Charlie Chan in Reno (1939) dir. Norman Foster
Starring: Sidney Toler, Ricardo Cortez, Phyllis Brooks
Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw
Reno, Nevada. What a glorious setting for a movie. And, of course, Reno is the ultimate setting for many a divorce when our parents and their parents’ parents needed a quickie nuptial severance in the fine, old age when family values ruled over the more modern conceits of me-first selfishness.
Charlie Chan in Reno is yet another entertaining entry in Fox’s Charlie Chan series starring Warner Oland’s replacement Sidney Toler. It happens to be directed by Norman Foster, the great, but overlooked and underrated director of the two noir classics "Journey Into Fear" and "Woman on the Run", many terrific episodes of such Golden Age television hits Disney’s "Davy Crockett" dramatic specials, "Batman" (with Adam West), "The Green Hornet" (with Bruce Lee as Kato) and, of course Fox’s wonderful Mr. Moto series which featured Peter Lorre (a Hungarian-Jew) as the Asian adventurer-sleuth (and though he utilized his natural odd looks to good effect, he still managed to look like his eyes were taped back and as if he were fitted with a magnificent set of gleaming buck choppers).
Charlie Chan in Reno is Foster’s first kick at the directorial Chan-can and is definitely a fun little mystery with Chas and Number Two Son amidst a bunch of hot babes in Reno waiting to make their divorces legal. It’s kind of like George Cukor’s "The Women", but with lots of laughs and some suspense. One of the aforementioned babes is accused of murder and it’s up to Chas to wade through the massive number of other suspects to find the true killer.
The cast is first-rate. Toler delivers his epigrams and theories with considerable Cheshire-Cat-like aplomb while [Victor] Sen Yung as Number Two Son Jimmy stumbles and bumbles his way through Reno with his usual comic flair. In support of our leads, there are a number of terrific performances – mostly of the comic variety. Slim Summerville, the wonderful character actor who is most memorable in films like "All Quiet on the Western Front", "The Front Page" and the numerous silent and sound comedies he appeared in, stars as the irascible and often befuddled Sheriff Tombstone, a local Reno law enforcer who can’t make head nor tail out of the methods of the sly Asian dick. Also gracing the screen is comic stalwart Eddie Collins as a dopey cab driver whose gift for gab is, for most of his clientele anyway, a curse, not a blessing. The bevy of beauties adorning the picture include the earnest, but gorgeous suspect Pauline Moore, the slobber-inducing guttersnipe murder victim Louise Henry, the ravishing Phyllis Brooks and the sultry Kay Linaker (who in the 50s would write the screenplay for the classic creature feature "The Blob").
While this picture is blessed with Foster’s visual panache, it’s a bit closer to the earlier Chan pictures and doesn’t reach the dizzying heights that would follow in "Charlie Chan at Treasure Island". It is still, however, a terrifically entertaining mystery that never feels like the second feature it was meant to be.
Like many of the Fox second features, it’s A-list entertainment all the way.