Sunday, March 22, 2015

Saturtainment: Mystery Theatre (1980's)

If you lived in Boston in the 80's, or had cable in the surrounding areas, such as New York, chances are pretty good you got to see some classic mysteries from the 30's airing on WSBK on weekend mornings under the umbrella title, Mystery Theatre, usually with a voice over introduction by either Dana Hersey or another staffer.

Most of the time, WSBK aired the Charlie Chan movie series, first starring Warner Oland, then Sidney Toler, and, finally Roland Winters. Once those cycled through, they switched to Peter Lorre in the Mr. Moto series before going back to Chan.

A friend of mine regaled me one afternoon with his account of seeing one of the Chan movies, and he was amused by Chan's timely use of "Contradiction, please!", or, "Excuse, please!" to make a point, as if he thought the sleuth was showing up a cop or a suspect. So, I started tuning in, especially considering that I had started reading Earl Derr Biggers' original novels, long having been reprinted. Oh, there was comedy, but it was from Charlie's eldest sons, be it Lee (Keye Luke) or, in the later films, Jimmy (Benson Fong), who were used as sidekicks and comedy relief, and in Fong's case, usually in tandem with Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown.

To give you an idea, we'll serve up 1936's "Charlie Chan at the Circus", in which we're introduced to the original Chan Clan, years before Hanna-Barbera's adaptation of the Chan franchise. Turns out Charlie had 12 kids, not 10. His wife wasn't used in the cartoon for whatever reason.

The brother-sister team of George & Olive Brasno might be familiar to fans of the Our Gang comedies from appearances in shorts such as "Shrimps For a Day", but they were also, as shown here, a pint-size version of dance teams such as Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers. So supremely talented, they turned down an opportunity to appear in "The Wizard of Oz" because they were making more money as a touring act. Olive would later marry one of the Munchkins instead of playing one.

Rating: A.


magicdog said...

We did have something similar on our cable service - only it was "Holmes/Chan Theatre" which aired on Sunday afternoons on WGN. They played a LOT more Chan than Holmes - or at least it seemed that way since there were more Chan films than Holmes films.

My dad and I love CC and I had bought him several collections on DVD. I always get annoyed when people claim racism in regards to the Charlie Chan films - especially the "yellow face" term applied to Oland and Toler. Chan was always a person to be respected and a detective of renown. Anytime someone tried to make light of him or his abilities, found themselves made out for fools rather quickly. As for the casting of non Chinese actors for the role, I say take it up with the Hollywood casting agents who made the call. Of course since they're likely six feet under by now.... it'd be best to make like Elsa and... let it go.

I remember reading someone's comment that the reason we never saw Mrs. Chan in the HB series was that she was at home babysitting with the youngest two children! It's as good a reason as any, although I used to fanwank as a kid that Mr. Chan was a widower in that universe.

I've been told that the first two or three Chan novels are still quite strong as reading material and you'd get still a different version of Chan as Earl Derr Biggers imagined him.

hobbyfan said...

All told, I have 4 volumes of Chan movies on DVD, the first three with Warner Oland, volume 4 begins the Sidney Toler era. More to come.