Guest Review: Charlie Chan in Egypt

In Charlie Chan in Egypt, the eighth installment of the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan series, the famous Hawaiian detective sets off for Egypt to investigate the theft of archeological treasures….and unwraps a case of murder instead!

Detective Chan (Warner Oland) dons his sun hat and journeys to Egypt on behalf of the French Archeological Society to investigate the whereabouts of errant artifacts purloined from Professor Arnold’s recent excavation of Ameti’s tomb. Once he arrives, he discovers that Professor Arnold has left on an archeological dig weeks ago and sent only one mysterious letter in his absence. His son (James Eagles) and daughter (Pat Paterson) are both worried about him and for good reason… the following evening Charlie, along with Professor Thurston (Frank Conroy) and Arnold’s young assistant Tom (Thomas Beck), discover his body concealed within the sarcophagus from Ameti’s tomb!

Screenwriters Robert Ellis and Helen Logan were making their series debut (they would go on to pen nine Chan films) and weaved an exotic mystery that combined all the elements audiences would hope to see in a Chan film set in Egypt: Hot desert sands, an ancient Egyptian curse, a secret chamber in a tomb, and of course, mummies.

Warner Oland is always delightful to watch as the honorable Charlie, but he seems lonesome here without the presence of his Number One son Lee to distract him in his investigation. Instead, to add humor, there is Snowshoes (Stepin Fetchit), a hired hand at the dig site who hopes to find his ancestors among the mummies. Also in the cast is a young Rita Hayworth (billed Rita Cansino) who has a small part as a maid at the Arnold residence.

While Charlie Chan in Egypt boasts a great setting and is an entertaining entry in the series, it lacks the zip of some of the other Chan films. Most of the picture is set within the Arnold estate and grounds which gives it the confined feeling of a stage play and the suspects are not plentiful. The presence of Lionel Atwill or George Zucco as a shady antiquities dealer would have given the film the boost of an additional sinister suspect. But as Chan would say, “It takes very rainy day to drown duck”.

Previously on MovieFanFare: Guest Review: Charlie Chan in Panama

Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”

Editor’s note: For some insight into the complex (and problematic) history of the Charlie Chan films, we recommended checking out this article from NPR as well as this piece from The Los Angeles Times.