Charlie Chan in Paris

Movie Information

Genre: Mystery
Director: Lewis Seiler
Starring: Warner Oland, Keye Luke, Thomas Beck, Mary Brian, Erik Rhodes
Rated: NR

When Fox Films ran out of novels to adapt for their immensely profitable series of relatively inexpensive mysteries featuring the Chinese detective, the studio hit upon the idea of sending the supposedly Honolulu-based sleuth on a run of globe-trotting adventures where he could solve murders in exotic locales — even if those locales actually never got past stock footage, standing sets and the studio’s back lot.

The second of these found Charlie investigating a murder in the City of Lights. An unusually solid mystery (part of its plot was later lifted for Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise), the film benefits greatly by the first appearance of Keye Luke as Charlie’s number-one son, Lee Chan. The chemistry between the two performers was immediate and proved so popular that Luke co-starred with Oland in all but one of this leg of the series, which ended in 1938 with Oland’s death. The screenplay also marked the first of three contributions from mystery specialist Edward T. Lowe, and the one series entry to be directed by Lewis Seiler. Seiler gets the most out of the Paris setting and the film is unique in that it features the unusual (for the time) device of flashbacks to illustrate just how Charlie solved the mystery. But the real delight of the film lies in the teaming of Luke and Oland.

For years, this was thought to be a lost film, but a print surfaced in the 1970s, and unlike so many discoveries, revealed one of the best of all of Charlie’s mysteries.

In recent years, the Charlie Chan movies have come under a lot of fire owing to the casting of non-Asian actors (though Warner Oland claimed to be of partly Asian descent) in the role of Charlie, but it should be remembered that not only did these films introduce a number of Asian actors, such as Keye Luke, to the screen, they were also a huge step forward in presenting Asians in a positive light, since nearly every earlier screen incarnation of Asians were of the Fu Manchu variety. Here, for the first time, viewers were given an Asian hero. When looked at in this light — in terms of when they were made — the Chan series represented a very real advancement within their simple mystery-film format.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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