, but would bore anyone above the age of eight. In the end there is a surprise when it turns out that the bank guard is not a blackguard, but really a big innocent. But even that point is developed mechanically.
Sidney Toler seems tired as Charlie Chan. Benson Fong seems wasted as Charlie’s son, while Mantan Moreland as “Birmingham” is just the stereotyped Negro chauffeur.
THE PROBABLE DATE OF CHARLIE CHAN’S INVOLVEMENT WITH THIS CASE: Spring 1945
DURATION: Three days
LOCATION: New York City
THE BANK BUILDING SHOWN: Sixth National Bank Building
THE LOCATION OF “JOE’S COFFEE SHOP”: On a corner, across the street from the Sixth National Bank
THE POSTED PRICE OF “JOE’S SPECIAL CLAM CHOWDER”: 35 cents
THE POSTED PRICE OF “PIE A LA MODE” AT JOE’S COFFEE SHOP: 15 cents
JOE’S SPECIAL OF THE DAY: Beef stew (“…on account of it’s a rainy day.”)
THE SONG REQUESTED OF THE VIDEO JUKEBOX OPERATOR BY SAMUEL BLACK: “Number ten, The Blue Danube.”
THE PRICE OF A CUP OF COFFEE AT JOE’S COFFEE SHOP: 10 cents
THE COIN USED BY NED STEWART TO PAY FOR PAULA WEBB’S AND HIS COFFEE: A quarter
THE COST FOR A SONG TO BE PLAYED ON THE VIDEO JUKEBOX: 5 cents
THE POLICE PRECINCT OFFICE SHOWN: 12th Precinct
THE NEW YORK BULLETIN HEADLINE: “THIRD COBRA KILLING”
THE NAME OF THE DETECTIVE WHO GAVE INSPECTOR DAVIS INFORMATION ON THE COBRA KILLINGS IN SHANGHAI: Mr. Gray
THE SOURCE OF THIS INFORMATION, ACCORDING TO MR. GRAY:
“…Washington just got it from Scotland Yard.”
CHARLIE CHAN’S “OLD FRIEND”: Inspector Harry Davis (“…walked the same beat in Honolulu.”)
INSPECTOR DAVIS’ PRECINCT: 12th
THE NAME OF THE PERSON TAKING TELEGRAM INFORMATION FROM INSPECTOR DAVIS: George
INSPECTOR DAVIS’ WESTERN UNION TELEGRAM TO CHARLIE CHAN:
THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT ACROSS THE STREET FROM CHARLIE CHAN’S SECRET SERVICE OFFICE AT THE FEDERAL BUILDING IN WASHINGTON, D.C.: Blue Diamond Grills
CHARLIE CHAN’S COMMENT TO INSPECTOR DAVIS REGARDING THE COBRA KILLINGS: “In four months, three persons are murdered by bite of cobra fangs.”
THE THREE COBRA VICTIMS, AS NOTED BY INSPECTOR DAVIS: “Man named Rafferty, then a girl called Dunham, and then a man named Black.”
THE COBRA VICTIMS’ CONNECTION, ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN: “All three victims work for Sixth National Bank.”
THE COBRA VICTIMS’ JOBS AT THE SIXTH NATIONAL BANK, AS STATED BY INSPECTOR DAVIS: “The men were bank guards, and the girl worked in the posting department.”
THE YEAR, BY CHARLIE CHAN’S STATEMENT, THAT HE WAS IN SHANGHAI, CHINA WHEN HE WAS INVOLVED WITH VAN HORN: 1937 (“…eight years ago…”)
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST JAN VAN HORN IN SHANGHAI: “…bank robbery and murder by cobra bite.”
THE DATE OF THE FIRST DAY OF THE BOMBING OF SHANGHAI BY THE JAPANESE (THE DAY THAT VAN HORN WAS CAPTURED BY POLICE WHILE CHARLIE CHAN WAS IN SHANGHAI): October 14, 1937 (Charlie Chan: “It was the first day Japanese bombers fly over city of Shanghai.”)
THE NAME OF THE INSPECTOR AT THE BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SETTLEMENT POLICE HEADQUARTERS IN SHANGHAI: Inspector Manwaring
THE NAME OF THE MAN INTO WHOSE CUSTODY JAN VAN HORN WAS PLACED: Special Agent Hume (As ordered by Mr. Corning)
THE AGENCY TO WHICH JAN VAN HORN WAS BEING TRANSPORTED: “Singapore authorities”
“VALUABLE” U.S. GOVERNMENT ITEM THAT WAS BEING STORED IN THE VAULT OF THE SIXTH NATIONAL BANK: Radium stores
THE POSTED BANKING HOURS FOR THE SIXTH NATIONAL BANK:
THE VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE SIXTH NATIONAL BANK: Bradford Harris
THE YEARS, ACCORDING TO WALTER FLETCHER, THAT HE WAS IN SHANGHAI: “…in 1936 and 1937 for the International Bank Company.”
THE NUMBER OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT’S SAFETY DEPOSIT BOX AT THE SIXTH NATIONAL BANK: 210
THE TERM USED BY JOE TO REFER TO PAULA WEBB: “Peacherino”
NED STEWART’S DETECTIVE AGENCY AS SEEN IN THE TELEPHONE DIRECTORY:
THE NAME OF THE PERSON WHO HIRED NED STEWART TO WATCH PAULA WEBB (PAULINE WEBSTER): R. Rogers
ACCORDING TO NED STEWART, THE DATE THAT HE OPENED HIS DETECTIVE AGENCY: “…four months ago.”
THE ADDRESS OF PAULA WEBB (PAULINE WEBSTER): 1055 Harlay Street
THE TEXT OF THE NOTE SENT TO NED STEWART BY “R. ROGERS” WITH HIS FINAL PAYMENT, AS READ BY INSPECTOR DAVIS:
“Payment in full for services to date. Do nothing more about Pauline Webster.
(signed) R. Rogers”
THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT POLICE DETECTIVE LARKIN HAD BEEN WORKING UNDERCOVER AT THE SIXTH NATIONAL BANK, ACCORDING TO INSPECTOR DAVIS: “…three months…”
THE NEW YORK DAILY DISPATCH HEADLINE:
THE NAME OF THE RESTAURANT WHERE CHARLIE CHAN MET PAULS WEBB: Lotus Garden Cafe
THE TIME OF CHARLIE CHAN’S MEETING WITH PAULA WEBB: 7:30 p.m.
THE NAME OF THE CLUB LOCATED ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE LOTUS GARDEN CAFE: The Tropics
TAYLOR’S MUG SHOT AND ARREST INFORMATION:
MORGAN’S MUG SHOT AND ARREST INFORMATION:
THE NAME OF THE LAUNDRY USED BY THE GANG: “Complete Laundry Service”
THE “PLAN” SUGGESTED BY TOMMY SO THAT HE AND BIRMINGHAM BROWN COULD GAIN ACCESS TO THE LAUNDRY: “Eager beaver routine number five”
THE LOCATION OF THE JUKEBOX COMPANY: Second floor of the Sixth National Bank Building
THE NAME GIVEN BY TOMMY CHAN TO THE LAUNDRY RECEPTIONIST AS THE PERSON HE WAS LOOKING FOR: Evelyn Wing
THE SIGN ON THE DOOR OF THE OFFICE WHERE THE UNUSUAL VIDEO JUKEBOX WAS OPERATED:
THE NUMBER OF H.R. JARVIS’ OFFICE: 21
THE NAME OF THE “VERY POWERFUL EXPLOSIVE” FOUND BY CHARLIE CHAN IN JARVIS’ LAB: Pentalite
THE TIME GIVEN BY JARVIS TO MORGAN TO SYNCHRONIZE THEIR WATCHES: 7:05 p.m. (“It’s now five after seven.”)
THE TIME THAT JARVIS WAS TO PLACE THE ROCKET IN THE TUBE BENEATH THE SIXTH NATIONAL BANK VAULT: 11 p.m. (“…at exactly eleven o’clock.”)
ACCORDING TO FLETCHER, THE TIME SET FOR THE BANK’S TIME LOCK TO OPEN: “…nine tomorrow.”
THE MESSAGE SENT OUT IN MORSE CODE BY CHARLIE CHAN OVER A TELEPHONE LINE WHILE TRAPPED IN THE COLLAPSED SEWER WITH SON TOMMY AND BIRMINGHAM BROWN: “Bank robbers apparently attempting to blow vault by using pentalite bomb in mysterious tube in maintenance tunnel. Instruct men to proceed at once with our plan. We are imprisoned in sewer tunnel by explosion.”
angle – (Slang) A devious method; a scheme.
Ned Stewart: “All right, boys, what’s your angle?”
call it square – (Idiom) To acknowledge that a debt or obligation has been paid.
Rita: “Next time bring your laundry and I’ll call it square.”
chezchez la peacherino (cherchez la peacherino) – (Corrupted French; Informal) “Look for (cherchez) the peacherino (the peach [woman]).” (See also: peacherino)
Tommy Chan: “As the French say: ‘Chezchez la peacherino.'”
chum – An intimate friend or companion.
Ned Stewart: “You’ve come to the wrong place, chum…”
dope – (Slang) Information.
Gray: “Chief, here’s the latest dope on the Cobra Killings.”
Emily Post (1872-1960) – An American author famous for writing books and newspaper columns about etiquette.
Charlie Chan: “Sorry, police do not read Emily Post.”
framed – (Informal) Made up evidence or contrived events so as to have falsely incriminated a person.
Jan Van Horn: “I’m being framed, I tell you.”
hiya (hi ya) – Used as a greeting.
Taylor: “Hiya, Jarvis.”
hoosegow – (Slang) A jail.
Charlie Chan: “No. You turn here and go to hoosegow.”
jukebox – A money-operated phonograph equipped to play a selection of particular recordings.
Joe: “That’s just the girl that plays records over the jukebox.”
nab – (Informal) To arrest or capture.
Inspector Harry Davis: “…and we’ll nab him!”
nail – (Informal) To stop and seize; catch.
Inspector Harry Davis: “I’ll have my men outside and we’ll nail ’em.”
peacherino – (Informal) Variant of peach. A very attractive woman.
Joe: “…he went through here like a flash chasing the peacherino.”
railroaded – (Informal) To convict an accused person without a fair trial or on trumped-up charges.
Jan Van Horn: “I tell you, I’m being railroaded.”
skeleton key – A key with a large portion of the bit filed away so that it can open different locks. Also called a passkey.
Charlie Chan: “Skeleton key, please.”
slip-up – An error, blunder, or oversight.
Jarvis: “We must make sure that there’s no slip-up.”
square – (Idiom) To settle or make things right.
Rita: “Forget it. Next time bring your laundry and I’ll call it square.”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.