Fox Film Corporation; Hamilton MacFadden Production
Distributed: Fox Film
Corporation, July 1931
Production: Early April (location shooting in Hawaii began on April 4) to early May 1931
Fox Film Corporation, May 27, 1931; LP2301
Opened: Roxy, New York, N.Y., the week of July 3, 1931
Sound: Western Electric
Film: Black and white
Length: 8 reels, 6,560 feet
Running Time: 67 or 71 minutes
Passed by the National
Board of Review
Source: Based on the novel The Black Camel
by Earl Derr Biggers (Indianapolis, 1929)
Songs: "Uheuhene" and "Na Lei O
words and music by Charles E. King;
"I Have a Thought in My Heart For You,"
words and music by Sol Hoopii, Jr.;
words and music by Queen Liliukalani
Producer: Hamilton MacFadden
Associate Producer: William Sistrom
Director: Hamilton MacFadden
Assistant Director: Sam Wurtzel
Original Story: Earl Derr Biggers
Adapted by: Hugh Strange
Screenplay and Dialog: Barry Conners; Philip Klein
Sound Recorder: W.W. Lindsay, Jr.
Art Director: Ben Carre
Photography: Joseph August; Daniel Clark
Original Music: Samuel Kaylin (not credited)
Dudley Nichols (not credited)
Film Editor: Al DeGaetano (not credited)
Costumes: Gary (not credited); Dolly Tree
Business Manager: W.F. Fitzgerald (not credited)
Warner Oland: Charlie Chan
Sally Eilers: Julie O'Neill
Dorothy Revier: Shelah Fane
Victor Varconi: Robert Fyfe
Murray Kinnell: Smith
William Post, Jr.:
Robert Young: Jimmy Bradshaw
Violet Dunn: Anna
J.M. Kerrigan: Thomas MacMasters
Mary Gordon: Mrs.
Rita Rozelle: Luana
Otto Yamaoka: Kashimo
Dwight Frye: Jessop (not credited)
Wilkie Ballou (not credited)
Marjorie White: Rita Ballou (not credited)
C. Henry Gordon: Huntley Van Horn (not
Robert Homans: Chief of Police (not credited)
Louise Mackintosh: Librarian (not credited)
Movie Director [Val Martino] (not credited)
James Wang: Wong (not credited)
Melvin Paoa: Hawaiian Beach Boy (not credited)
Bo Ling: Number One Chan Daughter (not credited)
(Unknown): Miss [Diana] Dixon (not credited)
Shelah Fane, a motion picture star who is filming in Honolulu, consults the mystic Tarneverro,
her spiritual advisor, to decide if she should marry Alan Jaynes, a wealthy globetrotter whom she met on the ship to Hawaii.
During a crystal ball session, Shelah confesses to Tarneverro that three years earlier she fell in love with her co-star,
Denny Mayo, and that she was in his house on the night he was murdered.
Agitated following her consultation, Shelah
tells Julie O'Neill, her protégé, that she cannot marry Alan. Anna, Shelah Fane's maid, is greatly upset when, as she brings
Shelah an orchid corsage from stage actor Robert Fyfe, who is currently appearing in town, she sees Shelah tearing up a photograph
of Denny Mayo.
That evening, just before a dinner party that Shelah Fane is giving, Julie, along with Jimmy Bradshaw,
a tourist bureau employee who wants to marry Julie, find Shelah stabbed to death in her pavilion. Without explaining
why, Julie has Jimmy remove Shelah's emerald ring.
During his investigation, Inspector Charlie Chan finds the orchid
corsage crushed next to the actress' body with their pin missing. He also notices in the sand outside the pavilion a
footprint made by a shoe with a hole in it. Chan gathers the guests, all of whom were in
Hollywood at the time of Denny Mayo's murder, and relates the old saying: "Death is a black camel that kneels unbidden at
every gate," adding, "Tonight, black camel has knelt here."
Chan's blundering assistant Kashimo finds the pieces of
the ripped photograph of Mayo, which disappear during a scuffle in which the room is plunged temporarily into darkness. When
Kashimo brings in a beach bum who calls himself "Smith," and whose shoes match the footprints found outside the pavilion,
Fyfe, Shelah's ex-husband, suddenly confesses to Shelah's murder. Alan, greatly upset at being detained, and declaring
that Fyfe's confession resolves the case, wants to leave immediately to catch a boat to the mainland. However, Chan
deduces that Fyfe could not have been at the pavilion at the time of the murder, and warns none of the guests to leave the
In need of money, Smith, who is an artist, threatens Fyfe that he will tell what he overheard Shelah say in
the Pavilion unless Fyfe buys one of his paintings. After Fyfe gives him $100 with the promise of an additional $200
later, Smith is shot by an unseen assailant as he walks along the beach. He staggers to a shack on the beach where his
native girlfriend, Luana, comforts him.
At Jimmy's urging, Julie confesses to Chan that she took the emerald ring
because it contains an inscription from Mayo. She tells him that she had wanted to keep Shelah's relationship with him
The next day, Chan learns from Mr. and Mrs. MacMasters, an Australian couple who know the renowned psychic,
that Tarnverro is really Denny Mayo's brother Arthur.
Luana accuses Fyfe of shooting Smith, and takes Chan and Fyfe
to her shack on the beach where the artist lies dying. Before Smith dies from his gunshot wound, he reveals to Chan
that he had overheard Shelah Fane tell Fyfe that she had confessed to Tarneverro that she had killed Denny Mayo. Fyfe
confirms this and says that after Shelah had found out that Mayo had a wife in England, she shot him during a quarrel. Fyfe
tells Chan that he had confessed to her murder because he still loved her and wished to protect her memory. Smith also
reveals that he took a diamond pin from the pavilion that he had found next to the crushed orchids, which, Chan notices, has
a missing pin.
Back at the house, Chan finds scratch marks on the floor beneath the dinner table that he believes
were made by the shoe in which the missing part of the diamond pin, embedded in the murderer's shoe when the corsage was trampled
under foot, is probably still lodged. As he makes this discovery, a knife is thrown at him. Chan deduces that
Fane's murderer must have sat in the chair situated above the scratches.
Meanwhile, Julie accepts Jimmy's proposal
and agrees to remain with him in Hawaii.
has the suspects sit at the table in the same positions in which they had sat the previous night.
Tarneverro sits at the chair nearest to the scratches, but upon further investigation, Chan learns that later that night,
the maid Anna sat in the same chair. When Chan finds a piece of the diamond pin embedded in the heel of her shoe, she
reveals that she is Denny Mayo's wife and that she killed Shelah Fane. Tarneverro tells that he came to Hollywood to
find his brother's murderer, and that when Shelah confessed to him, he told Anna. He asks to share Anna's fate. As
Chan goes to arrest Anna, Jessop, the butler, who is in love with her, pulls a gun. After a brief struggle, Chan disarms
him. Jessop then admits that he shot Smith because he knew too much and that it was he who had thrown the knife at Chan.
Just then, Kashimo enters with a clue, but Chan instructs him to "save for next case."
NOTES: The novel The Black Camel,
by Earl Derr Biggers, was originally published serially in The Saturday Evening Post between May 18 and June 22,
1929. Sources conflict concerning the release date of the
film. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal
Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, some scenes were shot in Honolulu, where some of the of the film's music was
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG - Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American
Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN'S APHORISMS:
Wages of stupidity is hunt for new job.
Alas, mouse cannot cast shadow like elephant.
Hollywood is famous furnisher of mysteries.
Always harder to keep murder secret than for egg to bounce on sidewalk.
Very few after-dinner speeches equipped
All foxes come at last to fur store.
Sometimes very difficult to pick up pumpkin with one
There is old saying: "Death is a black camel that kneels unbidden at every gate."
Alibi have habit
of disappearing like hole in water.
Even bagpipe will not speak when stomach is empty.
Way to find rabbit's
residence is to turn rabbit loose and watch.
Always happens - when conscience tries to speak, telephone out of order.
Even wisest man sometimes mistake bumblebee for blackberry.
Soap and water never can change perfume of billygoat.
Only very clever man can bite pie without breaking crust.
Learn from hen - never boast about egg until after
Can cut off monkey's tail, but he is still monkey.
Like shadow follow man, so fame has followed you from Hollywood. (To
Rumor announce you have been sightseeing in crystal globe. (To
Supernatural powers of fortunetellers make very bad smell in nostrils of Honolulu. (To Tarneverro)
Assault and battery not permitted without license from boxing commission.
(To Alan Jaynes, who was about to strike Tarneverro in anger)
quench fire of my curiosity with handful of straw. (To Tarneverro)
(Tarneverro: "Have you been driving long?") No. At first, I'm pretty bad driver; but
now, me and road turn corner same time.
Most unfashionable hole in one shoe. Fortune could not have smiled on
owner. (To Tarneverro, observing a footprint on the beach)
(There is old saying: "Death is a black camel that kneels unbidden at every gate.")
Tonight, black camel has knelt here. (To assembled suspects)
I am not
in mood tonight for turning other cheek, but will return assault with compound battery. (To
assembled suspects, after being assaulted in the darkness and having important evidence stolen)
(Huntley Van Horn: "Inspector, you need a lie-detector...an invention that detects instantly when anyone
is telling a lie.") Oh, I see. You mean a wife. I have one.
Kashimo, you are
zebra...Sport model jackass. (To Kashimo)
"The name might be Smith.") Might also be Jones. (Responding to Smith
who had stated his name in an unconvincing manner)
(Alan Jaynes: "Your theory's
full of holes - it won't hold water!') Sponge is full of holes; sponge holds water.
Baloney, applesauce, beans! One would think you all took lessons in grocery store instead
of at school. (To his children, who had used those terms to criticize
their Pop for claiming that he had not yet determined who had murdered Shelah Fane)
I am gratefully retreating
from bosom of honorable family to peace and quiet of murder case. (To
Secret of this case harder to determine than alley cat's grandfather. (To
Bright spark appears in darkness. (To Julie O'Neill, as her information
sheds light on the case)
Person who threw this (knife) evidently think a long life is only extra time for
more trouble. (To Chief of Police)
Clue? Too late - save for next case!
Variety, July 7, 1931
Charlie Chan, the Chinese Sherlock Holmes of Earl Derr Biggers' imagination, must be gathering
a screen rep for himself by now. He's an extremely interesting character while solving mystery plots and sprinkling
comic epigrams on the dialog. And he always comes out on top. In "The Black Camel" Chan clears up a three-in-one murder.
The killing of a femme film star on location in Honolulu is the plot's hub. As a story, it's interesting, with the film
star stuff compounding the interest. Plus what might come through the Chan rep the picture will do moderate business.
In the building-up process for the character Chan, Fox seems to have in Warner Oland an actor who can keep the role
going indef. This ex-heavy makes the Oriental dick a man who can be watched often.
Amidst the soft Hawaiian
beach scenery this time two murders are committed. The third murder cleared up was the first, having occurred in Hollywood
years before this narrative starts. The Hollywood victim was a director called Denny Mayo. It is brought out early
that that Shelah Fane, the star, murdered Mayo, but who murdered Miss Fane later is the question.
Most of the suspicion
is directed at the star's personal fortune teller, Tarneverro, and the next most at her ex-husband, an actor. The maid
is directed into almost tipping her mitt at the start of the film, cut [sic] when the climax arrives, just before
she's nabbed, the girl is the least suspected member of the cast. That's the usual way with mystery plots. When
it's not the maid, it's the butler. "The Black Camel's" butler is, of course, implicated too, having committed the other
killing. He was in love with the maid, and he shot a beachcomber who knew too much.
Cleverly directed, and as
much as any mystery-satiated customer would suspect the maid and butler at the start, there's enough plot development to switch
anyone's convictions. The maid angle is cleared up sensibly enough. She was Mayo's widow. The fortune teller was
Mayo's brother. They were both on Shelah Fane's trail to bring her to justice, but the girl couldn't wait for justice
to catch up.
Bela Lugosi, the crystal peeker, and Victor Varconi as the first husband, are boys who can always look
guilty under the right conditions, and in this instance the conditions are perfect between dialects and scowls. Sally
Eilers and Dorothy Revier were capable of dolling up the South Sea scenery, which is all they were required to do.
no acting standouts. In that department the film is all Oland.
THE PROBABLE DATE OF CHARLIE CHAN'S INVOLVEMENT: Early spring 1931
(two days) NOTE: It is possible we can state that the action in this film takes place in early April. We
might further surmise that, owing to the brightness of several "nighttime" scenes, that there was a full, bright moon
over Waikiki at the time. If this were so, we can, perhaps, noting that the moon was full on the evening of April
2, 1931, venture to state that the action portrayed in The Black Camel occurred on the above date and the following
day (April 3), a Thursday and Friday.
DURATION: 2 days
LOCATION: Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii and environs
SONG PLAYED OVER OPENING SCENE WITH SURFERS: "On
the Waves of Waikiki"
THE FIRST NEWSPAPER HEADLINE AND STORY:
THE SECOND NEWSPAPER HEADLINE AND STORY:
ACCORDING TO DIRECTOR VAL MARTINO, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT THE FILM COMPANY
HAS BEEN IN HONOLULU: "...a week..."
THE TIME GIVEN TO SHELAH FANE BY VAL MARTINO TO BEGIN SHOOTING
AGAIN THE NEXT DAY: "Eight o'clock in the morning, and don't be late."
ACCORDING TO ANNA, THE TIME FOR SHELAH FANE'S APPOINTMENT
WITH TARNEVERRO: "Four o'clock."
THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE THAT WAS SHOWN TO SHELAH FANE BY
JULIE O'NEILL'S UNUSUAL, "MUSICAL," ANSWER TO JIMMY BRRADSHAW'S CALL TO HER ON THE BEACH: "I'm COM-ing!" (In the early 1930s, there was a fad car horn that sounded like Julie O'Neill's
voice as she answered the insistant call of Jimmy Bradshaw. This car horn sound may be recalled in older cartoons, movies,
and even songs or advertisements.)
THE DEPARTURE TIME OF ALAN JAYNES' SHIP: Midnight (that
THE FAMOUS HONOLULU HOTEL SHOWN AND FEATURED: Royal
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, HIS CURRENT POSITION: "Inspector
Chan, Honolulu Police."
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT DENNY
MAYO, MURDERED IN HOLLYWOOD, HAD BEEN DEAD: "...dead now, three years."
THE NOTE SENT TO TARNEVERRO:
ACCORDING TO SHELAH FANE, THE DATE OF THE DENNY MAYO MURDER: "...three
years ago in June." (June 1928)
THE INSCRIPTION ON SHELAH FANE'S PHOTOGRAPH OF DENNY
THE NOTE WRITTEN ON ROBERT FYFE'S CARD ACCOMPANYING THE ORCHIDS FOR SHELAH FANE:
CHARLIE CHAN'S HONOLULU POLICE DEPARTMENT "SPECIAL POLICE" BADGE:
CHARLIE CHAN'S STATED PLANS FOR THAT EVENING: "I attend Rotary
Club banquet here at (the Royal Hawaiian) hotel."
THE TYPE OF RING THAT JIMMY BRADSHAW REMOVED FROM SHELAH FANE'S FINGER AT THE REQUEST
OF JULIE O'NEILL: Emerald
RITA BALLOU'S MAIDEN NAME BASED ON THE ANECDOTAL STORY THAT
SHE TOLD A FEW GUESTS AT SHELAH FANE'S HOUSE: Smith
THE TIME GIVEN BY TARNEVERRO TO THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN DESK CLERK
FOR HIS RETURN LATER THAT NIGHT: "...about eleven."
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE EXTENT OF SHELAH FANE'S MORTAL
WOUNDS: "Stabbed through heart."
THE FIRST CLUES, AS NOTED BY CHARLIE CHAN: "Orchids torn
from dress; crushed angrily under feet. Pin is missing."
THE SECOND CLUE, NOTED BY TARNEVERRO: "The wrist watch
is smashed. That establishes the time of the murder." (Charlie Chan: "Maybe.")
THE THIRD CLUE, IN THE BEACH SAND, AS NOTED BY CHARLIE CHAN OUTSIDE
OF THE PAVILLION: "Fresh footprints. Most unfashionable hole in one shoe."
ACCORDING TO JESSOP, THE LAST TIME THAT HE HAD SEEN SHELAH FANE ALIVE: "About
a quarter of eight, when she came downstairs to meet Mr. Jaynes."
HUNTLEY VAN HORN'S DEROGATORY REFERENCE TO CHARLIE CHAN:
"...Mr. Too Soon, or whatever your name is."
ACCORDING TO ROBERT FYFE, THE LAST TIME AND PLACE THAT HE HAD SEEN
HIS ESTRANGED WIFE, SHELAH FANE: "Seven years ago, in New York."
THE TIME, ACCORDING
TO ROBERT FYFE, AS HE ARRIVED AT SHELAH FANE'S HOUSE: "Five minutes before eight."
TIME, ACCORDING TO ROBERT FYFE, AS HE LEFT SHELAH FANE'S HOME: "...four minutes past eight."
ACCORDING TO ROBERT FYFE, THE AMOUNT OF TIME THAT HE WAS LATE FOR
HIS PERFORMANCE AT THE ROYAL THEATRE: "...five minutes..."
THE INSCRIPTION ON SMITH'S MEDAL AS READ BY CHARLIE CHAN: "Temple
Bronze Medal - Third Prize - Landscape in Oil - Pennsylvania Academy of Art"
THE TIME AS ROBERT FRYE ARRIVED BACK AT THE ROYAL THEATRE:
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT WOULD TAKE FYFE TO
TRAVEL BETWEEN SHELAH FANE'S HOUSE AND THE ROYAL THEATRE: "Journey takes fifteen minutes."
THE TIME AS WONG, THE COOK, HAD LAST SEEN SHELAH FANE "ALIVE
AND WELL": 8:12 p.m.
MR. SMITH'S "ADDRESS" AS STATED TO CHARLIE CHAN: "Sandy
spot, any beach, Honolulu."
THE NOTE RECOVERED FROM UNDER THE CARPET BY CHARLIE CHAN:
THE PRICE "REQUESTED" BY SMITH OF FRYE TO PURCHASE HIS PAINTING:
THE AMOUNT OFFERED BY FYFE: $300 ("I'll give you 100 now, and 200 next week.")
THE CAPTION BENEATH THE CUT-OUT PHOTO IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES:
THE NOTE TYPED TO JULIE O'NEILL:
THE TIME, ACCORDING TO MRS. MAC MASTERS, AND AS RESTATED BY CHARLIE
CHAN, THAT TARNEVERRO WAS WITH MR. AND MRS. MACMASTERS: "...from before eight o'clock until half-past last night..."
THE COUNTRY VISITED IN THE PAST BY DENNY AND ARTHUR MAYO,
WHERE THEY BECAME FRIENDS WITH MR. AND MRS. MACMASTERS: Australia
- (Slang) Nonsense; foolishness.
Charlie Chan's Oldest Daughter: Ah,
that's a lot of applesauce!"
- (Slang) Nonsense.
Charlie Chan's Young
Son: "Ah, baloney!"
(Slang) A person, especially one who is odd or remarkable.
Chief of Police: "I'm going to nail that
hocus-pocus - (1)
Nonsense words or phrases used as a formula by quack conjurers. (2) A trick performed
by a magician or juggler; sleight-of-hand. (3) Foolishness or empty pretense
used especially to disguise deception or chicanery.
Wilkie Ballou: "Look here, you can count me out of this hocus-pocus right
- The capital and largest city of Hawaii, on the southeast coast of Oahu. Honolulu's harbor was first entered by Europeans
in 1794. Settlement of the area began in 1816, and the city soon gained prominence as a whaling and sandalwood port. Honolulu
has been a major tourist center since the early twentieth century. Population - 1930: 202,807; 1940: 257,696.
Honolulu was the home of Charlie
Chan and his multitudinous family who lived on the slope of Punchbowl Hill. This city is at least the starting point
for a number of adventures, and, in two films, including Charlie Chan's Greatest Case and The Black
Camel (filmed on location), serves as the backdrop for the entire film. Other titles where at least some of the
plot, if only implied, takes place in Honolulu include Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan's Secret,
Charlie Chan at the Race Track, Charlie Chan in Honolulu, Charlie Chan in Reno, and Charlie
Chan's Murder Cruise.
- (Offensive slang) Used as a disparaging term for a person of Japanese birth or
descent. Much used during World War II in reference to the Japanese.
Wilkie Ballou: "This Jap
has locked all the doors on us!"
- (Slang) To stop and seize; catch.
Chief of Police: "I'm going to nail that bird now!"
Rotary Club - A group of businessmen
in a town organized as a service club and to promote world peace.
Charlie Chan: "I attend Rotary Club banquet here at hotel."
shoving off - (Informal)
To be leaving.
Smith: "I'm shoving off, Inspector."
spill the beans - (Slang)
To disclose a secret.
The Black Camel - Charlie Chan's Oldest Daughter: "C'mon, Pop, spill
that's a go - (Informal)
To be in agreement toward a proposal.
Huntley Van Horn: "That's a go, there are no more answers."
THE ROYAL HAWAIIAN HOTEL:
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which opened
on February 1, 1927, was built by the Matson Navigation Company at a cost of $4 million. Constructed on 15 acres of beautiful Waikiki beach frontage, the luxurious
pink Moorish-style hotel, was promoted world-wide as a premier visitor destination. The romance that had made Waikiki
so attractive in the past contributed to insure that the "Pink Palace" was a favorite of both visitors and local residents,
which it has remained for decades.
As mentioned above, the famous Matson Line that brought visitors
to the Islands from the mainland aboard its ships, owned the Royal Hawaiian. As the liners rounded Diamond Head, they
would pause to face the pink landmark and, to signal their arrival, they would blast their horns. Many of the hotel's
guests would arrive aboard these Matson ships.
During World War II, the Royal Hawaiian was used to house Navy
personnel for rest and relaxation. Servicemen returning from duty in the Pacific "unwound" at the famous hotel.
Following the war, the hotel, showing definite wear resulting from the Navy's use, was remodeled.
Following statehood in 1959, rapid development occurred in Waikiki.
Today, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel is surrounded by high-rise hotels, including newer wings of its own. However, the romance
of the old days can still be found at the "Pink Palace," and, if one listens carefully, voices from the past, including those
of Warner Oland and the cast and crew of The Black Camel, can still be faintly heard.
ROYAL HAWAIIAN HOTEL HISTORICAL LINK:
Catch a room-by-room glimpse of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel as it appeared when The Black
Camel was filmed on location within its palatial confines, courtesy of the Historic Hawaii Foundation website.
The song "Aloha 'Oe" ("Farewell to Thee"), written
in 1877 by Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Lili`uokalani, can be heard as "exit music" at the very end of "The Black Camel."
`e ka ua I nà pàli
Proudly the rain on the cliffs
Ke nihi a`ele i ka nahele
Creeps into the forest
E uhai ana paha i ka liko
Seeking the buds
Pua `àhihi lehua o uka.
And miniature lehua flowers of the uplands.
`oe, aloha `oe
Farewell to thee, farewell to thee
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo.
O fragrance in the blue depths.
"One fond embrace," a
ho`i a`e au
One fond embrace, and I leave
A hui hou aku.
To meet again.
`O ka hali`a aloha ka i hiki mai
Sweet memories come
Ke hone a`e nei i ku`u manawa.
Sound softly in my heart.
`O `oe nò ka`u ipo aloha
You are my beloved sweetheart
A loko e hana nei.
Maopopo ku`u `ike i ka nani
I understand the beauty
Nà pua rose o Mauna-wili.
Of rose blossoms at Mauna-wili.
I laila ho`ohie nà manu,
There the birds delight,
Miki`ala i ka nani o ia pua.
the beauty of this flower.