Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944)

I put the whole damn thing up (as long as the link works).  It’s mostly a detective story, murder whodunit with the classic scientist murdered for military secrets that could change the war.  These days it would be ramped up with the CIA and NSA plus Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay explosions instead of an Agatha Christie-esque micro-environment.  Oh, and lots less racism.

There will be movies that make it onto my list and movies that make it onto other lists that don’t really seem like NSA/CIA/Spy/etc. movies per se.  Keep in mind we’ve got 100 years to work with.  Seems like it’s a lot but it’s not.  Turns out people like comedies and dramas and action movies that have nothing to do with intelligence work or paramilitary wetwork.  Weird, I know.  So we take the super obvious ones like your James Bonds and your Harry Palmers but then have to dig a little to find movies that have spies or that work with classic spy plot themes and we talk about those as well.  We’re up in the mountains sifting through a lot of gravel to get that gold if you know what I mean.  Some people don’t try very hard but I’m having a good time prospecting, thus: Charlie Chan.

Charlie Chan did a great job not only of discovering one spy but also the partner.  He saw through their cover stories, he discerned their true identities, their objective and the means they were attempting to use to achieve it.  He found two murderers, one set of fake plans, the actual plans for the torpedo, survived 3 assassination attempts all while sorting through all the available intelligence to find the truth.  He did it all in one afternoon/evening and never left the house.

Seriously?  Dude makes Jack Ryan look like a slobbering moron.  Like Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie detectives?  This guy was huge in his day and for many of the same reasons.

Critics are divided on Charlie Chan.  I’m not.  He was a good idea that got twisted badly.  Yes, people were incredibly racist 69 years ago, big fucking shock, a lot of them still are today.  Ask Marianne Quon and Benson Fong how they felt with Colonel Sanders as their dad.  I completely misunderstood Mantan Moreland’s character.  It seemed pretty racist to me but it turns out he was a pretty amazing and popular comedian that I wish was in more of the movies I’ve been watching.  Then the 1950’s happened…

Charlie Chan movies are condescending racist classics that deserve to be understood for their popularity and massive impact on our culture and media but never celebrated as something they are not.  There’s big shelf for movies like that.  I’m so glad we became enlightened after the Civil Rights movement and stopped all that bullshit.  It paved the way for people like Espera Oscar de Corti to lead the way into a brave new world.