Charlie Chan set the standard that all the other gumshoes followed.
The featurettes were nice but it would have been even better to have gotten a commentary track on some of the movies.
I jumped at the chance to review Charlie Chan, Vol. 1. As a fan of Columbo and Perry Mason, I had always heard about the wisdom of Charlie Chan but I had never seen Earl Derr Biggers famous detective in action. This four disc volume actually contains five movies. They are Charlie Chan in London, Charlie Chan in Paris, Charlie Chan in Egypt, Charlie Chan in Shanghai and the bonus film Eran Trece, a "lost" film that was the first talkie in this series and is done with Manuel Arbo playing Charlie Chan.
I got everything I could have asked for in Warner Oland's incarnation of the popular character. While these movies follow the typical procedural format that most films (and TV shows about detectives) do, I have always maintained that we don't watch them to see "who did it?" Most of the time this is information we are given right up front. Rather, the great fun is watching Charlie Chan do his thing. Like the characters that came after him, he is a true force of nature who relies on nothing but logic and fact to get him through his work.
The Real Charlie Chan
The best way to describe this featurette is that it's highly broad. We are afforded talking head footage, as well as still photo and movie footage to underscore the points made about Charlie Chan. The people talking discuss how he never walked away from challenges, was tough and ultimately they feel that that is really what made people want to see these movies and read Biggers' books.
In Search of Charlie Chan
An insightful look at the creation of the Charlie Chan character. Apparently, Biggers based him on Honolulu Police officer Chang Apana. Apana was legendary for getting a lot of arrests without the use of a gun. I was also happy to hear that Biggers loved reading pop culture novels as opposed to the classics that many literary types feel are necessary to wade through.
The Legacy of Charlie Chan
Most importantly, it seems like the character of Charlie Chan changed America's attitudes toward Asians, not only as police officers but as heroic characters in films that they probably hadn't ever been considered for. When one realizes the popularity of this genre, looking at the "Chan Films" in this context makes the achievement seem that much more impressive.
I was very excited to see this because it gives a great example of the painstaking and laborious process that goes into fixing these movies up for a DVD release. We are also shown the old print and the restored print side by side, and it's amazing that the jitteriness is gone and the picture itself is not only clearer but almost 50% brighter. A nice short piece on how an older film gets restored.
All of the films in this collection are in black and white and in the 1.33:1 - Full Frame Aspect Ratio. Since we are dealing with films from the 1930s, the camera angles and editing styles have yet to be played around with. I actually am a fan of this more classic style and I find that it can better help me follow the story. Considering that work as been done to improve the look of these film's prints, I am quite happy with the way the movies in this volume are presented.
All the films are Dolby Digital - English Mono and Subtitled in English and Spanish. While there is a noticeable audio hiss on all these movies, I think that that should be forgiven. These films are over 70 years old and for the most part I didn't notice any problems with the audio. As the for the hiss, I am sure that could be taken out but it's been there for so long it has seemingly become part of the character of the movies.
What looks like a drawing of Warner Oland with old style fonts fills up this front cover. Underneath him is the noir device of a smoking gun. The front cover artwork is actually of the bin type variety, and all four DVDs fit snugly inside it in regular amaray cases. The back offers up descriptions of each film as well as a Special Features listing. The bottom of the bin is where the technical specs and other information is listed. The covers of the individual DVDs seem like redone versions of the poster art for when these films were released in theaters. In addition to this, there is a small, folded booklet that explains more about the films, Charlie Chan and the history of the franchise. A nice, simple piece of packaging that should make fans and newbies happy.
I was actually surprised with how much I was taken by Charlie Chan, Vol. 1. Sure, I was excited about seeing it but there's always the possibility that the years may not be kind to things of this nature. While I think that I am somewhat predisposed to like older movies and TV shows (why this is, I really haven't thought about), I really think that there is a richness and depth to all the movies in this collection. Granted, I had a hard time with Eran Trece but that probably had something to do with wanting to see Warner Oland and not Manuel Arbo in the Charlie Chan role.
All in all, fans of this character and the novels should certainly pick up Charlie Chan, Vol. 1.
Charlie Chan in London was released September 12, 1934.