Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 5

Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 5 (1940)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Sidney Toler, Sen Yung, Lionel Atwill, C. Henry Gordon,
Extras: Photo Galleries, Trailers

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has been doing a great job releasing the classic Charlie Chan movies on DVD in box sets that chronicle all of the motion picture adventures of the Chinese detective from Honolulu, Hawaii. Here now is Volume 5 of the series based on Earl Derr Biggers' novels, featuring seven movies filled with mystery and suspense.

The second set to feature Sidney Toler as replacement for the late Warner Oland in the role of Charlie Chan, it is becoming clear here very quickly, that Toler has been making the part his own very comfortably. When he launches into "Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise" with Sen Yung as his number two son by his side, viewers are quickly tossed into an exciting sleuthing adventure filled with mystery and humor. Clearly, this and the subsequent films are a product of their times, which adds to their vintage quality. It was a time when it was acceptable for a Caucasian to play an Chinese character, and a time when the world was on the brink of war with fears growing by the day. In response to those sentiments, the spy hunt "Charlie Chan In Panama," expanded the world of Charlie Chan somewhat, including a theme of national security into the plot line. In a similar fashion, "Murder Over New York" is a whole lot more than an old dark house murder mystery, tossing Chan into whirlpool of events surrounding espionage and sabotage of an airline.

In "Charlie Chan At The Wax Museum" the series returns to its roots and delivers a very dark, moody mystery filled with shadowy corridors, flickering lights and a wonderfully atmospheric setting inside a wax museum filled with depictions of famous murder scenes.

One of the visual and directorial highlights of the set comes with "Dead Men Tell," a noir thriller that combines murder, mystery and a treasure hunt. "Charlie Chan In Rio" is a little more light-hearted, taking the detective to Rio De Janeiro, but remains a wonderful mystery thriller at heart.

"Castle In The Desert" is the last film in the box and also the last Charlie Chan film that was produced for Fox at the time. It is a suspenseful mystery taking place in a dark castle with all the elements that made these classic films so loveable and memorable.

When I popped in the first disc in the set to view "Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise" I was greeted by a disclaimer that told me that the presentation I was about to watch was taken from the best surviving elements. Typically this is an apology by the studio for the mediocre quality of a presentation and/or print and I was prepared for the worst. I needn't have worried, however, and neither should have Fox. The presentation of "Murder Cruise" and all subsequent films in the box set is simply wonderful. Considering that these films are almost 60 years old I was actually surprised how well they looked. While there may be a bit of dirt in the print at one time or another, I have to admit I never really noticed it. There were a shot or two where the image was a little on the soft side, but again, I was usually so absorbed in the films themselves that I barely noticed. The films have strong contrast and do have a bit of a harsh look, which is a result of technical limitations of the film stock available during its production. As a result in darker scenes image detail is somewhat lacking, but this is representative and true for pretty much any film of the era. In this case, due to the nature of the Charlie Cahn adventures, it adds to the charm and atmosphere as the bold blacks, create scenery that is mysterious and foreboding at times, full of impenetrable shadows in which bad guys could be hiding. Honestly, I wouldn't want it any other way. The transfer is free of compression artifacts, making this absolutely enchanting presentations that the studio should be proud of.

The original mono audio tracks are provided on this release, reproducing the vintage charm of the series. I would wager that the tracks have been remastered and cleaned up because the noise floor is very low and the track is free of any notable distortion. Dialogues are very clear and understandable at all times and overall, the audio presentation does not nearly sound as dated as one would expect with a good frequency response.

As extras each of the films typically includes a small photo gallery with wonderful publicity shots form the respective film, as well as trailers. Also included is a small 8-page booklet with some additional information about each of the episodes and the Charlie Chan franchise.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment certainly delivers the goods with the "Charlie Chan Collection: Volume 5." Wonderfully prepared video transfers, combined with clear audio tracks make this DVD set a sure-fire winner among fans. I certainly had a blast revisiting these classic movies on this DVD set.