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Saturday, 4 August 2007

Black Magic (1944) Phil Rosen

Also known as Meeting at Midnight, this isn't a 40s Hollywood horror outing, it's a Charlie Chan from the Monogram era with Sidney Toler in the lead role, made soon after the last one I saw, Charlie Chan in the Secret Service. The murder victim is William Bonner, a fake psychic, who is shot during a seance at which Charlie's number something daughter, Frances Chan, is an attendee and to whose house Birmingham Brown had just arrived. Naturally Charlie is stuck with the investigation, which is complicated by the fact that Bonner was shot with what seems to be an invisible bullet.

Sidney Toler, who is about as Chinese as I am and who sounds far less authentic, is actually mildly entertaining here, mostly by grinning a lot, but it's still impossible to appreciate him more than the comic relief. Mantan Moreland gets to suffer from what seems like every negative racial stereotype possible as Birmingham Brown, but he's so damn good at it that it's impossible not to watch him, regardless of how many spook jokes he has to last through.

Frances is dumber than Iris, the last Chan daughter I saw, who was played by Marianne Quon, but she's still more fun to watch than Toler, and as usual she can speak so much better than her screen father. She also has the advantage of being played by someone with exactly the same name as her character: Frances Chan plays Frances Chan. I wonder how often that happened in the history of film! Apparently this is also the only instance in the whole series where a Chan daughter is the only assistant from the family, with no son, whatever number, present.

I don't recognise anyone else in the cast and nobody really shines. They're just another bunch of actors in another Monogram cheapie picture and they do their job perfectly well on that level. The picture itself does the same, and that's no bad thing for anything coming out of the Monogram studio. The fact that nobody lets the side down can be counted as a pronounced success.

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