A leisurely walk into a part of the past that is mistakenly filed by too many as "racist," Charlie Chan in London is one of the many films featuring the Columbo-style Chinese detective that have been released on DVD in the past few years. London is a pretty standard piece of the detective genre: a murder that a (possibly) innocent man will be executed for in a scant three days, giving his sister (the only person who believes in his innocence) little to do besides sigh, cry, and break her engagement.
Enter Warner Oland, a Swedish man who looks vaguely Asian enough to play the role of Charlie Chan, a brilliant detective from Hawaii who, for whatever reason, is often sent around the globe to solve pretty mild murder cases that are befuddling the local authorities. With a dialog that consists solely of pithy Taoist-sounding platitudes, Chan wanders around and solves the crime, exonerates the innocent, and reunites the two lovers. In less than 80 minutes.
If you're thinking of Murder, She Wrote, than you happen to be on the right track. That isn't to slight the film: it's well made, all the actors are quite obviously pulled right of the stage, and it's compelling enough to fill out it's meager running time. The more controversial aspects of the film (that Oland is neither Chinese, nor even very good at a mildly contrived accent) are so blatant that they become a non-issue after about five minutes. The only time one is reminded of the subject are the rare moments when he accidentally drops the accent entirely. (Listen to the scene early in the picture when he counts the hours until the execution out loud.) While Charlie Chan in London isn't about to make anyone cry out, as is this site's wont, that a brilliant piece of cultural ephemera is going ignored, it's certainly a bit classier way to spend one's time than watching yet another C.S.I. re-run on Spike TV.
-Tucker Stone, 2007