AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Charlie Chan at the Circus
Director: Harry Lachman (Dir)
Release Date:   27 Mar 1936
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 18 Mar 1936
Production Date:   began 6 Jan 1936; retakes early Feb 1936
Duration (in mins):   71-72
Duration (in feet):   6,500
Duration (in reels):   7
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Cast:   Warner Oland (Charlie Chan)  
    Keye Luke (Lee Chan)  
    George Brasno (Tim)  
    Olive Brasno (Tiny)  
    Francis Ford (John Gaines)  
    Maxine Reiner (Marie Norman)  
    John McGuire (Hal Blake)  
    Shirley Deane (Louise Norman)  
    Paul Stanton (Joe Kinney)  
    J. Carrol Naish (Tom Holt)  
    Boothe Howard (Dan Farrell)  
    Drue Leyton (Nellie Farrell)  
    Wade Boteler (Lieutenant Macy)  
    Shia Jung (Su Toy)  

Summary: Charlie Chan takes his wife and twelve children to the circus owned by kindly John Gaines and his unscrupulous partner, Joe Kinney. Kinney tells Chan that he has been receiving death threats, after which Kinney and Gaines quarrel over money. Kinney then tries to discipline Caesar, the circus' ape, but the handler, Hal Blake, warns Kinney that he treats Caesar too roughly. Hal seeks solace from his girl friend, Louise Norman, whose sister, aerialist Marie, is Kinney's fiancĂ©e. As the show goes on, Chan leaves his family to meet Kinney and discuss his problems. When he arrives at Kinney's wagon, however, Chan, Gaines, and dancing midgets Tim and Tiny discover that Kinney has been murdered. Because the wagon was locked from the inside, and because of the hairs found on the window sill, the others suspect that Caesar climbed through the window and killed Kinney. Chan, however, withholds judgement and turns the case over to Lieutenant Macy, then leaves with his family to continue their vacation. Later that night, however, Tiny appears at their hotel and pleads with Chan to continue the investigation to clear Tim and Gaines, who are being held for questioning. Chan convinces Macy to release Tim and Gaines and to allow the circus to travel on, in hopes that the killer will reveal himself as time passes. Chan, his son Lee and Macy travel with the circus and, despite an attempt on Chan's life that night, reach their destination the next day. They discover that the business wagon's safe has been broken into, and in the safe they find Kinney's insurance policy, naming Marie as the beneficiary, and a marriage certificate stating that Kinney and wardrobe mistress Nellie Farrell were married in Juarez, Mexico on 30 May. The trio later confronts Nellie and her brother Dan, and Nellie asserts that, as Kinney's widow, she is entitled to his half of the circus. Marie retorts that Nellie's claim is false, as Kinney could not have been in Juarez on that date, but before she can offer proof, she has to perform her act. While Marie is in the air, someone shoots her rigging and she falls to the ground. She is seriously injured and the doctor Chan summons states that she must be operated on immediately. While the doctor is tending to Marie, Chan looks through her scrapbook and discovers that on 30 May, Kinney was being held as a witness to a murder in El Paso. While Lee telephones the El Paso police for more information, Caesar is released from his cage. Caesar attempts to kill Marie during the operation but is caught, after which Chan reveals that it is not the true Caeser who was apprehended, but snake handler Tom Holt, disguised as the ape. The police confirm that Holt was the killer in El Paso, and Chan deduces that Kinney covered up for Holt but was later murdered by Holt when they quarreled over money. Holt then attempted to murder Marie, who is safely recovering at a hospital, because she could reveal the El Paso incident. Holt is arrested, along with Nellie and Dan, who forged the marriage certificate after Kinney's death. Gaines promises Chan lifetime passes to the circus as a reward for his help, and Lee romances Su Toy, a pretty Asian contortionist whom he had been pursuing throughout the investigation. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Harry Lachman (Dir)
  William Eckhardt (Asst dir)
Producer: John Stone (Assoc prod)
Writer: Robert Ellis (Orig scr)
  Helen Logan (Orig scr)
Photography: Daniel B. Clark (Photog)
Art Direction: Duncan Cramer (Art dir)
Film Editor: Alex Troffey (Film ed)
Costumes: William Lambert (Cost)
Music: Samuel Kaylin (Mus dir)
Sound: Arthur von Kirbach (Sd)
Country: United States
Language: English
Series: Charlie Chan

Source Text: Based on the character "Charlie Chan" created by Earl Derr Biggers.
Authors: Earl Derr Biggers

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 27/3/1936 dd/mm/yyyy LP6492

PCA NO: 1978
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Noiseless Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
Subjects (Major): Chinese Americans
  Circus owners
  Circus performers
Subjects (Minor): Animal trainers
  Falls from heights

Note: According to HR news items and production charts, June Lang and John Dilson were to be in the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a HR news item, the film was shot "on location at the Al G. Barnes winter quarters," and a MPH pre-release article states that "the Barnes Circus [was] used as a background for production settings." For additional information about the series, please consult the Series Index and see the entry below for Charlie Chan Carries On

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   21 Mar 1936.   
Daily Variety   12 Mar 36   p. 3.
Film Daily   17 Mar 36   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Jan 36   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jan 36   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Jan 36   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Feb 36   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Mar 36   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   6 Mar 36   p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald   15 Feb 36   p. 29.
Motion Picture Herald   28 Mar 36   p. 41.
New York Times   19 Mar 36   p. 22.
Variety   25 Mar 36   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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