Released – December, 1936
Directed By – H. Bruce Humberstone
Starring – Warner Oland (Charlie Chan), Boris Karloff (Gravelle), Keye Luke (Lee Chan), William Demarest (Sergeant Kelly), Guy Usher (Inspector Regan).
Description – A fiendish killer lurks at the opera. The masterminds of crime match wits against each other!
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.