Review: Charlie Chan And The Curse Of The Dragon Queen
DVD: Charlie Chan And The Curse Of The Dragon Queen (1981)
If there’s one word that I doubt you’ll ever see in a review of ‘Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen’ it’s the word ‘subtle’. From the lavish interiors of the Lupowitz household, to the over-the-top performances and comedy so ‘in your face’ that it almost leaps out of the screen with a sledgehammer emblazoned with ‘I’m trying to be funny’ and hits you over the head with it. This is definitely not a movie for anyone who is looking for any sort of subtlety. With that in mind, please read on.
The character of Charlie Chan was created by Earl Derr Biggers in 1929 and has had his adventures told in print, film, radio and television. It was during the 1930’s and 40’s that his popularity was at its peak, and during those years 51 movies were made starring his character; played for the most part by Warner Oland and Sidney Toler. Jump forward a few decades and we now have Peter Ustinov donning the white suit, hat and (what would now be deemed a ‘politically uncorrect’) accent.
In Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (released by 101 Films as part of their ‘Cult Movie Collection’), Chan is called out of retirement to help solve a series of murders in San Francisco. Unfortunately for him, his Grandson Lee (played by Richard Hatch …who will always be Capt. Apollo to me) insists on accompanying him in his investigations. This is a bad thing because Lee’s second name may as well be ‘Klutz’. His clumsiness and ineptitude are highlighted at every given opportunity; from tripping over every obstacle in his way (and some that he goes out of his way for, just so that he can trip over them), to causing general havoc wherever he goes.
As with the majority of murder mysteries, the question is; “who did it?”.
Is it Gillespie (played by a huge favourite actor of mine; Roddy McDowall), the cantankerous wheelchair-bound butler of the Lupowitz family who enjoys nothing more than being as unhelpful as possible and flicking his cigarette ash into the urn of the deceased Bernard Lupowitz…cueing his widow (played by Lee Grant) to later pick up the urn and comment that he was ‘putting on weight’…that alone gives you an idea of the comedy in this movie.
Or could it be Mrs Dangers (Rachel Roberts) the timid housemaid, or Cordelia (Michelle Pfeiffer in a very early role) the beautiful girlfriend of Lee who could have any man that she wants but stays with the bumbling idiot. I haven’t even mentioned the other title character yet; the Dragon Queen herself (Angie Dickinson …another actor who will always be associated with one role for me; Sgt. ‘Pepper’ Anderson) who is a sworn enemy of Chan. These and other characters too are all in the frame as to who the murderer is.
In trying to solve the mysterious murders, the story takes us across various locations in San Francisco; including a horse and cart chase that has to be seen to be believed. Culminating in a stand-off with all the main suspects in which Chan methodically dismisses each of them before pointing out the murderer.
The question is; can I recommend this movie to you? Well that all depends on what you want. If you want a gourmet mystery that will that will satisfy your intellectual needs and have you glued to every nuance onscreen, then I would point you in the direction of Sleuth. However, if you’ve just rolled in from your local drinking establishment late one evening and want a quick mystery fix that doesn’t need to be paused for toilet breaks for fear of missing anything and may well raise the odd smile here and there, then this just might be what you need. If you do watch it though, let me know if you guessed who the murderer was.
Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by 101 Films.