Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - August, 2013


"Charlie Chan Collection" (DVD) - Reviewed by John Johnson

Charlie Chan Collection


In 1926, a movie was produced, called The House without a Key. It was a murder mystery, with a police detective named Charlie Chan working on the case. It was based on a book of the same title, written by author Earl Derr Biggers. The movie was a hit, and more stories followed, which were turned into a series of movies that spanned four decades, with numerous stars playing the title role. They began with Asian actors (playing Chan) starting in 1926, and then Caucasian actors, beginning in 1931. These included Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, and Roland Winters. They are all basically "B" pictures, but very entertaining if you are a fan of the 1940's film era. However, in those days, racism was rampant, and that is why white actors played Chan in the 1930's and 1940's. The racist overtones are laid on heavily with the African American actor Mantan Moreland playing Chan's chauffeur, Birmingham, who always is afraid to go into the scenes of crime, especially at night, and in one case, Chan's son Tommy (Young) tells Birmingham to climb through a window at night to catch a burglar, because, "You will be harder to see in the dark". But, what is, is, and what was, was. Racism is still a disease that permeates every culture, and the US movie industry is no exception. Fortunately, such things would never make it past censors these days, as being, "politically incorrect".

There are four movies in this collection, and even though I am a big fan of Charlie Chan films, I had never seen these four. Frankly, the mastering is so good, having them on Blu-ray is not even necessary (but I won't complain if they put them on Blu-ray). I would urge the producers to put out all of the films in a complete collection, rather than just four.

The titles of the films in this collection are Shadows over Chinatown, Shanghai Chest, The Golden Eye, and Docks of New Orleans. All who-dunnits, with different twists. I think Warner is using these four as a test run to see if the series will sell, and if so, I would hope that the nearly four dozen Chan movies will come out on DVD or Blu-ray. Either way, I will sign up to get them when they are released.


  • Warner Brothers
  • 1946, 1948, B&W, Not Rated, 1 Hr/each (4 Movies)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Video: MPEG-2 (Standard Definition)
  • Audio: English, Dolby Digital Mono
  • Starring: Sidney Toler, Roland Winters, Victor Sen Young, Mantan Moreland
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras: None
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No


The House without a Key actually existed (as a home) in Honolulu around 1900, and the book that struck the match for the Chan films was based on a mystery surrounding that house, and on a real Honolulu police detective, Chang Apana. In its place now is the very fine hotel, the Halekulani, in which my wife and I have stayed when in Honolulu on vacation. Actually, it's not the hotel that brought us there, but the food in a restaurant a few doors down, called "Duke's". The namesake of the establishment was a famous athlete who won several gold medals in the Olympics. My favorite dish there is a fish called "Opah", which has a smoky, yet very mild flavor, and which has been breaded with panko flakes, parmesan cheese, and crushed macadamia nuts, then sauteed in butter and lemon. In fact, it is the most often ordered dish that the restaurant serves.


The image quality is spectacular for DVD. But, it is not Blu-ray, so a rating of 4 stars.