Cast & Crew
On the trail of a spy ring intent on stealing government radar plans, world-famous Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan, now working as a federal agent, enlists the aid of Captain Flynn of the New York City police. Unfortunately, Flynn follows Chan's one lead to the spies, a scientist named Rausch, too closely, and Rausch is murdered by his mysterious, unnamed boss. Discovering that the murderer escaped in the stolen car of Diane Hall, a radio performer, Chan's and his two assistants--his son Tommy and his chauffeur, Birmingham Brown--go to the Cosmo Radio Center, where they find a footprint identical to one left at the murder scene. Meanwhile, Ralph Brett, the studio manager, telephones the spy ring leader, who uses the Western Union telegram service to warn Brett to be more careful or meet the same fate as Rausch. Later, Chan goes to the Hamilton Laboratory, which is located in the same building as the radio center, and is told of numerous, unsuccessful attempts to break in and steal the radar plans from the laboratory's safe. Chan then places phony radar plans in the safe in case the spies are more successful in the future. After actress Gloria Bayne attempts to blackmail Brett, having found his matches in Diane's recovered car, she is killed by an unidentified poison. Realizing that Chan is onto him, Brett asks his boss for help in escaping, but the spy instead kills him using a trap door in the service elevator. Upon finding the murdered studio manager, Chan has a voice impersonator call the spy leader, who, thinking that Brett is still alive, orders him to use the service elevator once more. After escaping the trap, Chan questions the people who worked with Brett and Gloria. Later, Willie Rand, an actor, is killed while taping a television show after telling Chan that he may have uncovered some information. The detective soon discovers that both Gloria and Willie were killed by a poisonous gas which was activated by cigarette smoke. After searching the building and finding the spy leader's office, the leader is chased through the radio studio by Chan, Tommy, Birmingham and the police, only to be killed by the elevator's trap door. In the basement of the building, they discover the dead body of Mrs. Marsh, the ruthless radio sponsor, and Chan declares the case solved.
Robert E. Homans
I. Stanford Jolley
James S. Burkett
Joseph I. Kane
Edward J. Kay
William H. Wilmarth
The Scarlet Clue
The Scarlet Clue was the 16th go-round in the role for American-born (and decidedly non-Asian) Sidney Toler. He took over the part from Swede Warner Oland in 1938 (after Oland's death), and would play it five more times until his own death in 1947. The technology is not the only thing that dates the movie. Although general audiences at the time took little note of the casting, it was a sign of the changing times when Chan's return to the screen in 1981 in the person of Peter Ustinov was met with loud protests by the Asian community.
The one actor in the cast of true Asian descent was California-born Benson Fong, as son Tommy. Fong began his film career as an extra in a 1936 Charlie Chan movie (Charlie Chan at the Opera) and first appeared as Number 3 in 1944. Although he would play the role a total of six times, his long career encompassed many other notable films, including the war drama Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), the musical Flower Drum Song (1961), and the Blake Edwards comedy S.O.B. (1981). He also made numerous appearances on TV, including stints on the TV series Kung Fu and its made-for-TV movie spin-offs.
In films from 1933 on, former vaudeville star Mantan Moreland first played Charlie Chan's skittish chauffeur Birmingham Brown in 1944 and would play it 15 times until his movie career came to a halt in 1949. Because of the burgeoning civil rights movement and growing awareness of inequities faced by African-Americans, Moreland's humor became reviled as demeaning and stereotypical. It was many years before he could find screen employment again, eventually working with such influential and groundbreaking artists as Bill Cosby, Melvin Van Peebles, Godfrey Cambridge and Diahann Carroll. In The Scarlet Clue he gets to perform versions of his old vaudeville routines with frequent partner Ben Carter.
The technological aspects of The Scarlet Clue may have proved troublesome for Toler. At one point, he appears to get a genuine electric shock from a piece of equipment. But the cameras keep rolling as Toler throws in a quick ad-lib and pluckily completes the scene.
Director: Phil Rosen
Producer: James S. Burkett
Screenplay: George Callahan, based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers
Cinematography: William Sickner
Editing: Richard Currier
Cast: Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan), Mantan Moreland (Birmingham Brown), Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Marsh), Ben Carter (Ben Carter), Benson Fong (Tommy Chan).
by Rob Nixon
The Scarlet Clue
You know Pop, I've got an idea about this case.- Tommy Chan
Yes, well?- Charlie Chan
Well, I had an idea, but it's gone now.- Tommy Chan
Possibly could not stand solitary confinement.- Charlie Chan
The working titles of this film were Robot Murder and The Radar Mystery The title card on the viewed print reads: "Charlie Chan in The Scarlet Clue." According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Harry Bradley was originally cast as "Herbert Sinclair," but was replaced in the role by Milt Kibbee. Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items include William Gould, Edwin Luke and Charles Jordan in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter production charts also note that director of photography William Sickner was borrowed by Monogram from Universal for his work on this film. The minor role of actor "Horace Carlos" is obviously based on noted horror film actor Boris Karloff, while the film's killer wears a mask modeled on actor Rondo Hatton. Modern sources add Kernan Cripps (Detective) to the cast. For additional information about this series, consult the Series Index and see the entry for Charlie Chan Carries On in the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0663.