Friday, December 10, 2004

The Charlie Chan Books at the Movies--Rio Style

We have a movie based on an original Charlie Chan story by Earl Derr Biggers this week but it wasn't the first one made from one of his stories!

The Black Camel had come out in 1929 and Derr Biggers' story, from title to location shots in Honolulu, came out in 1931, starring Warner Oland.

Ten years later, Sidney Toler starred in the remake of Charlie Chan in Rio.

One difference was that the original book's star, actress Shelah Fane, was doing location work in Hawaii becomes Rio's Lola Dean had been starring in a nightclub revue.

One aspect that was treated differently in each movie was the subject of psychics. The Black Camel had Bela Lugosi playing Tarnevarro in one of the spookiest seances in the Chan movies. It was highly atmospheric with the actors playing against almost film noir lighting while utilizing a well-written script that all came together to form a highly tense and suspenseful scene.

Victor Jory played the psychic, Marana, in Rio. He gave "psychognitions," a high-priced and updated version (in 1941) of Tarnevarro's seance. Marana utilized custom-made cigarettes with a special additive that interacted with coffee to induce a "semi-comatose state," when the client became unable to lie.

One difference between the movies is in the use of side-kicks. Kashimo was a straight-forward case of frustration for Chan in Black Camel, reflecting the more serious tone of the original. Number 2 son," Jimmy, greatly adds to the more playful quality of Rio, especially with his scenes with Iris Wong as the maid, Lili Wong.

An irony of both movies is in the actors. Bela Lugosi had just made Dracula which would launch his career in movies and would see it decline until his death in 1958. (Dwight Frye was also in Dracula with Lugosi but was so typecast in demented roles that his career just seemed to stall in place.)

Robert Young went along in his movie career until the fifties when he hit paydirt on television, first starring in Father Knows Best and then as Marcus Welby, M.D.


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