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While it is entirely possible that  the "P.C. Police" will be on my tail for saying this, I think THE CHARLIE CHAN CHANTHOLOGY ($70) is a whole heck of a lot of fun. Although the Chinese sleuthís movie exploits are something that film buffs have been eager to acquire on DVD for some time, sensitivity to "Political Correctness" has prevented fans that love and enjoy the Charlie Chan movies from the 1930s and the 1940s from having access to vast majority of these mystery outings. There should be little need to point out that these films are a product of the era in which they were made, especially since Caucasian actor Sidney Toler portrays the famous Asian detective in all six CHANTHOLOGY films, while Mantan Moreland supplies somewhat stereotypical comic relief.

For those unfamiliar with the Charlie Chan movie series, here is a very condensed history: Earl Derr Biggers' Charlie Chan character began appearing in a series of programmers at 20th Century Fox in the early 1930s with Warner Oland in the lead role. When Oland passed away in 1938, actor Sidney Toler was tapped to fill the shoes of the celebrated Honolulu police detective. While the setting of the Fox Charlie Chan movies changed from film to film, the movies followed a fairly basic formula- someone important gets murdered and Charlie Chan is brought in to solve the case, usually with the un-requested and un-required help of one or more of his numerous offspring. After an entire libraryís worth of adventures, the rights to the Charlie Chan mysteries passed to Monogram Pictures, a lower end studio that may have trimmed the series budgets, but not the level of fun. Anyway, I am very happy with MGM Home Entertainmentís decision to the following six Monogram produced Charlie Chan mysteries to DVD: CHARLIE CHAN IN THE SECRET SERVICE, THE CHINESE CAT, THE JADE MASK, MEETING AT MIDNIGHT (AKA BLACK MAGIC), THE SCARLET CLUE and THE SHANGHAI COBRA.

CHARLIE CHAN IN THE SECRET SERVICE finds the Chinese detective investigating the death of an inventor, whose newly designed weapons systems enhancement would greatly aid the war effort. THE CHINESE CAT has Chan stepping in to debunk the assertions of a criminologist in regards to a long unsolved murder case. THE JADE MASK features a few standard elements from a "haunted house" movie, but finds Chan seeking an unpopular scientistís murderer amongst a particularly suspicious group of suspects. MEETING AT MIDNIGHT involves a little police arm-twisting to get Chan on the case, when it turns out that the Chinese detectiveís daughter was present at the murder of a spiritualist during a sťance. THE SCARLET CLUE has Chan seeking a murderer and possibly a spy amid the actors and staff of a radio station. THE SHANGHAI COBRA is definitely one of the strongest Monogram efforts; a noir-ish entry that finds Chan investigating a series of mysterious deaths resulting from cobra venom.

MGM Home Entertainment has made all the films that comprise THE CHARLIE CHAN CHANTHOLOGY available on DVD in their proper 1.37:1 full screen aspect ratios. Considering age and budget limitations these six decade old films look pretty nice on DVD. Certainly none of the black and white transfers are a showcase for the DVD format, but everything is completely watchable. Image sharpness and detail are adequate, although compared to bigger studio movies from the same period; these programmers do appear mildly soft. Blacks are usually accurate, as are the whites, plus all the film produce decent contrast and grayscale. Sure there are some individual shots across the series of films that appear a little dupey, or a bit washed out, but for the most part, the movies hold up rather well. The film elements for all six films show some sings of age, in regards to minor scratches and blemishes, but they never appear particularly beaten up. All six entries have a noticeable grain structure, which fluctuates a bit, but it never becomes excessive. With the brevity of each filmís running time and being presented on its own individual disc, digital compression artifacts are never a cause for concern.

Each entry in THE CHARLIE CHAN CHANTHOLOGY comes with a more than respectable Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack. A very mild background hiss can be heard much of the time, but it never becomes objectionable. Also there are some mild distortions in some of the musical components of the various soundtracks, but this too, isnít particularly bothersome or excessive. All the expected limitations in fidelity are present, so sound effects arenít particularly convincing. Fortunately, dialogue is always understandable, so one isnít likely to miss a clue or a red herring. No other language tracks are provided, but English, French and Spanish subtitles have been included. Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, although no supplemental content has been provided.

As I stated above, I think THE CHARLIE CHAN CHANTHOLOGY is a whole heck of a lot of fun, and I am thrilled that some of the Charlie Chan movies are finally making their way to DVD. MGM Home Entertainment has provided the films with more than respectable presentations, which should make eager fans more than happy. Hopefully, more Chan films will find their way to DVD from MGM, as well as from 20th Century Fox, who owns many of the better-known titles in the series. If you are a Chan fan, youíll definitely want to check out THE CHARLIE CHAN CHANTHOLOGY.



The Charlie Chan Chanthology (The Secret Service / The Chinese Cat / The Jade Mask / Meeting at Midnight / The Scarlet Clue / The Shanghai Cobra)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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