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Charlie Chan At The Opera

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Charlie Chan At The Opera

Tagline – A fiendish killer lurks at the opera. The masterminds of crime match wits against each other!

Starring – Warner Oland (Charlie Chan), Boris Karloff (Gravelle), Keye Luke (Lee Chan), William Demarest (Sergeant Kelly), Guy Usher (Inspector Regan).

Released – December, 1936

Directed By – H. Bruce Humberstone

Produced By –  Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Distributed By – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Description – Opera star Gravelle, an amnesia patient at Rockland State Sanatorium, reads a newspaper article that causes his memory to begin to return. And the memories are not pleasant.

Gravelle remembers that his wife Lilli and her lover tried to murder him by locking him inside a burning theater. Enraged with thoughts of revenge, Gravelle kills a guard and escapes from the sanatorium.

Charlie Chan is called in to help find the escaped killer, and is discussing the case with Inspector Regan, when Lilli and her fellow singer and lover Enrico Barelli enter to report a threat Lilli has received stating that she will die that night. Chan and Sergeant Kelly agree to attend the opera that evening to investigate.

That evening at the opera, Phil Childers and his girlfriend Kitty try, but are turned away, to see Lilli. Chan and the Inspector arrive and overhear Enrico and Lilli’s husband arguing over Lilli. Around the same time, Gravelle appears in the dressing room of Enrico’s wife Anita. Terrified having believed Gravelle dead, Anita, furious at her husband Enrico, agrees to keep Gravelle’s presence a secret.

It is Gravelle’s plan to sing Enrico’s role this evening with his wife Lilli. When it is time for the duet, Lilli, unable to see Gravelle’s face, recognizes his voice and collapses after leaving the stage. The others rush to Enrico’s room only to find that he has been stabbed. Phil Childers checks on Lilli in her room and finds that she too has been killed.

Phil is arrested for the crime, but when questioned by Chan it is revealed that Kitty is Lilli’s daughter from her previous marriage to Gravelle and that the couple had been there to ask permission to marry.

Their conversation is heard by Gravelle who is stunned to find out that Kitty is his daughter. Phil leaves to see Inspector Regan and Gravelle enters the room. Although Gravelle speaks very gently to Kitty and plays the piano for her she does not remember him and faints from fright just as Chan enters.

Gravelle tells Chan the story of Lilli and Enrico trying to kill him and says that he did not kill the couple. Chan believes him and puts into action a plan to catch the real murderer.

NOTABLE: Warner Oland was the first actor to portray Charlie Chan, as he is most familiar, and appeared in sixteen films as the famed detective.

Boris Karloff’s singing voice in the film was that of Tudor Williams.

Composer Oscar Levant wrote the entire opera used as the background of this story.

Personal Note: Charlie Chan at the Opera is considered to be the best of the Chan series starring Warner Oland. This is due, in no small part, to the strong performance of Boris Karloff.

The 39 Steps

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

The 39 Steps (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Tagline – Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him.

Starring – Robert Donat (Richard Hannay), Madeleine Carroll (Pamela), Lucie Mannheim (Annabella), Godfrey Tearle (Professor Jordan), Peggy Ashcroft (Margaret).

Released – August, 1935

Directed By – Alfred Hitchcock

Produced By – Gaumont British Picture Corporation

Distributed By – Gaumont British Distributors

Description – Canadian Richard Hannay is visiting London and enjoying the powers of recall being displayed at a music hall by “Mr. Memory” when shots ring out. During the panic that results, Hannay finds himself helping the very frightened appearing Annabella Smith who talks him into taking her to his apartment.

While there she confesses to being a spy on the run from assassins. She says she has uncovered a plot to steal British military secrets headed by a man with the top of a finger joint missing. She also mentions the “39 steps” without offering much of an explanation as to the meaning, and that she must find a way to get to Scotland.

While staying in Hannay’s apartment Annabella is stabbed to death, but before dying is able to warn Richard to run. In her dying hand is a map of Scotland with a little town encircled. As the prime suspect in her murder, Hannay must now go to Scotland and try to prove his innocence.

Arriving in the small town in Scotland, with the police still in hot pursuit, Hannay searches for the towns only new resident assuming that this would have been Annabella’s contact. This brings him to the home of seemingly respectable Professor Jordon and upon meeting the Professor realizes the mistake in his thinking. Professor Jordon has a missing finger joint.

Hannay is shot and left for dead by the professor. However, Hannay is saved by a hymnbook in the pocket of a borrowed coat and tries to tell the local police of the spy-ring. They refuse to believe him and he again finds himself on the run.

Caught by the police while trying to hide at a political meeting and handcuffed to Pamela, who recognized him from the train ride to Scotland, he again manages to escape dragging Pamela along with him.

Slowly, the pieces of the spy mystery begin to take shape in his mind. But what can you do when the police believe you are a murderer, you are handcuffed to a woman, and just what are the 39 steps?

NOTABLE: The 39 Steps is the second of four films where director Alfred Hitchcock used the theme of an innocent man on the run. The others were the silent film The Lodger, Saboteur, and North by Northwest.

In order to get Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll used to the idea of having to film many scenes where they are handcuffed together, director Hitchcock, one day on the set, actually did handcuff the couple togeather and for several hours pretending to have lost the key.