AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Charlie Chan in Reno
Alternate Title: Death Makes a Decree
Director: Norman Foster (Dir)
Release Date:   16 Jun 1939
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 31 May 1939
Production Date:   23 Jan--24 Feb 1939
Duration (in mins):   70
Duration (in feet):   6,379
Duration (in reels):   7
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Cast:   Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan)  
    Ricardo Cortez (Dr. Ainsley)  
    Phyllis Brooks (Vivian Wells)  
    Slim Summerville (Sheriff Fletcher)  
    Kane Richmond (Curtis Whitman)  
    Sen Yung (James Chan)  
    Pauline Moore (Mary Whitman)  
    Eddie Collins (Cab driver)  
    Kay Linaker (Mrs. Russell)  
    Louise Henry (Jeanne Bently)  
    Robert Lowery (Wally Burke)  
    Charles D. Brown (Chief of Police King)  
    Iris Wong (Choy Wong)  
    Morgan Conway (George Bently)  
    Hamilton MacFadden (Night clerk)  
    Arthur Rankin (Bellboy)  
    Fred Kelsey (Sergeant)  
    Virginia Sale (Maid)  
    Harry Hayden (Professor)  
    Dick Hogan (College boy)  
    Barbara MacLain (College girl)  
    Al Kikume (Policeman)  
    Ed Stanley (Chemist)  
    Stanley Blystone (Policeman)  
    Jack Perry (Rough drunk)  
    Bob Hale    
    Jimmy Aubrey    
    Imboden Parrish    
    Hank Mann    

Summary: Sparks fly at the Hotel Eldorado in Reno when Mary Whitman arrives to file for divorce from her husband Curtis and meets Curtis' intended, Jeanne Bently. When Jeanne taunts the defenseless Mary and insults Wally Burke, her former suitor, Mrs. Russell, the owner of the hotel, orders her to leave. Before she can finish packing her bags, however, Jeanne is murdered and Mary, arrested for the crime. Mary's arrest prompts her husband Curtis, a resident of Honolulu, to ask his old friend, Charlie Chan, for help. Charlie accompanies Curtis to Reno, where he meets Sheriff Fletcher, the bumbling law man investigating the case. After winning Mary's release on the grounds of lack of evidence, Charlie visits the murder room, where he finds Dr. Ainsley. Ainsley claims that he is looking for the money that Jeanne won on the night of her murder, suggesting that Burke killed her for her winnings. A search of the room by Charlie and his son Jimmy reveals Jeanne's scrapbook with the pages from the years 1935 and 1936 cut out, and Charlie to surmises that a pair of scissors was the murder weapon. Next, Charlie finds dirt particles on the dead woman's boots, which leads him to an abandoned mine shaft in a nearby ghost town. There, he finds an engineering kit and bank book belonging to George Bently, the dead woman's husband. Bently escapes, but is captured and accused of murder by Sheriff Fletcher, although Charlie is unconvinced of his guilt. Becoming intrigued by an acid burn on Mary's sleeve that matches a burn found in the rug in Jeanne's room, Charlie traces the acid to Ainsley. The case against the doctor intensifies when Police Chief King discovers that Jeanne had written checks to Ainsley and reveals that the missing pages in the scrapbook related to Jeanne's previous marriage to Mrs. Russell's late husband, whose death had been attended by Dr. Ainsley. Before the detectives can question Mrs. Russell, however, they find her strangled and Ainsley about to administer a hypodermic needle to her. Charlie pulls the needle from his hand and discovers poison in the syringe. Charlie then assembles all the murder suspects and announces that Jeanne had been paying Ainsley to keep silent about the fact that she murdered Russell. Charlie continues that he found the missing money in Ainsley's room, but before he finishes his explanation, Vivian Wells, the hotel's social director who is in love with Ainsley, protests his innocence. Charlie then traps Vivian into exposing a burn on her arm, proving that she murdered Jeanne during a struggle for the acid bottle. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Norman Foster (Dir)
  Jasper Blystone (Asst dir)
Producer: John Stone (Assoc prod)
Writer: Frances Hyland (Scr)
  Albert Ray (Scr)
  Robert E. Kent (Scr)
  Philip Wylie (Story)
Photography: Virgil Miller (Photog)
Art Direction: Richard Day (Art dir)
  David Hall (Art dir)
Film Editor: Fred Allen (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
Costumes: Herschel (Cost)
Music: Samuel Kaylin (Mus dir)
Sound: Bernard Freericks (Sd)
  William H. Anderson (Sd)
Country: United States
Series: Charlie Chan

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

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 16/6/1939 dd/mm/yyyy LP9000

PCA NO: 5160
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA High Fidelity Recording

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
 
Subjects (Major): Chinese Americans
  Detectives
  Divorce
  False accusations
  Murder
  Reno (NV)
 
Subjects (Minor): Blackmail
  Evidence
  Fathers and sons
  Cities and towns, Ruined, extinct, etc.
  Hotels
  Mines
  Physicians
  Poisoning
  Police chiefs
  Sheriffs
  Strangling

Note: The working title of this picture was Death Makes a Decree . It was based on the original screen story "Death Makes a Decree" by Philip Wylie and the character Charlie Chan created by Earl Derr Biggers and Robert E. Kent. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Paul Perez wrote a version of the screenplay in Dec 1938, but his name does not appear in the final credits. In the Call Bureau Cast Service lists, Sheriff Fletcher's name was originally Foster, Mrs. Russell was named Alice Williamson and Choy Wong was named Sung Li. According to reviews in HR and MPH , at the time that this picture was produced, this was the most expensive production in the Chan series. For additional information on the series, consult the Series Index and see above entry for Charlie Chan Carries On

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   27 May 39   p. 3.
Film Daily   5 Jun 39   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Jan 39   p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Feb 39   p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter   27 May 39   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   2 Jun 39   p. 11.
Motion Picture Herald   29 Apr 39   p. 40.
Motion Picture Herald   3 Jun 39   p. 38.
New York Times   31 May 39   p. 27.
Variety   7 Jun 39   p. 12.

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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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