Monogram Pictures Corporation
Distributed: Monogram Pictures Corporation, 1949
Production: December 1948
Copyright: Monogram Pictures Corporation, May 1, 1949; LP2407
Sound: Western Electric Recording
Film: Black and white
Running Time: 64 minutes
Production Code Administration Certificate number: 13645
Source: “Based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers”
Producer: James S. Burkett
Director: Lesley Selander
Assistant Directors: Wesley Barry and Ed Morey, Jr. (latter not credited)
Screenplay: Oliver Drake and Clint Johnston
Story: Clint Johnston
Photography: William Sickner
Camera Operator: John Martin (not credited)
Gaffer: Bob Campbell (not credited)
Stills: Bud Graybill (not credited)
Special Effects: Roy Mercer
Technical Director: David Milton
Film Editors: Roy Livingston and Ace Herman (latter not credited)
Musical Direction: Edward J. Kay
Recording: Tom Lambert and John Kean (latter not credited)
Makeup: Webb Overlander (not credited)
Hair Stylist: Lela Chambers (not credited)
Production Manager: Allen K. Wood
Script Supervisor: Ilona Vas (not credited)
Grip: Harry Lewis (not credited)
CAST (as credited):
Roland Winters: Charlie Chan
Keye Luke: Lee Chan
Mantan Moreland: Birmingham Brown
Noel Neill: Jane Marshall
Tim Ryan: Lieutenant Mike Ruark
Iris Adrian: Wanda LaFern
Elena Verdugo: Marie Burke (also known as Connie Barrett, Constance Jackson, and Constance LaFern)
Milburn Stone: [Captain] Tim Norton
Lyle Talbot: Andy Barrett (alias Andrew J. Smith, also called Andrew J. Barrett)
Paul Maxey: John Anderson
Joel Marston: Don Blake
John Eldredge: William E. French
Eddie Parks: Jonathan Tibbetts
Louise Franklin: Lena Franklin
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
Ivan Bell: Stagehand
Frank Cady: Clerk
Bob Curtis: Watkins
George Eldredge: Stacy
Suzette Harbin: Second Maid
Edna Holland: Old Maid
Charles Jordan: Assistant Stage Manager
Lyle Latell: Ed Davidson
William O’Brian: Airline Passenger
Frank O’Connor: Airline Passenger
Gaylord Pendleton: Ben Edwards
Lee Phelps: Plainclothesman
Cosmo Sardo: Pilot at Gate
Emmett Vogan: Doctor
Joe Whitehead: Doorman
Inside the cockpit of a commercial airliner, pilots Tim Norton and Don Blake talk with insurance couriers Ben Edwards and Ed Davidson, who are carrying a shipment of $250,000. Norton walks to the back of the passenger cabin for some coffee, just as stewardess Marie Burke begins serving the passengers. Marie, a former racketeer whose real name is Connie Barrett, notices that two of her former accomplices, Andy Barrett and follies star Wanda LaFern, are among the passengers. When they accuse her of stealing $60,000 from them, Marie Denies it and begs them not to ruin her chance at a new life.
Minutes after drinking the coffee, everyone on board the plane falls asleep, including the crew. Passenger Lee Chan, traveling with his father, Charlie Chan, is the first to awaken. He notices a limp hand protruding from the cockpit door, and, upon closer inspection, discovers that Davidson has been stabbed to death and that the insurance money has been stolen.
After Lee awakens his father, he shows the detective the body of the victim. The plane’s crew is still asleep, and the airliner is cruising on automatic pilot. As his son takes the controls of the plane, Chan wakes everyone up and explains the situation. John Anderson introduces himself as an investigator for the insurance company that had been responsible for the lost money.
When the plane lands in San Francisco, police lieutenant Mike Ruark along with the owner of the insurance company, William E. French, question the passengers and crew, however, nothing of importance is revealed.
Later, at the Gayety Theatre, where Wanda LaFern performs her burlesque routine, Norton and Blake arrive backstage to see the follies star. Outside of Wanda’s dressing room door, Wanda is heard accusing Marie, her sister, of stealing the insurance money.
Meanwhile, Chan, Lee, Ruark, and Chan’s chauffeur Birmingham Brown arrive at the theater, where they find Blake, who lies unconscious with a badly fractured skull. When Ruark sees Norton running away, he arrests him, while Blake is rushed to a hospital.
Andy Barrett breaks into Chan’s home trying to talk with the detective. As he holds a gun on Chan, and is about to reveal something of importance, he is shot dead by Anderson, who had been following him.
Later, after going through the marriage records of several California counties, Chan and Lee discover the information that they have been seeking and go to the home of Jonathan Tibbetts, the justice of the peace who had officiated at the Barretts’ wedding years earlier. Barrett explains that he always takes photographs of the newlywed couples, and offers to look for the negatives of the Barrett wedding.
As Tibbetts enters his garage to look for the negatives, a shadowy figure knocks him out and lights the negatives on fire. Chan and Lee are alerted to the fire by Birmingham, who sees the smoke coming from the garage. After they rescue Tibbetts, he checks his order book noting that he had sent photos to the LaFern sisters, Connie and Wanda. Later, Chan and Lee locate a newspaper article about the LaFern sisters which includes a photograph of the pair, and they immediately recognize Connie as Marie Burke.
With Lt. Ruark’s help, Chan summons all of the remaining suspects back onto the plane. The detective then asks Connie, Wanda, and Tim Norton to take their places at the rear of the plane where the coffee was being served during the fateful flight, and where the three were standing just prior to the robbery.
After Chan tells everyone about the attack on Don Blake at the theater, he announces that Blake has recovered enough to identify the thief and murderer. A heavily bandaged Lee, impersonating Blake, boards the plane. As he raises his arm to point out the guilty individual, Connie grabs a gun from her purse. Before she can fire the weapon, however, Anderson shoots and kills her.
Chan then reveals that it was Anderson who had taken the money, secretly passing it to his accomplice French in the lining of his overcoat after the plane had landed. When Ruark tries to arrest them, French pulls a gun. With French covering everyone, Anderson, an experienced pilot, enters the cockpit, locks the door, and takes off. Shutting off the plane’s fuel, he exits the cockpit and locks the door, and, wearing the plane’s sole parachute on his back, he holds a gun on everyone, including French, and attempts to parachute from the plane. Realizing now that he has been double-crossed, French struggles with Anderson, and both are then grabbed by the police.
As Chan was prepared for this situation, he supplies an extra key to the cockpit door. After Norton opens the door and restores fuel to the plane’s engines, Norton hands over the controls to Lee who heads the plane back to the airport.
NOTES: The working title of this film was Murder in the Air. The film’s title card reads: “Charlie Chan in The Sky Dragon.” Although Roy Livingston is credited onscreen as editor, Hollywood Reporter production charts credit Ace Herman as editor.
Keye Luke: “Sky Dragon was the best thing we made down at Monogram. I finished up the series – the forty-sixth, which is The Feathered Serpent, and the forty-seventh, which is Sky Dragon. They liked them so well – especially Sky Dragon – that they planned to make three more Chans over in London with frozen funds. I was in New York waiting to go over the Atlantic and got a call from them that said, ‘Gee, we’re sorry but Her Majesty’s government devaluated [sic] the pound and our frozen funds have taken a dive.’ So we never made them. Sky Dragon was a good story. It worked out very well and the response to it was so strong that they decided to make three more – Charlie Chan in London, Charlie Chan in Paris, and Charlie Chan in Rome, I think were the titles. Of course, we never did.” (Adapted from: Hanke, Ken, Charlie Chan at the Movies: History, Filmography, and Criticism, p. 251).
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN’S APHORISMS
Would much prefer to wait a few moments more to soar with eagle rather than rush to fly with fledgling sparrow.
Small flower receive blessing of rain with thanks.
Charlie Chan always interested in seeing that innocent do not carry burden of guilty.
Tired man’s idea sometimes very much like child’s nightmare – easily dispelled by bright light of day.
Innocent act without thinking; guilty always make plans.
Revenge and profit two of oldest motives for murder and robbery.
Justice must be blind to friendship.
Ideas planted too soon often like seeds on winter ground – quickly die.
Carrying gun very dangerous pastime, sometimes cause great tragedies.
To think is one thing, to have proof is another.
A case very much like photographic negative – proper development sometime bring very interesting things to light.
Death, even to deserving, never pleasant.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
(Lee: “Oh, be careful, Dad. Coffee stains would ruin these maps.”) Shall be very careful not to dampen maps, or enthusiasm, of young flyer.
(Lee: “With Birmingham to drive you anywhere, and me to fly you, there won’t be any place we can’t travel.”) At this point, would prefer number one son would restrict travel of elbows.
Loaded coffee cup not fly well. (After Lee caused his father to spill coffee on himself)
(“Small flower receive blessing of rain with thanks.”) This miserable person not look so grateful! (To Lee, after being awakened by him with a cup of water tossed into his face)
Perhaps clumsy accident most fortunate – sleep, not drug, win first place. (To Lee, regarding drugged coffee)
The case very much like photographic negative, Miss LaFern – proper development sometime bring very interesting things to light.
Variety, May 4, 1949
Roland Winters, as Charlie Chan, takes a powerful long time to solve a string of mystery killings while the murders keep happening, but he finally brings the killer to heel in a film that is far above the last half dozen in the in the series based on Earl Derr Biggers’ character. “Sky Dragon” should give the series something of a lift with exhibs. At least it’s adequate program fare.
First murder takes place on a skyliner coming into San Francisco while all the passengers and the pilot are unconscious from drugged coffee. Winters and his son, Keye Luke, are aboard and launch inquiry into the death of a guard who has been watching over shipment of $250,000 in cash. They are aided by Paul Maxey, insurance company dick, for whom the the murdered guard was working. Winters, by process of deduction, solves the mystery of the missing cash and the murder only after Elena Verdugo, plane hostess, and Llye [sic] Talbot, an ex-con, also have been slain. Maxey turns out to be the killer and is fingered by Winters during a reenactment of the crime aboard the plane.
Screenplay by Oliver Drake and Clint Johnston moves along and gives Winters an opportunity to please the audience with his amused Oriental blandness. Luke and Mantan Moreland deliver on comedy. Winters has most of the footage, but he gets good support from Tim Ryan, Milburn Stone, Joel Marston, Noel Neill, Miss Verdugo, Iris Adrian, Talbot, Maxey and Louise Franklin. Director Lesley Selander and producer James S. Burkett, with this one, are at least heading back towards the groove.
POSSIBLE DATE: Late 1948
DURATION: Probably four days
LOCATIONS: En route via airliner to and in and around San Francisco, California, as well as Riverside and Humboldt Counties and Hanesville, located in the latter
THE TYPE OF AIRLINER USED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND SON LEE TO REACH SAN FRANCISCO: Douglas DC-3
ACCORDING TO CAPTAIN TIM MORGAN, THE NUMBER OF TIMES THAT LEE CHAN HAD FLOWN ON THIS PARTICULAR “RUN”: “This is the fourth flight you’ve made on this run.”
THE CAREER FOR WHICH LEE CHAN WAS CURRENTLY TRAINING: Commercial airline pilot
ACCORDING TO ANDY BARRETT, THE REASON THAT HE AND WANDA LAFERN HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR MARIE BURKE (CONNIE BARRETT): “…a little matter of $60,000…”
ACCORDING TO LEE CHAN, WHEN HE EXPECTED TO RECEIVE HIS COMMERCIAL PILOT’S LICENSE: “…any day.”
THE AMOUNT OF TIME, ACCORDING TO LEE CHAN, THAT HE AND HIS POP HAD WAITED AT THE AIRPORT TO CATCH THEIR PRESENT FLIGHT: “…two hours…”
THE NUMBER OF CHARLIE CHAN’S FLIGHT: Flight 17
THE GATE AT WHICH CHARLIE CHAN’S FLIGHT ARRIVED: Gate A
ACCORDING TO JOHN ANDERSON, THE POSITION HELD BY WILLIAM E. FRENCH: “…President of the Apex Insurance and Bonding Company.”
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE AMOUNT OF MONEY STOLEN FROM THE MURDERED COURIER: “…quarter of million dollars…”
THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR WANDA LA FERN FOUND IN THE NEWSPAPER BY LEE CHAN:
THE COUNTY OFFICE VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND SON LEE: (San Francisco?) County Clerk’s Office
THE NEXT COUNTY OFFICE VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND SON LEE: Riverside County Clerk’s Office
THE THIRD COUNTY OFFICE VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND SON LEE: Humboldt County Clerk’s Office
ACCORDING TO THE RECORD ON FILE AT THE HUMBOLT COUNTY CLERK’S OFFICE, THE WEDDING DATE OF CONNIE JACKSON (CONNIE BARRETT) AND ANDREW J. BARRETT: “7/21/40”
ACCORDING TO THE SAME RECORD, THE NAME OF THE PERSON WHO CONDUCTED THE WEDDING OF CONNIE AND ANDREW BARRETT: “Jonathon Tibbetts, Justice of the Peace”
THE SIGN OUTSIDE OF THE RESIDENCE OF JONATHON TIBBETTS:
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE DATE OF THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN MISS CONNIE JACKSON AND ANDREW J. BARRETT: “Eight years ago…”
THE ADDRESS TO WHICH JONATHON TIBBETTS HAD SENT A SET OF WEDDING PICTURES: “…to Mrs. Barrett at the Tropical Inn in care of the LaFern sisters.”)
ACCORDING TO JONATHON TIBBETTS, THE PRESENT STATE OF THE TROPICAL INN: “It’s been torn down for the past four years. There’s an oil station on the lot, now.”
ACCORDING TO LEE CHAN, THE LOCATION OF THE TROPICAL INN: “…Hanesville.” (Somewhere in Humbolt County)
THE PHOTOGRAPH OF THE “LA FERN SISTERS,” FOUND BY LEE CHAN IN AN OLD COPY OF THE LONG BEACH PRESS-DISPATCH:
altimeter – An instrument for determining elevation, especially an aneroid barometer used in aircraft that senses pressure changes accompanying changes in altitude.
Lee Chan: “…with the airport altimeter setting…”
crate –(Slang) An old rickety vehicle, especially a decrepit automobile or aircraft.
Captain Tim Norton: “He’s crazy to try to take this crate off the ground.”
flatfoot – (Slang) A police officer.
Jane Marshall: “Company this trip?” Captain Tim Norton: “Yeah, flatfoot.”
gone – (Slang) To be so far advanced as to be “gone.”
Birmingham Brown: “I’m tellin’ you, you gone!”
marker beacons – Also known as lorenz beacons, marker beacons aided in the navigational positioning of aircraft, and, over the decades, this technology has seen considerable improvement.
Lee Chan: “…and the marker beacons you’re using.”
on a dime – (Idiom) At a precise point; within a narrowly defined area, as the dime (10 cents) is the smallest United States coin in size.
Lee Chan: “I can land it on a dime, too.”
powwow – (Informal) A conference or gathering.
Don Blake: “We’re just going to sit here and wait for Wanda LaFern and have us a little powwow.”
terpsechoean – Relating to dance.
Lena Franklin: “I’ll have you know that Miss La fern is an expert exponent of the terpsichorean art and a premier danseuse.”
For a complete glossary list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.