Cast & Crew
H. Bruce Humberstone
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.
H. Bruce Humberstone
Layne Tom Jr.
Joseph E. Aiken
William H. Anderson
Charles [g.] Clarke
Helen A. Myron
Sol M. Wurtzel
Charlie Chan in Honolulu
When Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938) opens, Detective Chan has rushed to the hospital bedside of his daughter as she prepares to give birth to his first grandchild. While Charlie Chan waits at the hospital, his "number two" son James (Victor Sen Yung) intercepts a message intended for Charlie about a murder on board the freighter Susan B. Jennings. The freighter is on its way from Shanghai to Honolulu under the leadership of Captain Johnson (Robert Barrat). James wants to prove his investigative skills to his father and so boards the Jennings pretending to be Charlie Chan, with his younger brother Tommy (Layne Tom Jr.) in tow. The ruse doesn't last long and soon the real Chan arrives on board, interrogating a motley assortment of crooks, heiresses and crew as he works to solve a crime whose only witness is secretary Judy Haynes (Phyllis Brooks).
Chan is unlike other movie detectives because of his tendency to whisper cryptic, fortune cookie pronouncements like "opinion: like tea leaf in hot water. Both need time for brewing."
Charlie Chan in Honolulu was actor Sidney Toler's first performance as the Asian detective. He was selected by producer Darryl F. Zanuck to follow in the footsteps of the late Warner Oland who played Chan from 1931 until his death in 1938. Toler was spotted by Chan associate producer John Stone playing a Chinese character in the film King of Chinatown (1939). Toler was no shoo-in for the role, however, but was the thirty-fifth actor tested for the role along with Leo Carillo and Cy Kendal, who had played Charlie Chan on the radio. Once Twentieth Century-Fox settled on Toler shooting on the film began less than a week later. Toler ended up playing Chan until his death in 1947, first for Twentieth Century-Fox and then, when World War II impacted Fox's profitable overseas market, Toler took the series to the low-budget Monogram Pictures. Toler starred in eleven Monogram Charlie Chan pictures.
A native of Warrensburg, Missouri, Toler took an early interest in acting, appearing in an amateur production of Tom Sawyer at seven. Toler worked on the stage alongside such greats as Edward G. Robinson and Katherine Hepburn and eventually made his film debut playing an Englishman in Madame X in 1929.
Charlie Chan in Honolulu was also the debut of Victor Sen Yung as "number two" brother James Chan. Critics singled out Toler and Yung for praise, and saw them as worthy additions to the Chan oeuvre. The New York Times called Charlie Chan in Honolulu a "passably diverting mystery film."
Charlie Chan was the creation of Harvard grad turned drama critic turned novelist Earl Derr Biggers who created the Asian detective in 1925. While vacationing in Hawaii, Biggers came across a Honolulu newspaper article about two Chinese detectives who inspired him to create a virtuous Chinese hero. Biggers saw Chan as an alternative to the predominant view of villainous Asians, "I had seen movies depicting and read stories about Chinatown and wicked Chinese villains, and it struck me that a Chinese hero, trustworthy, benevolent, and philosophical, would come nearer to presenting a correct portrayal of the race," he told Harvard Magazine in 2000. Charlie first appeared in The House Without a Key as installments in The Saturday Evening Post. The popularity of the Chan detective stories led to other Chan novels and The Saturday Evening Post eventually paid $25,000 to serialize the third Chan story Behind That Curtain (1929). The Fox Film Corporation also purchased the rights to that novel. At times Biggers feared he would be typecast as the writer who created the Charlie Chan detective industry, but the stock market crash of 1929 convinced him to stick with a sure thing.
Producer: Sol M. Wurtzel
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone
Screenplay: Charles Belden; Chandler Sprague (contributing writer)
Cinematography: Charles G. Clarke
Art Direction: Richard Day, Haldane Douglas
Film Editing: Nick DeMaggio
Cast: Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan), Phyllis Brooks (Judy Hayes), Victor Sen Yung (Jimmy Chan), Eddie Collins (Al Hogan), John 'Dusty' King (George Randolph), Claire Dodd (Elise Hillman/Carol Wayne), George Zucco (Dr. Cardigan), Robert Barrat (Capt. Johnson).
by Felicia Feaster
Charlie Chan in Honolulu
Marc Lawrence (1910-2005)
Born Max Goldsmith on February 17, 1910, in the Bronx, Lawrence had his heart set on a career in drama right out of high school. He enrolled at City College of New York to study theatre, and in 1930, he worked under famed stage actress Eva Le Gallienne. Anxious for a career in movies, Lawrence moved to Hollywood in 1932 and found work immediately as a contract player with Warner Bros. (an ideal studio for the actor since they specialized in crime dramas). He was cast as a heavy in his first film, If I Had a Million (1932). Although his first few parts were uncredited, Lawrence's roles grew more prominent: a sinister henchman in the Paul Muni vehicle in Dr. Socrates (1935); a conniving convict aiding Pat O'Brien in San Quentin (1937); a menacing thug stalking Dorothy Lamour in Johnny Apollo (1940); the shrewdly observant chauffeur in Alan Ladd's breakthrough hit This Gun For Hire (1942); and one of his most memorable roles as Ziggy, a fedora wearing mobster in the Bogart-Bacall noir classic Key Largo (1948).
Lawrence, when given the opportunity, could play against type: as the prosecuting attorney challenging Tyrone Power in Brigham Young (1940); a noble aristocrat in the Greer Garson-Walter Pidgeon period opus Blossoms in the Dust; and most impressively, as a deaf mute simpleton in the rustic drama The Shepherd of the Hills (both 1941). Better still was Lawrence's skill at comedy, where his deadpan toughness worked terrifically as a straight man against the likes of Joe E. Brown in Beware Spooks (1939); Abbott and Costello in Hit the Ice (1943); Penny Singleton in Life with Blondie (1945); and Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy (1951).
After that, Lawrence's career took a turn downward spin when he was labeled a communist sympathizer during the Hollywood witch hunts of the early '50s. He was exiled in Europe for a spell (1951-59), and when he came back, the film industry turned a blind eye to him, but television overcompensated for that. Here he played effective villains (what else?) in a series of crime caper programs: Peter Gunn, Johnny Staccato, The Untouchables, Richard Diamond, Private Detective; and eventually made a welcome return to the big screen as a returning exiled gangster in William Asher's underrated mob thriller Johnny Cool (1963).
It wasn't long before Lawrence found himself back in the fray playing in some big box-office hits over the next two decades: Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Marathon Man (1976), Foul Play (1978); and The Big Easy (1987). Sure he was cast as a gangster, but nobody could play a rough and tumble mob boss with more style or conviction.
Interestingly, one of his finest performances in recent years was in television, as a severely ill old man unwilling to accept his fate in a fourth season episode of ER (1997-98). His last screen role was just two years ago, as a nimble minded VP in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).
In 1991, Lawrence published a memoir about his venerable career, Long Time No See: Confessions of a Hollywood Gangster that received much critical acclaim. He has also developed a cult following due to his appearances in such offbeat items as From Dusk to Dawn and Pigs aka Daddy's Deadly Darling, the 1972 horror film he directed and starred in with his daughter Toni. He is survived by his wife, Alicia; two children from a previous marriage, Toni and Michael; and a stepdaughter Marina.
by Michael T. Toole
Marc Lawrence (1910-2005)
According to a Hollywood Reporter 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 Hollywood Reporter 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 Hollywood Reporter 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 Hollywood Reporter 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. New York Times 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 Motion Picture Herald review remarked on the novelty of a Chan film being previewed at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and stated that the December 18, 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.