In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.
Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)
May 31, 1939
Sidney Toler, Ricardo Cortez, Phyllis Brooks, Slim Summerville, Kane Richmond, Pauline Moore, Kay Linaker, Louise Henry, Victor Sen Yung (billed as Sen Yung), Charles D. Brown, Iris Wong, Robert Lowery, Virginia Sale (uncredited)
20th Century Fox
Mary Whitman (Moore) heads to Reno for a divorce and stays in a hotel for women waiting on their divorce run by Vivian Wells (Brooks) and Dr. Ainsley (Cortez). Upon arrival, Mary encounters Jeanne Bently (Henry), who has broken up Mary’s marriage and will be marrying her ex-husband. That night, Jeanne is found dead, and Mary is accused. Mary’s soon-to-be ex-husband Curtis (Richmond) calls their friend detective Charlie Chan (Toler) to help investigate the case.
• The last film of actress Louise Henry.
• One of three Charlie Chan films released in 1939. “Charlie Chan in Reno” was the 21st film in the Charlie Chan series, which had a total of 47 films.
• Sidney Toler was in eight films released in 1939. This was the second film Sidney Toler played Charlie Chan.
• Victor Sen Yung is billed as Sen Yung
• Ricardo Cortez was in two films released in 1939 and directed four films.
• The working title was Death Makes a Decree.
My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Charlie Chan in Reno” (1939) was my first Charlie Chan film, and I realized after researching the Chan film series that it shouldn’t have been.
When I discussed how I didn’t really like Charlie Chan, they all expressed that they loved the series … but with Warner Oland. Oland, who took over the Charlie Chan series in 1931, died in 1938, forcing 20th Century Fox to find a new lead actor for the series. “Charlie Chan in Honolulu” (1938) was already in production when Oland died, and Sidney Toler was brought as a replacement for the lead role.
Sidney Toler continued to play Charlie Chan in a total of 21 films until 1946.
A white actor playing “yellowface” is cringeworthy anyways, but Sidney Toler is plain bad. I liked everything else in the film except for the character of Charlie Chan.
I had to wonder how Victor Sen Yung, billed here as Sen Yung, felt about playing alongside a white actor in yellowface. Yung was a Chinese American and played Chan’s son, Jimmy Chan. In the film, Jimmy is on Easter vacation and comes to help his father solve the crime. He meets Choy Wong, played by Chinese American actress Iris Wong, who helps him investigate, and the two begin a romance.
While I didn’t like Toler, I liked all of the other actors and the storyline surrounding him.
Victor Sen Yung and Iris Wong played young and energetic young people, who were refreshing and adorable.
Ricardo Cortez, who was most famous in the 1930s, doesn’t disappoint with his standard cad character. By 1939, Cortez’s acting career was slowing, and he was trying to transition into directing. In 1939, Cortez balanced his acting carer and directed four films this year.
Phyllis Brooks is the most well-known actress in this film but also has the smallest role. Kay Linaker also is in the movie, and this is one of five Charlie Chan films that she co-starred in.
Slim Summerville plays the comedic role of the sheriff, who doubts Charlie Chan’s investigation.
The film was directed by Norman Foster, another actor turned director, who was still early in his acting career. In 1939, Foster directed two Charlie Chan films and two Mr. Moto films.
While I like every aspect of the film except for Charlie Chan, this is an engaging mystery with several twists and turns that keep you guessing.
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