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Charlie Chan at the Opera
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone (Dir)
Release Date:   8 Jan 1937
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 4 Dec 1936
Production Date:   mid-Sep--mid-Oct 1936
Duration (in mins):   66 or 68
Duration (in feet):   6,175
Duration (in reels):   7
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Cast:   Warner Oland (Charlie Chan)  
    Boris Karloff (Gravelle)  
    Keye Luke (Lee Chan)  
    Charlotte Henry (Mlle. Kitty)  
    Thomas Beck (Phil Childers)  
    Margaret Irving (Mme. Lilli Rochelle)  
    Gregory Gaye (Enrico Barelli)  
    Nedda Harrington (Mme. Anita Barelli)  
    Frank Conroy (Mr. Whitely)  
    Guy Usher (Inspector Regan)  
    William Demarest (Sergeant Kelly)  
    Maurice Cass (Mr. Arnold)  
    Tom McGuire (Morris)  

Summary: At the Rockland State Sanitorium, Gravelle, an opera singing amnesiac, regains his memory when he sees a newspaper article about prima donna Lilli Rochelle, then kills a guard to escape. Inspector Regan calls Charlie Chan in on the case, and as they are in his office discussing it, Lilli comes in, accompanied by her lover and fellow singer, Enrico Barelli, to complain about a threat stating she will die that night. Chan agrees to go to the opera that night, along with Sergeant Kelly, to investigate. Later at the theater, Phil Childers and his girl friend Kitty try to see Lilli but are turned away by Kelly just as Regan and Chan arrive and hear Lilli's husband Whitely and Enrico fighting over Lilli. Meanwhile, in the dressing room of Enrico's wife Anita, Gravelle appears, and although Anita is terrified because he was presumed dead in a theater fire years ago, she agrees to keep his presence a secret while he carries out his plan of singing Enrico's role on stage. Gravelle then menaces Enrico, who, along with Lilli, locked Gravelle in the burning theater, and soon it is Gravelle rather than Enrico who joins Lilli on stage for their duet. Lilli recognizes Gravelle's voice and faints after she leaves the stage. After Whitely carries Lilli off, the others rush to Enrico's room, only to find that he has been stabbed. While the others search for Gravelle, Phil enters Lilli's room and discovers that she is also dead. Whitely comes in and has Phil arrested, but when Chan questions Phil and Kitty, they tell him that Kitty is Lilli's daughter from her previous marriage to Gravelle and that Lilli refused to acknowledge Kitty in order to keep her past a secret. The young lovers were there to ask Lilli for her permission to marry, as Kitty is underage. Gravelle, who did not recognize Kitty, is stunned as he overhears. Later, Phil goes to see Regan, leaving Kitty alone, and Gravelle comes in. He gently questions her and plays the piano for her, but she does not remember him and faints from fright. Chan enters, and after Gravelle tells him about Lilli and Enrico's attempt to kill him, Chan flatters him into singing again. Chan arranges to have Anita sing Lilli's role, and during the duet, which involves Gravelle's character stabbing Anita's character, Anita becomes so scared that a police officer shoots Gravelle. Chan then demonstrates that Gravelle's knife is a prop and could not have been used in the murders. He explains that Anita was the only one who had access to Enrico and Lilli when they were alone and unconscious, and that she was also the only one who knew Gravelle was there and could therefore frame him. Anita confesses that jealousy drove her to kill her husband and his lover, and after she is taken away, Chan convinces Kitty to comfort injured Gravelle, thereby saving his life. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone (Dir)
  Sol Michaels (Asst dir)
Producer: John Stone (Assoc prod)
Writer: Scott Darling (Scr)
  Charles S. Belden (Scr)
  Bess Meredyth (Story)
Photography: Lucien Andriot (Photog)
Art Direction: Duncan Cramer (Art dir)
  Lewis Creber (Art dir)
Film Editor: Alex Troffey (Film ed)
Costumes: Herschel (Cost)
Music: Samuel Kaylin (Mus dir)
  Charles Maxwell (Orch)
Sound: George Leverett (Sd)
  Harry M. Leonard (Sd)
Country: United States
Series: Charlie Chan

Songs: "March Funebre," "Ah, Romantic Love Dream," "King and Country Call," "Carnival Marche" and "Then Farewell" from the opera Carnival , music by Oscar Levant, libretto by William Kernell.
Composer: William Kernell
  Oscar Levant
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. 5/12/1936 dd/mm/yyyy LP7256
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 8/1/1937 dd/mm/yyyy LP7043

PCA NO: 2796
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Noiseless Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: with songs
Subjects (Major): Chinese Americans
  Opera singers
Subjects (Minor): Amnesia
  Fathers and daughters
  Fathers and sons
  Long-lost relatives
  Mothers and daughters
  Police inspectors

Note: The film's title card reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox presents Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff in Charlie Chan at the Opera ." Although contemporary reviews call Margaret Irving's character "Lucretia Barrelli," she is called "Anita Barelli" in the film. A MPD news item noted that the picture was banned in Germany for having "too many murders." A HR news item stated that public response to the film's preview was so positive that Twentieth Century-Fox planned to up the production and advertising budgets for the Charlie Chan series, and that future films would see "Warner Oland co-starred with a top name opposite." The first actor the studio was said to be approaching to star with Oland was Peter Lorre. According to another HR news item, this film marked the first time that a DeBrie camera, which was lighter and more quiet than other models, was used in the United States. According to modern sources, H. Bruce Humberstone borrowed some of the sets from Café Metropole (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.0551) for this film. Oscar Levant, in his autobiographical writings, states that he was assigned to write an operatic sequence that could take advantage of a Mephistophelian costume that had been created for Lawrence Tibbett in a previous Twentieth Century-Fox film (presumably Under Your Spell , see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.4856). Levant also relates that the words for the opera were written originally in English by William Kernell and then translated into Italian by "studio linguists." For additional information on the series, please consult the Series Index and see the entry below for Charlie Chan Carries On

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   5 Dec 1936.   
Daily Variety   12 Nov 36   p. 3.
Film Daily   16 Nov 36   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Aug 36   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Sep 36   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Sep 36   p. 23.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Oct 36   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Nov 36   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Nov 36   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   13 Nov 36   p. 10.
Motion Picture Daily   27 May 37   p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald   17 Oct 36   p. 37.
Motion Picture Herald   28 Nov 36   p. 68.
New York Times   5 Dec 36   p. 16.
Variety   16 Dec 36   p. 21.

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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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