Friday, April 19, 2019

Charlie Chan in Panama ( 1940 )

Detective Charlie Chan finds himself once again in the midst of treachery and danger when he heads down to Panama in this 22nd installment of 20th Century Fox's Charlie Chan film series.

A sinister criminal by the name of Reiner is intent on destroying the U.S naval fleet as it passes through the Panama Canal. Chan, who is working undercover in Panama City, has only one clue to Reiner's identity - he or she was one of the nine passengers aboard the Trans-Panama Airways clipper ship that arrived in Panama City the morning of the death of Chan's contact agent Mr. Godley. Within 48 hours, Chan - with the aid of his Number 2 son - must unmask Reiner and discover how this mastermind will attempt to destroy the fleet.

There were 28 Charlie Chan films made for Fox studios and Charlie Chan in Panama ranks high as a fan favorite. It was based on the 1934 film Marie Gallante starring Ketti Gallian and Spencer Tracy. Screenwriters Lester Ziffren and John Larkin heightened its entertainment value immensely by adding numerous suspicious characters and clever red herrings.
Among the suspects are novelist Clivedon Compton ( Lionel Atwill ), scientist Dr. Grosser ( Lionel Royce ) who is experimenting with infecting rats with the bubonic plague, engineer Richard Cabot ( Kane Richmond ), schoolteacher Miss Finch ( Mary Nash ), tobacconist Achmad Halide ( Frank Puglia ) and a cabaret singer by the fanciful name of Kathi von Czardas ( Jean Rogers ). 

"Bad alibi like dead fish, cannot stand test of time."

Sidney Toler is always wonderful to watch. After Warner Oland's untimely demise, Toler took over the role of the world-famous Honolulu detective and added his own unique touches to the character. Victor Sen Yung makes his fourth appearance as Jimmy Chan, Charlie's Number Two son, and he is a delight as well. Later, he would become famous on television as the chef Hop-Sing in Bonanza
As in most of the Chan films, the atmospheric settings are excellent, with credit going to art director Richard Day ( How Green Was My Valley ) for his beautiful sets. Charlie Chan in Panama was tautly directed by Norman Foster who helmed most of the Mr. Moto series of films. 


  1. My favourite spy movie! What a treat to see this title and to read your glowing article.

    1. PS: It has been a long time since the Inspector visited my blog, so I am doing Charlie Chan on Broadway for Annette's Hollywood Gangster blogathon on May 6-8.

  2. I need to see this one again! I enjoy all of the Oland-Toler Charlie Chan films. As you wrote, they all make good use of their locations, which are typically integrated into the mysteries. And let's face it, you can't have a better murder suspect than Lionel Atwill!

    1. It's amazing how Lionel Atwill looks practically the same in every film and yet has such different characters! We watched him back to back in two Chan films and I barely recognized him..yet how can you miss that face?