Charlie Chan at the Circus
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Century-Fox Film Corporation, March 27, 1936
Production: Began January 6, 1936; retakes early February 1936
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, March 27, 1936; LP64092
Opened: Center, New York, N.Y., the week of March 18,
Sound: Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 7 reels, 6,500 feet
Time: 71-72 minutes
Production Code Administration Certificate Number: 1978
Source: Based on the character "Charlie
Chan" created by Earl Derr Biggers
Director: Harry Lachman
Associate Producer: John Stone
Original Screenplay: Robert Ellis and Helen Logan
Photography: Daniel B. Clark
Art Direction: Duncan Cramer
Assistant Director: William Eckhardt
Film Editor: Alex
Costumes: William Lambert
Sound: Arthur von Kirbach
Musical Direction: Samuel Kaylin
CAST (as credited):
Warner Oland: Charlie
Keye Luke: Lee Chan
George Brasno: [Colonel] Tim
Olive Brasno: [Lady] Tiny
Francis Ford: John Gaines
Maxine Reiner: Marie Norman
(also known as Marie Normand)
John McGuire: Hal Blake
Shirley Deane: Louise
(also known as Lou; also known as Louise Normand)
Paul Stanton: Joe Kinney
J. Carrol Naish: Tom Holt
Boothe Howard: Dan Farrell
Drue Leyton: Nellie Farrell
Wade Boteler: Lieutenant
Shia Jung: Su Toy
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
John Aasen: Tower the Circus Giant
Esther Brodelet: Circus Performer
John Dilson: Doctor
Franklyn Farnum: Mike
Charles Gemora: Caesar the Ape
Faye Hee: Number Five Chan Daughter
Eugene Hoo: Number Three Chan Son
Eunice Soo Hoo: Infant Chan Daughter
Frances Hoo: Number Two Chan Daughter
Hippie Hoo: Number Five Chan Son
Anna Mar: Mrs. Charlie Chan
Paul McVey: Ringmaster
Lily Mui: Number Six Chan Daughter
Stanton Mui: Number Four Chan Son
Helen Quon: Number Four Chan Daughter
Mae Jean Quon: Number Three Chan Daughter
Anita Thompson: Circus Performer
Florence Ung: Number One Chan Daughter
Richard Ung: Number Two Chan Son
Charlie Chan takes his wife and twelve children, who are sightseeing on the mainland, to a
circus owned by kindly John Gaines and his unscrupulous partner, Joe Kinney. Kinney, who had sent Chan free passes to
bring him to the circus, tells Chan that he has been receiving threatening letters. Kinney asks Chan to meet him at
the circus' business office at 9:00 where he can fully explain his concerns.
After Chan returns to the performance, Kinney and Gaines quarrel over money matters. Kinney
then tries to discipline Caesar, the circus' ape, with a whip, but the handler, Hal Blake, warns Kinney that he treats Caesar
too roughly. Kinney tells Blake that he is fired, and the two men get into a scuffle, during which Kinney drops a key
that is picked up off the ground by an unidentified hand. Hal seeks solace from his girl friend, Louise Norman, whose
sister, aerialist Marie Norman, is Kinney's fiancÚ.
Meanwhile, during the show, Chan leaves his family to meet with
Kinney at the appointed time. However, arriving at the office wagon, Chan, who runs into Gaines, dancing midgets Colonel
Tim and Lady Tiny, and the circus' giant, discover that Kinney has been murdered. Because the wagon had been locked
from the inside, and because of the animal hairs that are found on the window sill, it is suspected that Caesar the ape, who
had been mysteriously let out of his cage, had climbed through the window, killing Kinney. Chan, however, withholds
judgment and turns the case over to local police official, Lieutenant Macy, and returns to his family to continue their vacation.
Later that night, however, as Chan's "multitudinous" family packs their belongings for the next leg of their trip,
Tiny appears at their hotel and pleads with the detective to continue the investigation to clear Tim and Gaines, who are being
held for questioning. She tells Chan that if the circus is not allowed to move on, it will not be able to make the money
that is needed to survive. Chan's family also tries to convince the detective to stay to work on the case. "Jury
seem to render judgment without retiring," states the smiling Charlie Chan, continuing, "Final decision in hands of judge."
"Judge say 'yes,' too!" answers Mrs. Chan.
At the local police station, Chan successfully convinces Lieutenant
Macy to release Tim and Gaines, and to allow the circus to move on to its next stop, in hopes that the killer will reveal
Chan, Lee, and Macy travel with the circus on its train and, despite an attempt on Chan's life that night
in the form of a poisonous cobra, reach their destination the next day. It is discovered that the business wagon has
been broken into, and that an unsuccessful attempt had been made to force the safe open. Opening the safe, Macy, Chan,
and Lee find Kinney's insurance policy that names Marie Norman as the beneficiary. They also find a marriage certificate
stating that Kinney and wardrobe mistress Nellie Ferrell were married in Juarez, Mexico on May 30, 1935.
later confronts Nellie and her brother Dan. Nellie asserts that, as Kinney's widow, she is entitled to his half of the
circus. Marie retorts that Nellie's claim is false, as Kinney could not have been in Juarez on that date. However,
before she can offer proof, Marie is called to her trapeze performance.
While Marie performs her act high above the
crowd, someone shoots her rigging and she falls to the ground. Although Norman is alive, she is seriously injured, and the
doctor who is summoned explains that she must be operated on immediately.
While the doctor is working on Marie, Chan
looks through her scrapbook, and discovers that on May 30, Kinney was being held as a witness to a murder in El Paso. While
Lee telephones the police in El Paso for more information, Caesar is again released from his cage. Inside a circus tent,
Marie is undergoing an operation. Suddenly, an attending nurse notices the ape about to throw a hammer at Marie and screams.
The hammer misses, and the ape is shot dead.
of the tent, Chan reveals that it is not Caesar who was shot, but snake handler Tom Holt who had disguised himself as the
ape. The police confirm that Holt was the killer in El Paso, and Chan deduces that Kinney had covered up for Holt, but
was later murdered by Holt after their quarrel over money. Holt had then attempted to kill Marie, who is recovering
safely, and secretly, at a local hospital, because she could reveal the facts of the El Paso incident. Nellie and her
brother Dan, who had forged the marriage certificate after Kinney's death, are taken away by the police.
Gaines that he would now like to attend the circus as a simple spectator, to which the latter states that the detective and
his family will receive a lifetime pass to his show. "How many shall I make it out for?" asks Gaines, "Fourteen, or..."
"Think fourteen quite sufficient," answers Chan, who, noting Lee and contortionist Su Toy, whom his son has been romancing
throughout the investigation, adds, "...maybe more, later."
NOTES: According to Hollywood Reporter
news items and production charts, June Lang and John Dilson were to be in the cast, but their participation in the final film
has not been confirmed. According to another Hollywood Reporter news item, the film was shot "on location at
the Al G. Barnes winter quarters," and a Motion Picture Herald pre-release article states that "the Barnes Circus
[was] used as a background for production settings." In a mid-1980s interview, Keye Luke mentioned that the winter home
of the circus used in the film was in the eastern Los Angeles community of El Monte.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG - Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American
Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN'S APHORISMS:
Free ticket to circus like gold ring on merry-go-round - make enjoyment double.
of package does not indicate quality within.
Wise precaution to accept "applesauce" with large pinch of salt.
responsible for cat needing nine lives.
More than one way to remove skin from cat.
Much evil can enter through
very small space.
One ounce of experience worth ton of detective books.
Man who seek trouble never find it
Frightened bird very difficult to catch.
Old English adage say, "Give man plenty rope, will hang
Guilty conscience only enemy to peaceful rest.
Circus performer like detective - must be Johnny-of-many-trades.
Ancient adage say,
"Music soothe savage breast."
Question without answer, like faraway water, no good for nearby fire.
who misses mark, like serpent, must coil to strike again.
Very wise know way out before going in.
Very easy to read mind when clue like rag on sore thumb.
Facts like photographic film
- must be exposed before developing.
Too soon to count chickens until eggs are in nest.
One grain of luck
sometimes worth more than whole rice field of wisdom.
Cannot tell where path lead until reach end of road.
tools shorten labor.
Inquisitive person like bear after honey - sometime find hornets' nest.
Better to slip
with foot than with tongue.
Silent witness sometime speak loudest.
Magnifying female charms very ancient optical
Even if name signed one million times, no two signatures ever exactly alike.
always wise to accept simplest solution.
Mind, like parachute, only function when open.
Unloaded gun always
cause most trouble.
No use to hurry unless sure of catching right train.
Jack have no trouble sliding down beanstalk. (To
Colonel Tim, about using Tower, the circus giant's cane to enter the circus wagon office through its skylight)
(Lee: "Are you hurt, Pop?") Side of wagon not like feather bed. (After having
been attacked by Caesar the ape who had thrown him against the side of the circus' office wagon)
(Lt. Macy: "You sure got a bright kid. He just gave me a good steer.") Sometime suspect ambitious
offspring of giving bull.
(Lee: "Gee, Pop, I hate to walk out on this case. I can
see some interesting angles.") Contortion lady? (Referring to contortionist Su
(Lee: "You know, I think we ought to stick with this case, Pop, and go to
the next town with the circus.") Have desire to remain permanently in monkey cage? (To Lee, referring to how Su Toy had earlier locked him in a cage)
lieutenant of police act with streamline speed. (To Lady Tiny regarding Lt. Macy)
seem to render verdict without retiring. (To Lady Tiny regarding his children unanimously desiring
Chan to assist in the murder investigation)
Final decision in hands of judge. (To
lady Tiny, referring to his wife)
(Lt. Macy: "I'm going to give them a few hours
in the jug, and I'll bet they uncork everything they know.") Perhaps facts also remain corked in jug.
mind of policeman work like lightening. (To Lt. Macy)
Toy: [to Lee] "Good night!" [slamming train window shut]) Lady seem to have dropped final curtain.
(Ancient adage say, "Music soothe savage
breast.") Please to reserve for such an occasion. (To Lee regarding
his phonograph records)
(Lee: "It's kind of creepy here in Kinney's room.")
Then recommend you brush teeth, say prayers, and go to bed.
(Lee: "...I'm going out
on the platform and think this case over.") Have new problem in female geometry?
Darwin theory correct. (To Lee regarding his attempt at contortions)
(Colonel Tim: "More trouble for Mr. Gaines.") Trouble rain on man already wet.
like nose on anteater. (To Lee, regarding obvious clue [a pin belonging
to Su Toy on his person] showing that he had seen her that day)
Very commendable research. Have
discovered secret of perpetual agitation? (To Lee who was looking at a magnified photograph
of Su Toy)
Death write finish to mystery. (To the assembled circus people
and authorities following the death of the killer)
LEE CHAN'S "CHANISM":
You know what you always say, Pop: "If you want to understand men, study women."
Variety, March 25, 1936
Taking Earl Derr Biggers' Oriental detective and his 14 [sic] children as the pivot
an original yarn with a circus background has been written by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan. There have been better 'Charlie
Chan' whodunits, And worse. This one may qualify as satisfactory companionship for another feature in need of a melodramatic
Story carries some charm in that Charlies [sic] Chan himself, as made real by Warner Oland,
is always attractive and his over-size brood is good for some giggles along off-the-beaten-path humor lines. Cute twist too
in having vaudeville midgets, George and Olive Brasno, prominently participating in the story and also doing a hot rhumba.
Girl gets considerable close-up footage and photographs as a pretty doll-baby. Folks will respond to this bit. An exceptional
pair, the midgets are one of the film's chief merits.
Plot while worked out logically is not too griping. It's the
characterization that carries it. Comedy romance between Chan's son (Keye Luke) and a Chinese performer (Shia Jung) is developed
PROBABLE DATE: Late January
1936 (In signing his autograph for Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny, Charlie Chan first writes
[see below] "Wishing prosperity and long life." This is a traditional Chinese statement that is most appropriately used
during Chinese New Year. In 1936, the New Year fell on January 24, thus, this is a very probably the season when Charlie
Chan and his family were touring the mainland, in particular, the Grand Canyon.)
DURATION: Two days
POSSIBLE LOCATIONS: Flagstaff,
Arizona (first night, near to the Chan family's next stop, the Grand Canyon), overnight circus train, Albuquerque, New
Mexico (two days)
THE NAME OF THE CIRCUS VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND HIS FAMILY:
"Kinney and Gaines Combined Circus" (also known as "Kinney and Gaines Greater Circus")
ANNOUNCED ATTRACTIONS AT THE KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS:
Madame Beardo, "The World's Wonder," Gangor, the snake charmer, Su Toy, "The Human Knot," and Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny, "The
Biggest Little People On Earth"
THE COST OF A TICKET TO THE "GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH":
THE CURRENT NUMBER OF CHILDREN IN THE CHAN FAMILY:
MRS. CHAN HOLDS THE CHAN FAMILY'S "LATEST BLESSED EVENT":
OTHER CIRCUS ACTS NOTED: "London Punch and Judy Show,"
"Samson the European Strong Man," "Hawaiian Princess" ("Princess Aloha"), Tower the Giant, "The Tallest Man in Existence"
A FEATURED ANIMAL ACT AT KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS:
"Caesar the Ape"
THE HEIGHTS GIVEN FOR COLONEL TIM AND LADY TINY: 42
and 40 inches respectively
THE DANCE PERFORMED ON STAGE BY COLONEL TIM AND LADY TINY:
THE AUTOGRAPH SIGNED FOR LADY TINY BY CHARLIE CHAN: It reads: "Wishing
prosperity and long life." It is very probable that it was Keye Luke's hand that actually penned these words.
OTHER COLORFUL DESCRIPTIONS OF SU TOY "THE HUMAN KNOT":
"That beautiful little flower of the Orient," "The Human Puzzle."
CHARLIE CHAN'S APPOINTMENT TIME WITH JOE KINNEY: 9
THE PROBABLE STARTING TIME FOR THE PERFORMANCE UNDER THE
BIG TOP: 8:30 p.m.
ACCORDING TO JOHN GAINES, THE "TAKE" FOR KINNEY AND GAINES
CIRCUS THAT NIGHT: "Twenty-six hundred and eighty."
ACCORDING TO THE CIRCUS RINGMASTER, THE UNIQUE MOVE DEMONSTRATED
BY MARIE NORMAN ON THE TRAPEZE: "The only artiste in the world with any circus today doing a forward somersault
from a flying trapeze and catching by her heels."
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, JOE KINNEY'S CAUSE OF DEATH:
"Neck broken. Strangled by very powerful hands."
THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR SUMMONED BY JOHN GAINES: Dr.
THE NAMES OF TWO OF THE CIRCUS WORKERS WHO WERE DIRECTED BY HAL BLAKE TO LOOK FOR THE
ESCAPED CAESAR THE APE: Jerry and Frank
THE TEXT OF THE SIGN ON THE ANIMAL CAGE THAT IN WHICH LEE CHAN LOCKED SU TOY FOR HER
PROTECTION: "Royal Bengal Tigers"
HOTEL ROOM NUMBER OF CHARLIE CHAN AND FAMILY: 410
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE CHAN FAMILY'S PLANS FOR THE
NEXT DAY: "...to observe wonders of Grand Canyon."
ACCORDING TO LADY TINY, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT SHE
AND COLONEL TIM HAD BEEN WITH JOHN GAINES AND THE CIRCUS: "We've been with him for five years..."
ACCORDING TO LADY TINY, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT JOE KINNEY
HAD BEEN PART OWNER OF THE CIRCUS: "Just the last two seasons."
ACCORDING TO LADY TINY, THE AMOUNT OF THE CIRCUS THAT WAS SOLD TO JOE KINNEY BY JOHN
GAINES: "...he sold him a half-interest"
THE NAME OF THE OFFICER TOLD BY LT. MACY TO "BOOK" THE CIRCUS PERFORMERS: Stone
ACCORDING TO JOHN GAINES, DEPARTURE TIME FOR THE KINNEY AND
GAINES CIRCUS TRAIN: "Midnight."
CHARLIE CHAN'S BREAKFAST WITH THE "LITTLE PEOPLE":
Coffee, toast, and doughnuts
VARIOUS ANIMALS SHOWN, HEARD, OR OTHERWISE SUGGESTED IN THE
KINNEY AND GAINES CIRCUS: "Royal Bengal Tigers" (sign on cage), camels, elephants (one named "Jumbo"), zebras,
lions, hippopotamus, horses, seals (sea lions) (heard in the background), snakes (cobra)
THE NAME OF LADY TINY'S ELEPHANT FRIEND: Jumbo
THE VALUE OF JOE KINNEY'S LIFE INSURANCE POLICY THAT
WAS FOUND IN HIS SAFE: $50,000
ACCORDING TO LT. MACY, THE BENEFICIARY OF THIS POLICY:
"...changed last month to Marie Norman."
ACCORDING TO LT. MACY, THE TOWN (AND THE DATE) WHERE NELLIE FARRELL AND JOE KINNEY WERE
SUPPOSEDLY MARRIED: "Juarez, Mexico, May 30, 1935."
THE MEXICAN MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE SHOWING THAT NELLIE FARRELL AND JOE KINNY WERE SUPPOSEDLY
THE LOCATION OF THE LAW OFFICE VISITED BY NELLIE FERRELL
AND HER BROTHER DAN: 402 Arcade Building
THE NAME OF THE ATTORNEY VISITED: Frederick Garner
ACCORDING TO NELLIE FARRELL, THE DATE OF HER SUPPOSED MARRIAGE
TO JOE KINNEY: "It was on May 30, 1935 - Decoration Day." (Nellie Ferrell: "...five months ago.")
THE NAME OF THE WARDROBE MISTRESS AT THE KINNEY AND GAINES
DR. MEAD'S DESCRIPTION OF MARIE NORMAN'S INJURIES:
"There are two compound rib fractures and a possible spine injury."
THE DATE OF THE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE SHOWN FROM MARIE NORMAN'S
SCRAPBOOK: May 31, 1935
THE HEADLINE AND STORY AS SEEN ON ONE OF THE SCRAPBOOK ARTICLES:
THE PHOTO AND CAPTION UNDER FROM ANOTHER SCRAPBOOK CLIPPING:
THE CAPTION UNDER THE PHOTO: "Marie Normand, Aerial
THE DATE OF THE OTHER NEWSPAPER ARTICLE FROM MARIE NORMAN'S
SCRAPBOOK ABOUT THE MURDER IN EL PASO, TEXAS: May 31, 1935
THE NAME OF THE NEWSPAPER: --y Times
(El Paso Daily Times?)
THE HEADLINE AND STORIES IN THE ARTICLE:
THE PARTIAL TEXT OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE:
"Juarez, May 31. - Blood mingled with chips at the
[Ace Casino last] night, when deputy Pedro Ramirez at-..."
THE POSSIBLE NAME OF THE MURDERED DEPUTY: Pedro Ramirez
(determined from partially visible text of the above newspaper article)
THE POLICE AGENCY TELEPHONED BY LEE CHAN: "...police
headquarters, El Paso, Texas."
MARIE AND LOUISE NORMAN'S "ALTERNATE" LAST NAME: Marie Norman is referred to as "Marie
Normand" in one of the two newspaper clippings from her scrapbook. Also, a sign is shown which reads: "Marie and Louise
- (Slang) Nonsense; foolishness.
Charlie Chan: "Wise
precaution to accept applesauce with large pinch of salt."
beat it -
(Informal) To leave or depart.
Colonel Tim: "...so, I beat it."
- The main tent of a circus.
Dan Farrell: "Don't let him get near the
- A sure thing; a certainty.
Lt. Macy: "It's a cinch."
comes to -
Lt. Macy: "If something doesn't break
when she comes to..."
Day - Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day to remember those who have died in our
nation's service. After the Civil war many people in the North and South decorated graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.
Decoration Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan and was first observed officially on May 30,
1868. The South did not observe Decoration Day, preferring to honor their dead on separate days until after World War
I. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and soldiers who had died in other wars were also honored. In
1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.
Nellie Ferrell: "It was on May 30, 1935
- Decoration Day."
- (Slang) Information.
Lee Chan: "I can give you the dope,
fluoroscope - A
device equipped with a fluorescent screen on which the internal structures of an optically opaque object, such as the human
body, may be continuously viewed as shadowy images formed by the differential transmission of x-rays through the object.
Dr. Mead: "I sent for the fluoroscope..."
- (Slang) To question relentlessly; cross-examine.
Lt. Macy: "We better round up the whole
outfit and give them a grilling, Mr. Chan."
honkey-tonks - Cheap bars or dance halls.
Lady Tiny: "He was only used to honky-tonks."
in the red -
Operating at a loss; in debt.
Joe Kinney: "...the show went in
"Johnny-of-many-trades" (jack-of-all-trades) - A person who can do many different
kinds of work.
Charlie Chan: "Circus performer, like
detective, must be Johnny-of-many-trades."
- (Slang) A jail.
Lt. Macy: "I'm going to give them a few hours in the
knock off - (Slang) To kill or overcome.
Lt. Macy: "He tried to knock
(Slang) A swift cursory examination or inspection
Lt. Macy: Go ahead, fellas, give the place
on the up
and up - (Slang) The truth.
Lt. Macy: "This marriage certificate's
on the up and up."
- (Slang) To take into custody; arrest.
Lt. Macy: "We've got enough on him now
to make a pinch."
rumba - (1) A dance of
Cuban origin, combining complex footwork with a pronounced movement of the hips. (2)
A modern ballroom adaptation of this dance. (3) Music for this dance or in this
Lee Chan: "Oh, boy, I'll bet you can shake a mean rumba."
snappy - (Informal)
Lt. Macy: "And make it snappy!"
stateroom - A private
cabin or compartment with sleeping accommodations on a ship or train.
Tom Holt: "Mr. Gaines never let it out of his stateroom."
steer - (Slang) To direct the course
Lt. Macy: "You sure got a bright kid, he just gave me a good steer."
(Informal) To complain loudly or vehemently.
Lt. Macy: "Somebody was afraid Marie
Norman would squawk..."
two-timing - (Slang) To
be unfaithful to a spouse or lover.
Lt. Macy: "The Norman girl must have found out he was two-timing
yellow - (Informal)
Joe Kinney: "Even the ape knows you're yellow."