AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Charlie Chan in Honolulu
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone (Dir)
Release Date:   13 Jan 1939
Production Date:   31 Oct--late Nov 1938
Duration (in mins):   67-68
Duration (in feet):   6,074
Duration (in reels):   7
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Cast:   Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan)  
    Phyllis Brooks (Judy Hayes)  
    Sen Yung (James Chan)  
    Eddie Collins (Al Hogan)  
    John King ([George] Randolph)  
    Claire Dodd ([Mrs. Elsie Hillman, alias] Mrs. Carol Wayne)  
    George Zucco (Dr. Cardigan)  
    Robert Barrat (Captain Johnson)  
    Marc Lawrence (Johnny McCoy)  
    Richard Lane ([Mike Hannigan, alias] Joe Arnold)  
    Layne Tom Jr. (Tommy Chan)  
    Philip Ahn (Wing Foo)  
    Paul Harvey (Inspector Rawlins)  

Summary: Honolulu police detective Charlie Chan is awaiting the arrival of his first grandchild, and after he, his wife and their son-in-law, Wing Foo, rush to the hospital, a call comes in for him to investigate a murder on the freighter Susan B. Jennings . Chan's "number two" son James, who wants to become his father's assistant, is persuaded by his little brother Tommy to answer the call himself, and prove to their father that he is a good investigator. Tommy tags along as Jimmy goes to the freighter which has just arrived from Shanghai. There Captain Johnson assumes that Jimmy is Chan and explains that the murdered man's identity is a mystery, and that secretary Judy Hayes was the only eyewitness to the fatal shooting. Jimmy decides to question the rest of the freighter's passengers, who include animal keeper Al Hogan, Mrs. Carol Wayne, psychiatrist Dr. Cardigan, criminal Johnny McCoy, and policeman Joe Arnold, who is taking McCoy back to Shanghai. Judy reveals that her lawyer employer in Shanghai told her to deliver a package containing $300,000 to a man who would meet her in Honolulu. The man identified himself by a pre-arranged signal, but he was shot by an unknown assailant before she gave him the money. First mate George Randolph, who has fallen in love with Judy, takes Jimmy to question the surly crew members, and Jimmy is saved from their ire by Chan, who arrives after having found out about the case from Inspector Rawlins, his boss. Chan questions Carol, who states that she was on the freighter to rest while her suit for divorce was being heard, and that she recently became a widow anyway. Chan finds a wrapper for part of the missing money in the doctor's compartment, and becomes more suspicious of Judy when she slips off the ship to call her employer about the stolen funds. Carol reveals that Randolph gave Judy a gun with which to protect herself, and upon examination of it, Chan finds that it is the same caliber as the murder weapon. Judy then protests to Randolph that she is being framed when he questions her about the missing money that he found hidden in her cabin. Chan and Jimmy find Carol after she has been strangled with a scarf, and Chan reveals that Arnold is actually Mike Harrigan, who, while in league with McCoy, murdered the real Arnold after escaping from prison. While Chan and Cardigan rig a trap for the killer, Chan reveals to the passengers that Carol was really Mrs. Elsie Hillman, the dead man's wife, and Judy states that although she did not know about Carol, she was delivering the money to the man so that he did not have to declare it in a divorce settlement. Chan's trap works when the killer attempts to grab the murder weapon and triggers a camera, and after Cardigan develops the photograph, Johnson is revealed as the murderer. Chan explains that Johnson was after the money, and later killed Carol when she became suspicious. After the case is wrapped up, Chan receives a call from Wing Foo and happily listens as his grandson cries into the phone. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone (Dir)
  Saul Wurtzel (Asst dir)
Producer: Sol M. Wurtzel (Prod)
  John Stone (Assoc prod)
Writer: Charles Belden (Orig scr)
  Chandler Sprague (Contr wrt)
Photography: Charles [G.] Clarke (Photog)
Art Direction: Richard Day (Art dir)
  Haldane Douglas (Art dir)
Film Editor: Nick DeMaggio (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
Costumes: Helen A. Myron (Cost)
Music: Samuel Kaylin (Mus dir)
Sound: Joseph E. Aiken (Sd)
  William H. Anderson (Sd)
Production Misc: James Ryan (Casting dir)
Country: United States
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. 13/1/1939 dd/mm/yyyy LP8722

PCA NO: 4861
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
Subjects (Major): Chinese Americans
  Fathers and sons
  Impersonation and imposture
Subjects (Minor): Brothers
  Honolulu (HI)
  Prison escapees
  Ship crews

Note: According to a HR news item, Richard Lane was originally signed to play the "romantic lead" opposite Phyllis Brooks. Lane plays criminal "Joe Arnold" in the film, however, while John King plays romantic lead "George Randolph." This was the first film in which Sidney Toler appeared as "Charlie Chan." According to a HR news item, associate producer John Stone chose Toler to be the successor of Warner Oland, who played Chan from 1931 until his death in 1938, after seeing him play a Chinese character in the Paramount film King of Chinatown (see below). Toler was the thirty-fifth actor tested for the role, and HR noted that others considered for the part included Leo Carrillo and Cy Kendall, who played Chan in a radio series. Toler portrayed Chan until his death in 1947. This was also the first film in which Sen Yung played "James Chan." Yung replaced Keye Luke, who had portrayed "Lee Chan" in earlier entries in the series. Luke left the series after Oland's death, when he and Twentieth Century-Fox disagreed on his new contract. According to HR news items, the search for Luke's replacement was "frantic," and led to casting director James Ryan seeking applicants among Los Angeles Chinese university students and Chinatown residents. NYT speculated that Charlie Chan in Honolulu would cost $300,000 to produce, and that Toler would receive $15,000 per Chan film. Many reviewers applauded Toler's and Yung's performances and noted that followers of the series would be satisfied with the new actors. The MPH review remarked on the novelty of a Chan film being previewed at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and stated that the 18 Dec 1939 showing was very well received by the "top ranking executives, the most sought after reviewers and commentators and invited guests" who attended. For more information on the series, please consult the Series Index and see the entry above for Charlie Chan Carries On

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   24 Dec 1938.   
Daily Variety   17 Dec 38   p. 3.
Film Daily   20 Dec 38   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Aug 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Oct 38   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Oct 38   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Oct 38   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Oct 38   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Oct 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Oct 38   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Nov 38   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Nov 38   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Dec 38   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Dec 38   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   21 Dec 38   p. 8.
Motion Picture Herald   10 Dec 38   p. 41.
Motion Picture Herald   24 Dec 38   p. 41.
New York Times   18 Dec 1938.   
New York Times   31 Dec 38   p. 7.
Variety   21 Dec 38   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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