The folks at B-Movie Cast have been going on about Charlie Chan, so when Netflix suggested Charlie Chan: The Jade Mask, I went along with the gag. I haven't seen one in a long time, and like the B-Moviers, I'm a Mantan Moreland fan.
OK, to get it out of the way: there is no jade mask, although there are some masks. There's a millionaire inventor whose lab is always full of noxious gas. His personality is pretty noxious too, and its no surprise that he ends up dead. The hick sheriff calls in the city detective, and he calls in Charlie (Sidney Toler). Along for the ride are "number 4 son" Edwin (Edwin Luke - any relation to Keye?) and their chauffeur Birmingham Brown.
I'll skip over the house full of mechanized panels and traps, the odd puppetry sidetrack, the oddly undistinguished women of the house and the coked up looking lab assistant. I'll just go right to Birmingham Brown - Mantan Moreland.
Moreland's character is somewhere between Dooley Wilson and Stepin Fetchit - a witty coward, handy with a clever line, usually involving the wisdom of running away. This style of humor didn't look so funny during the Civil Rights movement, and some people can't take it now. My stock take on this is: the racism is in the society, not the humor. If we deny Mantan Moreland because of racism, we write a talented black man out of history. I would rather not deprive myself of talent.
OK, end of sermon. If I love Mantan Moreland so much, why don't I just marry him? How was the rest of the movie? Shockingly bad. Toler was just going through the motions, and the 2 or 3 sets that a Monogram picture is allotted got old pretty fast and the solution to the mystery didn't make any sense. There were these plaster casts of the members of the household and the murdered man had the ear of one, that he broke off after he was murdered instantly and carried to another room (being moved on strings like a pupper by the murderer) and then he called on the intercom to... Oh heck.
In conclusion, I think you'll like my new detective series Yonny Yohannson, a Swedish detective played, inexplicably, by a Chinese man. I'm thinking Chow Yun Fat. Maybe a Jewish chauffeur for comic relief?