Charlie Chan at the Opera
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Distributed: Twentieth Century-Fox
Film Corporation, January 8, 1937
Copyright: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, December 5, 1936; LP7256
(and January 8, 1937; LP 7043)
Sound: Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Film: Black and white
Length: 7 reels, 6,175 feet
Running time: 66 or 68 minutes
Production Code Administration
Certificate Number: 2796
Songs: "March Funebre," "Ah, Romantic Love Dream," "King and Country Call,"
"Carnival Marche," and "Then Farewell" from the opera Carnival,
Music by Oscar Levant, Libretto by William Kernell, Orchestrations
by Charles Maxwell
Source: Based on the character "Charlie Chan" created by
Earl Derr Biggers
Associate Producer: John Stone
Director: H. Bruce Humberstone
Screenplay: Scott Darling and Charles S. Belden
Story: Bess Meredyth
Photography: Lucien Androit
Art Direction: Duncan Cramer and Lewis Creber
Film Editor: Alex Troffey
Sound: George Leverett and Harry M. Leonard
Musical Direction: Samuel
Warner Oland: Charlie Chan
Boris Karloff: Gravelle
Keye Luke: Lee Chan
Charlotte Henry: Mademoiselle Kitty (also known as Kitty Gravelle)
Thomas Beck: Phil Childers
Madame Lilli Rochelle
Gregory Gaye: Enrico Barelli
Nedda Harrigan: Madame Anita Barelli
Frank Conroy: Mr. Whitley
Guy Usher: Inspector Regan
William Demarest: Sergeant Kelly
Maurice Cass: Mr. Arnold
Tom McGuire: Morris
Hilda Vaughn: Agnes (not credited)
Fred A. Kelsey: Dugan (not credited)
Selmer Jackson: Hudson, Los Angeles Bulletin Wire Photo Technician (not credited)
Emmett Vogan: Smitty, Chicago Sun Wire Photo Technician (not credited)
John Bleifer: Orderly (not credited)
Lee Shumway: Sanitarium Guard (not credited)
Stanley Blystone: Police Officer with Rifle (not credited)
Benson Fong: Opera Extra Soldier (not credited)
Sam Tong: Opera Extra Soldier (not credited)
Gladden, James: Secretary (not credited)
Joan Woodbury: Opera Dancer (not credited)
Tudor Williams: Boris Karloff's operatic singing voice (not credited)
Harrison Greene (not credited)
At Rockland State Sanitarium, Gravelle, an opera singing amnesiac, regains some of his memory
when he sees a newspaper article about prima donna Lilli Rochelle. He then overcomes a guard and escapes into the rainy
In Los Angeles, Inspector Regan asks Charlie Chan, who has just completed the "Race Track"
case (see: Charlie Chan at the Race Track), to assist with this case. As they are in Regan's office discussing the matter, Lilli Rochelle comes in, accompanied
by her lover and fellow singer, Enrico Barelli, to report a threat that she will die that night. Even though Charlie
and son Lee need to make the midnight boat for Honolulu, Chan agrees to be backstage at the opera that night, along with Sergeant
Kelly, to investigate.
That evening, shortly before the opera is to begin, Phil Childers and his girlfriend Kitty
slip in through the backstage entrance. They are turned away by Kelly as they try to explain to him that they need to
see Mme. Lilli. As Chan and Regan arrive, Lilli's husband Whitely and Enrico are arguing over Lilli.
in the dressing room of Enrico's wife Anita, Gravelle appears. Although she is terrified because he was presumed dead
in a theater fire years ago, she agrees to keep his presence a secret while he carries out his plan of singing Enrico's role
on stage. Gravelle then menaces Enrico, who, along with Lilli, had locked him in the burning theater years ago.
Soon, it is a masked Gravelle rather than Barelli who joins Lilli on stage for their duet. Lilli recognizes Gravelle's
voice and collapses after he leaves the stage.
After Whitely carries Lilli off, the others rush to Enrico's room,
only to find that he has been stabbed. While the others search for Gravelle, Phil enters Lilli's room and finds that
she is dead. At this moment, Whitely returns and has Childers arrested. When Chan questions Phil and Kitty, they
tell him that Kitty is Lilli's daughter from her previous marriage to Gravelle and that Lilli had refused to acknowledge Kitty
in order to keep her past a secret. The young lovers were there to ask for Lillis permission to marry, as Kitty is underage.
Gravelle, who did not recognize Kitty, is stunned as he overhears from a hiding place.
Later, as Phil goes to
see Regan, leaving Kitty alone, Gravelle comes in. He gently questions her and plays a song on the piano, hoping that
she will recognize the melody and remember him. Kitty does not remember him, and faints from fright. Chan enters,
and, after Gravelle tells him about Lilli and Enrico's attempt to kill him, Chan flatters him into singing on stage again
At the conclusion of the opera, Chan arranges
to have Anita sing Lilli's role with Gravelle before an empty house. During the duet, which involves Gravelle's character
stabbing Anita's character, Anita becomes so scared that she screams, prompting a police officer to shoot Gravelle.
short time later, Chan demonstrates that Gravelle's knife could not have been that which was used in the murders. He
explains how Anita was the only one who had access to Enrico and Lilli when they were alone and unconscious, and that she
was the only one who knew that Gravelle was there and could therefore attempt to frame him. Anita confesses that it
was her jealousy that drove her to kill her unfaithful husband and his lover.
After Anita is taken away, Chan convinces
Kitty to comfort Gravelle, and thereby help save his life. As a doctor suggests that the bullet that grazed Gravelle's
skull might even restore the rest of his lost memory, Lee runs in, stating that he has an important clue, to which his father
replies, "Excellent clue, but like last rose of summer, too late."
NOTES: The film's title card reads: "Twentieth
Century-Fox presents Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff in Charlie Chan at the Opera." Although contemporary reviews
call Margaret Irving's character "Lucretia Barelli," she is called "Anita Barelli" in the film. A Motion Picture
Daily news item noted that the picture was banned in Germany for having "too many murders." The Hollywood Reporter
noted that public response to the film's preview was so positive that Twentieth Century-Fox planned to up the production
and advertising budgets for the Charlie Chan series, and that future films would see "Warner Oland co-starred with a top name
opposite." The first star the studio was said to be approaching to star with Oland was Peter Lorre. According
to another Hollywood Reporter news item, this film marked the first time that a DeBrie camera, which was lighter
and more quiet than other models, was used in the United States. According to modern sources, director H. Bruce Humberstone
borrowed some of the sets from Café Metropole for this film. Oscar Levant, in his autobiographical writings,
states that he was assigned to write an operatic sequence that would take advantage of a Mephistophelian costume that had
been created for Lawrence Tibbett in a previous Twentieth Century-Fox film (presumably Under Your Spell). Levant
also relates that the words for the opera were written originally in English by William Kernell and then translated into Italian
by "studio linguists." Benson Fong, who later portrayed Number Three Son, Tommy Chan, appeared unbilled in this film as one
of the opera extras (the third "soldier" from the left as they are first seen lined up). Baritone Tudor Williams provided
Boris Karloff's operatic singing voice.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG - Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American
Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN'S APHORISMS:
Honorable father once say, "Politeness golden key that open many doors."
say, "Luck happy combination of foolish accidents."
Small things sometime tell large stories.
Roses in romance
like tenor in opera - sing most persuasive love song.
Disloyalty of husband sometime ample provocation for revenge.
Sometime jewel found
Dead hands cannot hide knife.
Humility only defense against rightful blame.
Voice from back
seat sometime very disconcerting to driver.
Man who ride on merry-go-round often enough finally catch brass ring.
Very old Chinese wise man once say, "Madness twin brother of genius because each live in world
created by own ego. One sometime mistaken for other."
Old Chinese proverb say, "Hsing zhong kong zhu, yuan hsuan
wu tu." (When fear attack brain, tongue wave distress signal.)
Unwise officer who eat apple not yet
ripe get official tummy ache.
Like last rose of summer, bloom too late.
(Inspector Regan [regarding Charlie Chan's plans to return immediately
to Honolulu]: "Can't be separated from that family of yours, huh?") Become habit, like murderer always
return to scene of crime.
Humble servant very fortunate in stumbling on solution. (To
Inspector Regan regarding the "Race Track case")
Plum tree blossom many time since I hear silver voice
of Madame Lilli in Honolulu. (To Lilli Rochelle)
Madame's voice like monastery bell - when ringing, must attend. (To Lilli Rochelle)
Graceful as bamboo shoot, beautiful as blossom of water lily...Long time ago, use same
description for honorable mother. (To Lee, who was about to describe his girlfriend, evidently
in similar words)
Bouquet, like summer tourist on wrong train, evidently suffer switch in destination.
(To Anita and Enrico Barelli regarding the latter claiming to have sent flowers to Anita for their
(Sgt. Kelly [regarding a note handed to Charlie Chan by son Lee]:
"What's that, a laundry ticket?") Much laundry, but all dirty.
(Sgt. Kelly [regarding Lee Chan]: "Say, is that your kid?")
Chip off ancient block.
Light fingers of number one son most alarming. (To Lee, regarding
his uncanny ability to "lift" clues off of unsuspecting persons)
(Sgt. Kelly: "...I suppose it was his [Enrico Barelli] ghost that socked
me.") Perhaps substitute devil sock honorable colleague on chin.
(Inspector Regan: "The Commissioner will certainly make the fur
fly if everything goes wrong.") And bouquets fly if everything go right. (regarding
Chan's plan to let Gravelle perform in order to trap the murderer)
Case still wide open, like swinging
gate. (To Sgt. Kelly, who thought the case was solved)
(Anita Barelli: "Is this some ridiculous attempt to save your face,
Mr. Chan?" [answering Charlie Chan's charge of murder]) Humble continence merely facing facts.
Variety, December 13, 1936
Chan's interminable saga in this installment gets a shot in the arm which effectively dispels
any chances of monotony. It is the creation of a co-feature role, with Boris Karloff to play it. Darling-Belden
screenplay is concisely packed from Bess Merideth's material, and Humberstone's direction is fluent. Charlie Chan at
the Opera thus is a strong item for the duals and, with a stage unit, say, could make the grade okay on its own.
set in an opera house, the action is more complicated than in previous Chan stories and serves as an additional befuddlement
for the tyro sleuths in the audience. Backstage nooks and crannies furthermore provide the proper spook atmosphere for
Karloff to flit around in, while Levant's 'Carnival' is being rendered onstage.
Scenario on the whole took plenty
of cognizance of Karloff and fully warrants his presence, aside from the marquee weight he may have. As a cross between
a madman and an amnesia victim, Karloff plays a role right down his alley. And 20th doesn't let the audience forget
who he is. In one place there's a remark to the effect, 'Who do you think you are, Frankenstein?'
is without variation from his previous assignments, and he makes it in par. Keye Luke, as Chan's son, does a nice job
again. Voice and mannerisms are a pretty good match for Oland's pseudo-Orientalism.
Supporting cast works well,
with Margaret Irving as the diva who gets murdered, Nedda Harrigan as the menace, and William Demarest as a dumb cop, drawing
the longest footage. Clues are fairly well concealed, except that the evil-doer is billed as Lucretia, which may be
a partial give-away to those who connect the monnicker with Borgia history.
Photography and mounting are up to snuff,
while the musical end, purely a sidelight, is adequate.
THE DATE OF CHARLIE CHAN'S INVOLVEMENT
IN THE CASE: November 5, 1936 (Thursday)
DURATION: One day
LOCATION: Los Angeles, California
THE NAME OF THE SANITARIUM: Rockland State Sanitarium
THE NAME OF ONE OF THE TWO GUARDS PATROLING OUTSIDE OF ROCKLAND
ACCORDING TO THE INTERN, THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT GRAVELLE HAD
BEEN HOUSED AT ROCKLAND SANITARIUM: "...seven years."
THE CAPTION ABOVE THE NEWSPAPER PHOTOGRAPH OF LILLI ROCHELLE AS SEEN BY
THE LOS ANGELES CHRONICLE HEADLINE AND STORY:
THE LOS ANGELES TELEGRAPH HEADLINE AND STORY:
THE LOS ANGELES STAR HEADLINE AND STORY:
THE NAME OF THE OPERA COMPANY: San Marco Opera Company
THE NAME OF THE OPERA PERFORMED BY THE SAN MARCO OPERA COMPANY:
THE PRIMA DONNA OF THE SAN MARCO OPERA COMPANY: Lilli
THE LOCATION WHERE THE OPERA WAS TO BE PERFORMED:
Civic Opera House
THE SCHEDULED PERFORMANCE DATES FOR THE OPERA: November
5, 6, 7 (1936)
BESIDES LILLI ROCHELLE, THE OTHER
NAMES VISIBLE ON THE BILLBOARD ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE SAN MARCO OPERA COMPANY:
THE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT CAR THAT RECEIVED THE RADIO
MESSAGE: Car 17
THE MESSAGE RECEIVED BY CAR 17: "Man answering description
of escaped maniac just seen at 16th and Hill."
THE NAME OF THE OFFICER GIVING THE RADIO MESSAGE:
TWO DEROGATORY NAMES USED BY SGT. KELLY FOR CHARLIE CHAN:
"Chop Suey" and later, "Egg
THE TORN UP NEWSPAPER AS SEEN BY CHARLIE CHAN AT POLICE HEADQUARTERS (COMPARE WITH THE OTHER
THE SCHEDULED DEPARTURE TIME OF CHARLIE CHAN AND SON LEE'S
BOAT FOR HONOLULU: Midnight
CHARLIE CHAN'S RECENTLY SOLVED CASE MENTIONED BY INSPECTOR
REGAN: The "Race Track Case"
THE L.A.P.D. CASE NUMBER FOR THE ESCAPED MANIAC CASE:
THE MODE FLORISTS CARD AND HAND WRITTEN MESSAGE THAT WAS SENT TO LILLI ROCHELLE:
THE BARITONE OF THE SAN MARCO OPERA COMPANY: Enrico
ACCORDING TO LILLI ROCHELLE, HER RELATIONSHIP TO ENRICO
BARELLI: "...one of my dearest friends."
THE NAME OF THE PRIVATE DETECTIVE HIRED BY WHITELY TO FOLLOW
HIS WIFE, LILLI ROCHELLE: McGrath
THE FLORIST SHOP VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND SON LEE:
LEE CHAN'S CHOICE OF FLOWERS FOR HIS GIRLFRIEND:
"One dozen American Beauty roses."
THE NAME OF LEE CHAN'S LOS ANGELES GIRLFRIEND: Miss
Lotus Kwang Toy
MISS LOTUS KWANG TOY'S RESIDENCE: Belvedere Apartments
THE PRICE OF THE FLOWERS: $3.00
ACCORDING TO THE FLORIST, THE ORDER FOR ROSES PLACED BY ENRICO
BARELLI: "He ordered three dozen the American Beauties for the Signora (Mrs. Barelli)."
THE NICKNAME OF THE STAGE DOOR MANAGER OF THE CIVIC OPERA
THE OUTDATED CALENDAR ABOVE "POP'S" DESK: Close inspection
will reveal tha the calendar is for the month of October 1934. Below October are smaller calendars for the months of
September and November.
TIME SHOWN ON THE CLOCK NEAR "POP'S" DESK: 7:45 p.m.
THE PROBABLE OPENING CURTAIN TIME OF THE OPERA "CARNIVAL":
THE SECOND SOPRANO OF THE SAN MARCO OPERA COMPANY:
THE FAMOUS MOVIE MONSTER MENTIONED BY MR. ARNOLD, THE STAGE MANAGER:
Frankenstein (Frankenstein's monster) (Mr. Arnold: "...this opera is going on tonight even if Frankenstein walks
BENSON FONG, FUTURE NUMBER THREE SON, TOMMY, AS SEEN THIRD
FROM THE LEFT IN THE OPERA SOLDIER LINE-UP:
LILLI ROCHELLE'S DRESSING ROOM AT THE CIVIC OPERA HOUSE:
The room with the star on the door.
ANITA BARELLI'S DRESSING ROOM AT THE CIVIC OPERA HOUSE:
ENRICO BARELLI'S DRESSING ROOM AT THE CIVIC OPERA HOUSE:
THE WEDDING ANNIVERSARY OF ENRICO AND ANITA BARELLI:
THE NOTE, WRITTEN IN CHINESE CHARACTERS, HANDED TO CHARLIE CHAN BY SON LEE:
CHARLIE CHAN'S TRANSLATION OF LEE'S NOTE:
Somebody hiding in opera house.
Madame Lilli and husband in big
fight. Also have fingerprints you
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE IDENTITY OF THE ACTORS PORTRAYING
THE SOLDIERS IN THE OPERA "CARNIVAL": "Honorable fraternity brothers of worthy son - incognito."
THE PERSONS FROM WHOM LEE CHAN LIFTED SOURCES OF FINGERPRINTS:
Whitley, Mr. Arnold, and Anita Barelli
THE CHEMICALS USED BY CHARLIE CHAN TO BRING OUT THE WRITING
ON THE BURNT FLORIST CARD: Hydrochloric acid and ferricyanide of potassium.
THE MESSAGE REVEALED BY CHARLIE CHAN ON THE BURNT FLORIST CARD:
THE CAUSE OF ENRICO BARELLI'S DEATH, ACCORDING TO CHARLIE
CHAN: "Stabbed through heart."
THE NAME OF THE OFFICER SENT BY INSPECTOR REGAN TO GET THE
THE NAME OF THE OFFICER ORDERED BY SGT. KELLY TO WATCH PHIL
INSPECTOR REGAN'S ASSESSMENT OF LILLI ROCHELLE'S DEATH:
"Stabbed, just like Barelli."
THE TIME CLAIMED BY PHIL CHILDERS THAT HE HAD BEEN
WITH LILLI ROCHELLE: "...about four or five o'clock"
THE TIME AS LILLI ROCHELLE WAS IN INSPECTOR REGAN'S
OFFICE: 4:30 p.m.
KITTY'S STATEMENT ABOUT HER FATHER: "My father died
in a theater fire when I was about four years old. He was an opera singer"
BASED ON AVAILABLE INFORMATION, KITTY'S PROBABLE YEAR OF
THE LOCATION OF THE THEATER WHERE GRAVELLE WAS PRESUMED TO
HAVE PERISHED IN A FIRE: Chicago, Illinois
THE DATE OF THE THEATER FIRE IN WHICH GRAVELLE HAD SEEMINGLY
DIED: September 15, 1923
THE NEWSPAPER TELEPHONED BY LEE CHAN IN ORDER TO OBTAIN INFORMATION
ON GRAVELLE: The Los Angeles Bulletin
THE TEXT OF THE TELETYPE MESSAGE SENT FROM THE LOS ANGELES BULLETIN
TO THE CHICAGO SUN:
"CHICAGO SUN SEND PICTURE GRAVELLE LOST IN OPERA HOUSE FIRE SEPT.
I5 1923 CHANDLER L.A. BULLETIN"
THE NAME OF THE PERSON FROM THE LOS ANGELES BULLETIN
SENDING THE TELETYPE MESSAGE TO THE CHICAGO SUN: Chandler
THE NAME OF THE PERSON AT THE LOS ANGELES BULLETIN
WHO RECEIVED THE WIRE PHOTO OF GRAVELLE SENT BY THE CHICAGO SUN: Hudson
THE NAME OF THE PERSON AT THE CHICAGO SUN WHO SENT
THE WIRE PHOTO OF GRAVELLE TO THE LOS ANGELES BULLETIN: Smitty
THE PHOTOGRAPH OF GRAVELLE SENT FROM THE CHICAGO SUN
TO THE LOS ANGELES BULLETIN VIA WIRE:
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE AMOUNT OF TIME HE HAD LEFT TO CATCH THE MURDERER AND STILL MAKE THE
MIDNIGHT BOAT FOR HONOLULU: "...thirty short minutes..."
- (1) A solo vocal piece with instrumental accompaniment, as in an opera. (2) An air; a melody.
Charlie Chan: "Much applause tonight after
- A male singer or voice with a range higher than a bass and lower than a tenor.
Lilli Rochelle: "Enrico is the baritone
of my company."
- (Slang) Handcuffs.
Sgt. Kelly: "Listen, young fella, she's
lucky I haven't got the bracelets on her."
- (Slang) (1) Someone
acting as an informer or decoy for the police. (2) A female singer.
Sgt. Kelly: (Derogatorily referering to
Enrico Barelli) "I've got a personal grudge against that canary."
- (French) An elongated seat or couch with a support for the back at one end
and a seat long enough to support the legs and feet.
Whitley: "I laid her on the chaise
- A Chinese-American dish consisting of small pieces of meat or chicken cooked with bean sprouts and other vegetables
and served with rice.
Sgt. Kelly: (Derogatorily referering to
Charlie Chan) "You haven't called Chop Suey in on the case, have you, Chief?"
- (Slang) As used: A cold fish.
Sgt. Kelly: "I tell you, the dame is cold
- (Slang) A woman.
Sgt. Kelly: "I tell you, the dame
is cold turkey."
- (Slang) A detective.
Sgt. Kelly: "If that
Chinese dick knows where he is..."
egg foo yung
(egg fu yung) - A Chinese omelet containing onions and celery and chopped meat or fish.
Sgt. Kelly: (Derogatorily referering to
Charlie Chan) "Where's Regan and his pal...Egg Foo Yung?"
of potassium (potassium ferricyanide) - red prussiate
of potash; a dark, red, crystalline salt, K6(CN)12Fe2, consisting of the double cyanide of potassium and ferric iron. From
it is derived the ferrous ferricyanate, Turnbull's blue.
Used by Charlie Chan along with hydrochloric
acid to bring out the writing on a burnt florist card.
- (Slang) A fiesty person, usually a woman.
"Who was that firecracker?"
- (As used) One who gives an
often deceptively attractive or improved appearance.
Charlie Chan: "Miss Lotus Kuang Toy evidently
- (Slang) Performers who overact or exaggerate.
Sgt. Kelly: "None of you hams
are leaving the theater until this thing is cleared up."
acid - A clear, colorless, fuming, poisonous, highly acidic aqueous solution of hydrogen chloride, HCl, used
as a chemical intermediate and in petroleum production, ore reduction, food processing, pickling, and metal cleaning. It
is found in the stomach in dilute form.
Used by Charlie Chan
along with ferrocyanide of potassium to bring out the writing on a burnt florist card.
- The devil in the Faust legend to whom Faust sold his soul.
Gravelle: "The voice of Mephisto
comes from the flames."
- An instrumental composition intended especially as an introduction to an extended work, such as an opera or oratorio.
Mr. Arnold: "There's the overture!"
- (1) The leading woman soloist in an opera company. (2)
A temperamental, conceited person.
A poster advertising the San Marco Opera
Company's production of Carnival features prima donna Lilli Rochelle.
- (Giaccomo Puccini, 1858-1924) Italian operatic composer whose works include La Bohème (1896)
and Madame Butterfly (1904).
Mr. Arnold: "For the sake of Puccini,
Verdi, Wagner, and me, get on that stage!"
socked - To have been hit or struck
Charlie Chan at the Opera - Sgt. Kelly: "...I suppose it was his ghost that socked
soup and fish - (Informal)
A tuxedo or other men's eveningwear.
Charlie Chan: "Please, do not need
soup and fish."
Teletype - Trademark name of a
device that can send typed messages over telephone lines to a receiving device.
A Teletype machine was used as a means of instant communication between the
Los Angeles Bulletin and the Chicago Sun.
(Giuseppe Verdi, 1813-1901) An Italian composer of operas, including La Traviata
(1853), Aïda (1871), and Otello (1887). He is credited with raising Italian opera to its fullest artistic
Mr. Arnold: "For the sake of Puccini, Verdi,
Wagner, and me, get on that stage!"
(Richard Wagner, 1813-1883) A German composer known especially for his romantic operas,
often based on Germanic legends. Among his works are Tannhäuser (1845) and the tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen
Mr. Arnold: "For the sake of Puccini, Verdi,
Wagner, and me, get on that stage!"
- A trademark used for a photograph electrically transmitted over telephone wires.
A Wirephoto image of Gravelle was sent from
the Chigago Sun to the Los Angeles Bulletin.