Enter Warner Oland: "Charlie Chan Carries On" and "Eran Trece"

The fourth Charlie Chan movie was the first to feature Warner Oland.

Making his entrance as Chan more than forty minutes into the film, Oland clearly demonstrates Chan’s intelligence, wit, and wisdom. We also get a glimpse into his what his home life and relationship with his wife and children are like.

Author Earl Derr Biggers had responded negatively to the earlier movie, “The Chinese Parrot,” when he said, “They botched it again. They just can’t get Charlie Chan right” (as quoted by Barbara Gregorich in her book Charlie Chan’s Poppa: The Life of Earl Derr Biggers). When he saw Warner Oland’s interpretation, however, he was delighted. Derr said that the studio “has got it right. Warner Oland is impeccable in his portrayal. He is warm and gracious and has Chan just right.”

As in the book, the story involves the members of a world cruise. The travelers meet at the historic Broome Hotel in London. The itinerary calls for the party to cruise the world with several ports of call at historic locations on land. (These included Venice, Cairo, and other locations, ultimately leading to Honolulu.)

The first of several murders occurs in the Broome Hotel, and Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard is assigned to investigate. (Duff had met Chan in the earlier story Behind That Curtain, and the two detectives had maintained a correspondence after that.) But after questioning the vacationers, Duff felt he lacked evidence to suspect anyone or detain the cruise any further. But he continued to visit them during ports of call, and two more murders followed.

By the time the cruise reaches its last port of call—Honolulu—the murders are still unsolved.

In Honolulu, Duff visits his old friend Charlie Chan.

When Chan brings Duff into his office, he says, “This is Chan’s undeserved office. Kindly enter.” While in Chan’s office Duff is shot and seriously wounded.

After Inspector Duff is shot in Chan’s office, the chief of police enters.

Chief: “What happened, Charlie?”

Chan: “Wounded by bullet that came through the window. Poor inspector. Comes to the peaceful city of Honolulu to end up in front of killer’s revolver.”

Chief: “A crime in the police station. It’s unheard of!”

Chan: “It’s more. It’s an insult. Wounded in the very office of the inspector of detectives. Everyone will laugh at Charlie Chan. I’ll leave tonight on the Prescott.”

Chief: “Charlie, that’s impossible.”

Chan: “Leave out the arguing. Otherwise resignation effective immediately. There’s no time to lose.”

The film “Charlie Chan Carries On” was released in April 1931. Unfortunately, this film is lost; but we are fortunate indeed to have a complete screenplay, which The Charlie Chan Family website has made accessible to us, along with complete screenplays of three other lost Warner Oland films!

We are also blessed to have the Spanish-language version—“Eran Trece,” (i.e., “There Were Thirteen”)—complete with English subtitles. The script for “Charlie Chan Carries On” was translated into Spanish and a Spanish-speaking cast was hired to film it. Released in December 1931, Manuel Arbo emulated Warner Oland’s interpretation of Chan.

From these two sources we can put together the story as it unfolded in these two films, and we realize how good these films were! And it’s fun to compare the slight variations between them.

As the film begins in Scotland Yard we have the following introductions (from the script):

Duff: “Morning, Hayley.”

Hayley: “Glad to see you.”

Duff: “Thanks. Want a laugh?”

Hayley: “Yes.”

Duff: “I’ve just had a letter from my old Chinese friend, Charlie Chan.”

Hayley [Pleased]: “Where is he now? Still in Honolulu?”

Duff: “Yes. He’s Inspector of detectives there now. Sends me a photograph of what he calls his multitudinous blessings. [Handing photograph to Hayley.] Says he’s named his youngest child after me -- Duff Chan.”

Duff: “Pity he’s wasted in a place like Honolulu, isn’t it?”

Hayley: “Well, it can’t be any worse than here.”

Compare the quote above from “Charlie Chan Carries On” with “Eran Trece” (as per the English subtitles) below:

Duff: “Want a laugh?”

Gardner: “What is it?”

Duff: “I’ve just received a letter from our Chinese friend, Charlie Chan.”

Gardner: “What’s he up to? Still in Honolulu?”

Duff: “Yes. He’s inspector of detectives. He sent me a portrait of what he calls ‘the blessing of heaven.’ ”

Gardner: “Let’s see.”

[Note: Inspector Duff hands Gardner a photograph of Chan’s large family showing Chan, his wife, and eleven children.]

Gardner: “My goodness. This isn’t a family portrait; it’s the line at the end of the soccer match.”

[Note: On the back of the photo is scrawled, “The fox never sees the end of his tail” and Charlie Chan’s signature.]

The inspiration for Chan naming his son Duff after Inspector Duff undoubtedly comes from the earlier book Behind That Curtain. In that book, Chan meets Duff; but he also meets a young, wealthy businessman named Barry Kirk, whom he admires. In the book, he names his son Barry after the businessman, not after the Inspector of Scotland Yard.

After Inspector Duff is shot in Chan’s office, Chan has the following exchange with his superior officer:

Charlie calls 2168: “Is that you, John? This is your honorable father.” (He asks John to pack his suitcase and “accompany your honorable mother to the docks.”)

[Note that in the script of the Warner Oland version, Chan addresses his son as “Henry.”]

To the roomful of the tourists waiting to be questioned, Chan says: “You must be surprised to see me here. I am too. Yesterday, Inspector Duff came to Honolulu, paradise of the Pacific. History repeats itself. The serpent appears in Paradise. Inspector Duff is in a hospital, insultingly wounded. I’m very sorry you have to put up with my presence. Damage begins when the mouth opens. I know that. And I’m sorry. But I have to ask you questions.”

Lofton (a passenger), responds, “From the start, we’ve been constantly inconvenienced by questions from incompetent chiefs of police.”

Chan says, “Incompetence humbly admitted. But sometimes blunt stones cut better than sharpened knives.”

When Chan addresses the traveling party to question them, one quickly reminds him that the boat, being offshore, is not in the jurisdiction of Honolulu:

Tait: “Allow me, sir, to point out that we are no longer under the jurisdiction of the Honolulu authorities.”

Chan: “Oh, of course, if anyone has something to hide.”

Tait: “Oh, no no no no. I will not allow you to maneuver me into that position. Now why do you imagine I have something to hide?”

Chan: “Man seldom scratches where he does not itch.”

Lofton: “I don’t blame Mr. Tait – from the very first we’ve been annoyed by questions by incompetent police officials.”

Chan: “Stupidity humbly acknowledged – but sometime dull stone make very sharp knife.”

Ross: “Perhaps, Mr. Chan, it would be advisable to postpone the cross-examination until your suspects are in better humor.

Chan: “Possibly you are right. Time does not press and talk will not cook rice. [He dismisses them with a polite gesture.] Thank you so much.”

To read the ‘Charlie Chan Carries On” screenplay and to watch “Eran Trece” is an exercise in pure delight. And this is just the beginning of the magnificent interpretation of the character by Warner Oland.

For more information about Charlie Chan, click on the links below to read articles.

The Novels by Earl Derr Biggers:

Charlie Chan Movies

Charlie Chan Pastiches

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