‘Movies featuring beaches or waterfront scenes’ is March’s theme for Genre Grandeur. I could have selected a Hallmark title, but I chose a different film instead. This seems to be a recurring theme on 18 Cinema Lane this year. Back when I published my editorial, Oh, The Places She’ll Go: A Map of Esther Williams’ Travels, Paddy Lee suggested I check out Charlie Chan at Treasure Island. Since then, I’ve been trying to find the right time to watch the film. When I searched through my movie recommendation board on Pinterest, I knew it would be the perfect movie to write about for this month’s Genre Grandeur! Before Paddy Lee’s suggestion, I had never heard of the Charlie Chan series. From what I’ve gathered, this is a mystery series from the 1920s to the 1940s. A made for TV movie, The Return of Charlie Chan, was released in 1972 and the last movie in the series, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, premiered in 1981. Starting this journey in the middle of the series, it’s time to review Charlie Chan at Treasure Island!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: I’ve seen a handful of Cesar Romero’s projects from his filmography. Out of those projects, he has carried his character with charisma. In Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Cesar portrayed a magician named Rhadini. Not only did Rhadini have the charisma I’ve come to expect from Cesar’s performances, he also contained a strong amount of showmanship you’d expect from a magician! Consistency worked in Cesar’s favor, with his performance appearing effortless. Another acting performance that came across as effortless was Victor Sen Yung’s! Portraying Charlie’s son, Jimmy, Victor gave his character a great on-screen personality. His expressions while interacting with other cast members wove together seamlessly. A great example is when Jimmy is helping Charlie get ready for a dinner party. As he is interacting with his father, Jimmy’s emotions transition from pride to confusion to determination without missing a beat! Despite appearing in the film for a limited amount of time, I liked Billie Seward’s portrayal of Bessie Sibley! She had great control over her character’s emotions, allowing her talents to go toe-to-toe with the talents of the other cast members.
The inclusion of magic: As I just mentioned in this review, Rhadini is a magician. He performs magic tricks on a few occasions within the story. These tricks range from a disappearing bird to a levitating table. There were even times when the secrets behind these tricks were revealed, showing the audience how the illusion was achieved. This was a pleasant surprise for me, as I didn’t expect any magic to be featured in the movie. Its inclusion in the story added a unique aspect to the film’s identity!
The humor: In past reviews, I’ve brought up how some mystery films have incorporated humor into their story, as humor gives the audience a break from the heaviness of the mystery itself. Honestly, I was surprised by the inclusion of humor in Charlie Chan at Treasure Island. This is because I was not expecting this aspect to be as strong as it was in the story. In Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Jimmy was the comic relief. Some of the things he said were genuinely hilarious. During Rhadini’s magic show, Jimmy is recruited to participate in the levitating table trick. Horrified at the idea of being lifted off the ground, Jimmy tells his father, “Oh, but flying makes me seasick, Pop”.
What I didn’t like about the film:
A misleading title: Charlie’s adventures in Treasure Island are the reason why I chose this movie for March’s Genre Grandeur. Because of the film’s title, I expected Charlie to primarily spend his time at the titular location. But when I watched the movie, I discovered that wasn’t the case. While there was an aerial shot of Treasure Island, not much time was spent there. In fact, the characters talked about Hawaii, specifically Honolulu, more than Treasure Island. With that said, it made me wonder why this movie didn’t take place in Hawaii?
Charlie’s outdated “quirk”: In my editorial, Why ‘Francesca Quinn, PI’ is the Worst Hallmark Movie I’ve Ever Seen, I talked about how fictional detectives have a “quirk”, something that sets a detective apart from other sleuths. Charlie Chan does have his own “quirk”. However, it seems very outdated. Throughout the story, Charlie speaks in proverbs. His speech also sounds like broken English. I know the 1930s was a different time compared to the 2020s. But these factors make Charlie’s “quirk” seem stereotypical.
A limited amount of urgency: The main mystery in Charlie Chan at Treasure Island is a murder mystery, as a guest on a plane mysteriously dies during the trip. Charlie and the San Francisco police department discover a series of deaths that took place around the time of the aforementioned murder. But most of the story focuses on the mystery of who “Dr. Zodiac” is, a physic who is ripping off his clients. This focus caused the overall story to have a limited amount of urgency.
My overall impression:
As someone who actively seeks out programs from the mystery genre, I’m always looking for titles I can recommend to my readers. However, I am aware of how mystery films and shows are not created equally. Charlie Chan at Treasure Island was my introduction to the world of Charlie Chan. Unfortunately, this introduction was not as strong as it could have been. While there were aspects of the movie I liked, such as the acting and the humor, the story itself was weak. The misleading title made me wish the film had taken place in Hawaii. Charlie’s “quirk” also makes the story dated on arrival. I’m not sure if I’ll continue watching this series. Perhaps if a particular title fits a blogathon theme, then maybe I will check another film out.
Overall score: 6.7 out of 10
Have you seen any films from the Charlie Chan series? Are there mystery films you’d like to see reviewed on 18 Cinema Lane? Tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!