Directed by: H. Bruce Humberstone
Starring: Warner Oland, Boris Karloff, Keye Luke, Thomas Beck, William Demarest
Far and away the most popular of the Warner Oland Charlie Chan films, Charlie Chan at the Opera owes much of its success to the presence of guest star Boris Karloff (given special billing with "Warner Oland versus Boris Karloff") as a deranged opera star and the undeniable horror element this adds, combined with atmospheric direction by H. Bruce Humberstone.
This time there's murder afoot (what else?) at the opera (where else?) shortly after opera singer/mental patient Gravelle (Karloff) escapes from an insane asylum. Charlie and son Lee happen to be on the scene -- much to the consternation of racist police detective William Demarest, who is shown up as an incompetent boob at every turn.
Beautifully directed and staged for maximum thrills, the film also boasts a special opera written by Oscar Levant, who claimed he accepted the commission because he'd always wanted to hear an opera where someone came onto a stage full of singers crying, "Silencio!" (Ironically, this aspect of Levant's opera didn't make it into the final film, but does exist in a more complete recording.)
The mystery is a little forced -- Karloff is all too often just being mysterious for no reason other than the fact that he is Karloff -- but the film is overall so enjoyable that it hardly matters. And the film boasts the distinction of having been the personal favorite of Keye Luke -- no small consideration since Luke had to take billing under Karloff.
A must-see for Charlie Chan fans and for anyone who cares about classic mystery films from the "Golden Age" of Hollywood.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke
[Mountain Xpress film critic and film historian Ken Hanke (author of the book, Charlie Chan at the Movies) will present and introduce Charlie Chan in Paris on Wednesday, Nov. 2 and Charlie Chan at the Opera on Thursday, Nov. 3. Both movies will be screened at 6 p.m. in Lord Auditorium at the Pack Place Library as the two opening films in the four-film series Charlie Chan at the Movies.]