Charlie Chan in City in Darkness
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Distributed: Twentieth Century-Fox
Film Corporation, December 1, 1939
Production: Began July 6, 1939
Copyright: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation,
December 1, 1939; LP9341
Opened: Chinese, Hollywood, Calif., the week of November 15, 1939
Sound: RCA "High Fidelity"
Film: Black and white
Length: 8 reels, 6,686 feet
Running Time: 69 minutes
Production Code Administration
Certificate Number: 5531
Sources: Based on the character "Charlie Chan" created by Earl Derr Biggers
Based on a play by Gina Kaus and Ladislaus Foder
Executive Producer: Sol M. Wurtzell (not credited)
Associate Producer: John Stone
Herbert I. Leeds
Assistant Director: Charles Hall (not credited)
Screenplay: Robert Ellis and Helen Logan
of Photography: Virgil Miller
Art Direction: Richard Day and Lewis Creber
Film Editor: Harry Reynolds
Musical Direction: Samuel Kaylin
Sound: Joseph E. Aiken and William H. Andersor
CAST (as credited):
Sidney Toler: Charlie
Lynn Bari: Marie Dubon (also known as Madame Madero)
Richard Clark: Tony Madero
Harold Huber: Marcel
Pedro de Cordoba: Antoine
Dorothy Tree: Charlotte Ronnell
C. Henry Gordon: Prefect of Police [J. Romaine]
Douglas Drumbrille: [B.] Petroff
Noel Madison: Belescu
Leo Carroll: Louis Santelle
Lon Chaney, Jr.: Pierre
Louis Mercier: ["Gentleman"] Max
George Davis: Alex
Barbara Leonard: Lola
Adrienne d'Ambricourt: Landlady
Frederik Vogeding: Captain [Holtz]
Gino Corrado: Cafe Owner
UNCREDITED CAST (alphabetical):
Edvard Benes: Himself (archive footage)
Eugene Borden: Gendarme
Neville Chamberlain: Himself (archive footage)
André Cheron: Robed Man in Hallway
Ann Codee: Complainant at Police Headquarters
Albert Conti: Travel Agency Manager
Gino Corrado: Wine Cellar Proprietor
Jean De Briac: Puppeteer
Jean Del Val: Taxicab Driver
Harry Fleishmann: Baptiste
Constant Franke: Officer
Arno Frey: Pilot
John George: Victor the Gyp
Adolph Hitler: Himself (archive footage)
Paul Irving: Doctor
Jeanne Lafayette: French Girl
Michael Mark: Mechanic
Alphonse Martell: Gendarme
Alberto Morin: Clerk
Benito Mussolini: Himself (archive footage)
Nita Pike: Telephone Operator
Albert Pollet: Taxicab Driver
Frank Puglia: Gendarme at Steamship Office
Joseph Romantini: Gendarme
Rolfe Sedan: Hotel Manager
Tom Seidel: Philip
Lester Sharpe: Market Man
George Sorel: Plainclothes Officer
Larry Steers: Man Leaving Paris
Jaques Vanaire: Gendarme
Veola Vonn: French Girl
Poppty Wilde: One of Petroff's Girlfriends
Marek Windheim: Taxicab Driver
On September 28, 1938, the great powers of Europe are poised on the brink of war, and Paris,
the City of Light, is plunged into darkness as a total blackout is ordered out of fears of an air attack.
Chan, is attending the twentieth anniversary gathering of members of the Intelligence Service, who have come together in
Paris to mark the occasion. "Most ironic that reunion to celebrate end of one war finds us waiting zero hour which
may start a new one," states a somber Mr. Chan. However, the detective is drawn into a murder case when Petroff, a wealthy
exporter, is killed that night.
While Chan's investigation progresses, as he "assists" the inept Marcel
Spivak, he narrows the list of suspects to Tony Madero, a man whom Petroff had framed for forgery because he had objected
to Petroff's unwelcome attentions to his wife, Marie Dubon; Alex, "Gentleman" Max, and Lola, three burglars who had broken
into Petroff's house that night; Belescu, Petroff's business partner; Louis Santelle, a locksmith who was in the business
of printing false passports; and Antoine, Petroff's French butler.
Chan discovers that Petroff had died while dictating a telegram about obtaining clearance papers for a special cargo.
The detective realizes that Petroff was a foreign agent who was dealing in munitions with a potential enemy of France.
Chan then traces Belescu to Charlotte Ronnell, the head of a spy ring that was shipping munitions to the enemy. A high-speed
chase leads to an airport where, while trying to make her escape, Charlotte dies in a fiery crash during takeoff.
at police headquarters, Antoine admits that it was he who killed Petroff during a struggle after Antoine had found that the
latter was shipping weapons to the enemy, an enemy against whom his own son might soon be fighting. To this admission
Chan states, "In Humble opinion, murder is harsh word for act committed in defense of country."
After Prefect of Police
Romaine declares that Antoine will receive the Croix de Guerre for his service to his country, Romaine receives word of the
Munich peace conference and jubilantly announces that there will be no war. Prophetically, Charlie Chan states, "Wise
man has said, 'Beware of spider who invite fly into parlor.'"
NOTES: Charlie Chan in City
in Darkness begins with newsreel-like footage featuring actual European
leaders of the moment, including Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Edward Benes (then
president of Czechoslovakia), and Neville Chamberlain (then prime Minister of
Great Britain, who became famous for his "Peace for Our Time" statement based
on the dubious outcome of the Munich Conference which figures at the end of the
film via Charlie Chan’s ominous warning).
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG - Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American
Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN'S APHORISMS:
Birds never divide worm until safe in nest.
In every city there are roosts where birds
of feather congregate.
Patience big sister to wisdom.
Confucius has said, "A wise man question himself, a
Truth is only path out of tangled web.
To describe bitter medicine will not improve its flavor.
Wise man has said, "Beware of spider who invite fly into parlor."
Most ironic that reunion to celebrate end of one war finds us waiting zero hour which
may start a new one. (At the twentieth anniversary reunion of members of the Intelligence Service)
Have not prepared for emergency, like man who buy suit with only one pair pants. (Regarding
his not having purchased a boat ticket ahead of time)
First war profiteer, like early bird, look for big
fat worm. (Regarding over-priced boat ticket offered to him by Louis Santelle)
Will happily defer to lady in distress. (To Marie Dubon who
wished to purchase the same boat ticket)
As number two son would say, "This is right up your alley." (To
Marcel Spivac who was searching for a woman - Marie Dubon)
Have two strikes now. Recommend you consider
self out. (To Marcel Spivak after the second time he was tossed out of a hotel door)
Already hands of watch reach out to grasp new day. (To Marcel Spivak regarding the late
Prodigal two franc piece find odd resting place. (To Antoine
after finding a coin in his pants cuff)
Most honest - while ace of hearts play hooky from deck. (To "Gentleman" Max who was cheating his accomplice at cards)
Quite evident sugar daddy
attract many butterflies. (Regarding Petroff's address book filled with the names and adresses
As number two son would say, "You asked for it." (To Marcel
Spivak who was socked by Tony Madero concerning Madero's wife, Marie Dubon)
Acid very poor oil to
loosen stubborn tongue. (To Lois Santelle who was about to torture him with acid)
difficult to drive car forward while looking backward. (To driver of car who was arguing with
Marcel during high-speed chase)
In humble opinion, murder is harsh word for act committed in defense of
country. (Regarding Antoine who killed, but in the defense of France)
Variety, November 18, 1939
Charlie Chan gets tangled in a murder mystery in Paris during the Munich crisis, unravels a spy ring, blocks shipment of contraband,
rounds up numerous suspects, and finally solves the crime with intuitive deductions. 'City in Darkness' is decidedly weak
in story factors, and slow in proceeding through to the eventual finish. It's one of the weakest in the 'Chan' series. A
moderate supporting programmer.
Story is threadbare of essential drama generally concocted for the Chan pictures,
and struggles through without sufficient interest for a murder mystery.
Chan, in trying to book passage out of France,
is catapulted into the middle of a murder mystery. Proceeding to untangle the mess, hampered by wild deductor Harold Huber,
roundup finds smashing of a spy ring in addition to other elements of the government.
Direction is inadequate,
further hampered by poor story material. Attempts to provide Huber with comedy as a jittery police novice are ineffectual.
The audience is never presented with sufficient interest in the murder or culprit, and the mystery just unwinds without much
DATE: September 28-29, 1938 (Wednesday and Thursday)
DURATION: Two days
LOCATION: Paris, France
THE TIME SHOWN ON LONDON'S "BIG BEN" CLOCK DURING THE PROLOGUE:
THE FAMOUS ADDRESS SHOWN DURING THE PROLOGUE: 10 Downing Street,
residence of Great Britain's prime minister
THE WORLD LEADERS SHOWN DURING THE PROLOGUE:
Neville Chamberlain (Prime Minister of Great Britain)
Edvard Benes (President of Czechoslovakia)
Adolph Hitler (Chancellor of Germany)
Benito Mussolini (Leader of Italy)
THE FAMOUS FRENCH DEFENSIVE FORTIFICATION SHOWN:
The Maginot Line, separating France from Germany
THE TEXT OF THE POSTED NOTICE IN FRENCH:
THE TEXT OF THE POSTED NOTICE AS TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH:
THE TIME AS NOTED BY CAPTAIN HOLTZ TO CHARLOTTE RONNELL AS THE MAIL PLANE
FROM LONDON IS HEARD OVERHEAD: "A quarter of six (p.m.)"
THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT CAPTAIN HOLTZ AND CHARLOTTE RONNELL HAD BEEN WAITING
FOR BELESCU: 2 hours (making his appointment time 3:45 p.m.)
CHARLOTTE RONNELL'S ROOM NUMBER: 304
THE NAME OF CAPTAIN HOLTZ' SHIP: The Medusa
THE CARGO TO BE SHIPPED ABOARD THE MEDUSA: Contraband
(declared at the French Maritime Department as "a shipment of fruit")
BELESCU'S PRICE FOR OBTAINING THE CLEARANCE PAPERS FOR THE MEDUSA:
1 million francs
PETROFF'S PARTIAL ADDRESS AS SHOWN ON THE ENVELOPE DELIVERED TO THE POLICE BY ANTOINE:
THE MEETING ATTENDED BY CHARLIE CHAN IN PARIS: The twentieth anniversary
reunion of members of the Intelligence Service
THE NAME OF THE FRENCH INN MENTIONED BY ROMAINE: The Jumping Rabbit
(Romaine: "...where, twenty years before, it was decided to meet in twenty years.")
GIRLS FROM THE JUMPING RABBIT WHO WERE MENTIONED IN CONNECTION WITH ROMAINE:
Mimi and Evonne
THE STATED TIME THAT THE NEXT PASSENGER SHIP WAS TO SAIL THE NEXT DAY:
THE LENGTH OF TIME UNTIL THE NEXT BOAT WAS TO SAIL: Six days
THE NAME OF THE SHIP THAT WAS SAILING THE NEXT DAY: The Bolivia
THE DESTINATION OF THE BOLIVIA: Panama
LOUIS SANTELLE'S ASKING PRICE FOR A TICKET ABOARD THE BOLIVIA:
15,000 francs ($450)
THE VALUE OF A FRENCH FRANC (IN U.S. CURRENCY) ON SEPTEMBER 28, 1938:
THE ADDRESS OF MARIE DUBON: Hotel
THE DISEASE THAT LED TO THE EVENTUAL DEATH OF THE HUSBAND OF THE LANDLADY
OF THE HOTEL DES VOYAGEURS: Angina Pectoris (at the age of 46 - brought on by smoking)
THE NAME OF THE BURLY WORKER AT THE HOTEL DES VOYAGEURS: Batiste
LOUIS SANTELLE'S ADVERTISED OCCUPATION: Serrurier (locksmith)
THE FALSE PASSPORT IDENTITY GIVEN TO TONY MADERO: Sr.
Antonio Castillo, a coffe planter from Bogota, Columbia
LOUIS SANTELLE'S ASKING PRICE FOR A FALSE PASSPORT FOR TONY MADERO:
10,000 francs (later raised to 50,000 francs)
THE TIME GIVEN BY LOUIS SANTELLE TO MARIE DUBON AS THE DEADLINE TO RAISE
THE ADDITIONAL MONEY FOR THE PASSPORT: Midnight
THE NAME OF PETROFF'S SERVANT WHO WAS HEADING OFF TO WAR:
THE NAME OF ANTOINE'S SON WHO WAS HEADING OFF TO WAR: Pierre
THE TIME AS ANTOINE LEFT PETROFF'S HOUSE WITH SON PHILIPPE:
THE STATED DEPARTURE TIME OF PHILIPPE'S TRAIN: About 10:45 p.m.
(an hour after leaving Petroff's house)
THE ITEMS THAT ANTOINE SUGGESTED THAT HIS SON INCLUDE IN HIS KIT:
Cootie powder (Antoine: "You'll have plenty of them to fight, too.") and rhubarb pills (Antoine: "They're more important
THE TIME AS BELESCU LEFT PETROFF'S HOUSE: Midnight
ACCORDING TO MARCEL SPEVART, THE STREET THAT PETROFF LIVES ON:
PREFECT OF POLICE ROMAINE'S RELATIONSHIP TO MARCEL SPIVAK: Godfather
(Marcel Spivak: "My real father is Chief of Police of Bucharest, Romania. He sent me (to Paris) to learn French police
THE ACTUAL DEPARTURE TIME OF PHILIPPE'S TROOP TRAIN: 11:31 p.m.
ANTOINE'S STATED TIME OF HIS RETURN TO PETROFF'S HOUSE: "About
12:30...it might have been 12:31.")
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, THE WEAPON THAT WAS USED TO KILL PETROFF:
THE DISTANCE AT WHICH THE FATAL SHOT WAS FIRED: "Three paces"
THE LENGTH OF TIME THAT PETROFF HAD BEEN DEAD WHEN THE POLICE
ARRIVED AT THE CRIME SCENE: "Aproximately one hour"
THE TYPE OF FLOWER ALWAYS WORN BY BELESCU: Camilia
BELESCU'S RESIDENCE: Hotel Versailles
THE WORLD WAR I BATTLE WHERE ANTOINE WAS INJURED: Verdun
THE COIN FOUND IN ANTOINE'S PANTS CUFF BY CHARLIE CHAN: 2-franc
piece (date on the coin: 1918)
THE DRINK REFERRED TO BY MARCEL SPEVART AS "THE BRANDY OF NAPOLEON:
THE VARIOUS CROOKS POINTED OUT TO CHARLIE CHAN BY MARCEL SPEVART IN THE
"Guillaume the Weasel" (Marcel Spivak: "From six generations of crooks.")
"Victor the Gyp" (Marcel Spivak: "His mother was guillotined.")
"Gaston the ---"
"Gentleman Max" (Marcel Spivak: "Jewelry thief anf lady killer.")
(Marcel Spivak: "The dirty one is Alex ---")
THE FAVORITE DRINK OF MAX AND ALEX: Burgundy
THE TIME AS MAX AND ALEX ROBBED PETROFF'S SAFE IN HIS HOUSE: Midnight
THE NAMES READ FROM PETROFF'S ADDRESS BOOK BY CHARLIE CHAN:
"Adelle, Babette, Blanche,
THE NAMES AND ADDRESSES SHOWN IN PETROFF'S ADDRESS BOOK:
THE DEPARTURE POINT OF THE SHIP BOLIVIA TO PANAMA: Cherbourg
THE AMOUNT OF TONY MADERO'S BILL AT THE HOTEL DES VOYAGEURS: (Landlady:
"Counting tonight, it's 45 francs.") (presumably 15 francs per night)
THE "RECORD" TIME OF THE "SOLUTION" OF THE CASE ACCORDING TO MARCEL SPEVART:
"Two hours and twenty-six minutes")
THE ADDRESS OF LOUIS SANTELLE AS PARTIALLY SHOWN ON HIS CARD: "321
Rue du ---"
THE CONTENTS OF THE FOLDER BROUGHT TO POLICE HEADQUARTERS CONTAINING STOLEN
ITEMS FROM PETROFF'S SAFE: "Government bonds, jewelry, and 6,000 francs."
THE AMOUNT OF MONEY ACTUALLY STOLEN FROM PETROFF'S SAFE BY MAX AND ALEX:
15,000 francs (Lola had spent 9,000 francs on her boyfriend who was going to war)
THE NAME OF LOLA'S BOYFRIEND: Henri
THE TIME, ACCORDING TO BELESCU, AS HE ARRIVED AT PETROFF'S HOUSE:
THE TEXT OF THE TELEGRAM THAT PETROFF WAS DICTATING OVER THE TELEPHONE WHEN HE WAS KILLED:
THE TIME AS THE MESSAGE WAS DICTATED: 12:06 a.m.
THE FRENCH MEDAL MENTIONED BY MARCEL SPEVART: Croix de Guerre (Marcel
Spevart: [to Charlie Chan] "We will get the Croix de Guerre - with palms!")
THE SERIAL NUMBERS ON THE ILL-FATED PLANE USED FOR A GETAWAY BY CHARLOTTE RONNELL AND CAPTAIN
THE LICENSE PLATE NUMBER OF THE TAXI USED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND MARCEL SPIVAK
TO FOLLOW CHARLOTTE RONNEL: 602-67
THE FAMOUS PRE-WORLD WAR II CONFERENCE REFERRED TO AT THE END OF THE FILM:
The Munich Conference
- A heart condition marked by paroxysms of chest pain due to reduced oxygen
to the heart.
My old man died from his angina pectoris, and only 46 years old."
femme - (French) "Look for the woman."
Charlie Chan: "Cherchez la femme?"
- (1) Those who have unexpectedly achieved recognition or success after a period
of obscurity and neglect. (2) (Cinderella) A fictional young girl who
is saved from her stepmother and stepsisters by her fairy godmother and a handsome prince.
Marcel Spivak: "I never saw so many Cinderellas."
- A high quality grape brandy distilled in the Cognac district of France.
Charlie Chan: "Note, bottle of cognac
recently disposed of."
- (Slang) A body louse.
Antoine: "Did you pack cootie
powder in your kit?"
Croix de Guerre
- with Palms - A French military decoration for bravery in combat. A bronze palm is added for those
cited at the army level.
Marcel Spivak: "We will get the Croix
de Guerre - with palms!"
slip - (Idiom) To escape the pursuit of.
Belescu: "...I gave them the
- To be beheaded with a guillotine, a device consisting of a heavy blade held aloft between upright guides and dropped
to behead the victim below.
Marcel Spevart: "His mother was guillotined."
Hitler (Adolf Hitler) - (1889-1945) Austrian-born founder of the
German Nazi Party and chancellor of the Third Reich (1933-1945). His fascist philosophy attracted widespread support, and
after 1934 he ruled as an absolute dictator. Hitler's pursuit of aggressive nationalist policies resulted in the invasion
of Poland (1939) and the subsequent outbreak of World War II. His regime was infamous for the extermination of millions of
people, especially European Jews. He committed suicide when the collapse of the Third Reich was imminent.
Narrator: "Hitler has
pledged Germany to protect the Sudetens."
Intelligence Service - A unit responsible for gathering and interpreting information about an enemy.
Prefect of Police Romaine: "Comrades of
the Intelligence Service..."
- A district of Paris on the southern, or left, bank of the Seine River. It has long been noted for its artistic and intellectual
Belescu: "Take me over to the Left
- A German semiautomatic pistol introduced before World War I and widely used by German troops in World War II.
Charlie Chan: "Empty shell, ejected from
Luger automatic pistol."
Maginot Line - A fortification built before World War II to protect France's eastern border; initially considered to be
impregnable it was easily overrun by the Germans in 1940.
Narrator: "Soldiers pour into the famous
(Benito Mussolini) -
(1883-1945) Led Italy from 1922 to 1943. He created a fascist state through the use of state terror and propaganda.
His entry into World War II on the side of Nazi Germany made Italy a target for Allied attacks and ultimately led to his downfall
Narrator: "Rome parades her troops before
nitric acid -
A transparent, colorless to yellowish, fuming corrosive liquid that is a highly reactive
Charlie Chan: "...nitric acid
used in making printing plates."
on the spot
- (Idiom) In a difficult situation.
Belescu: "You're not going to put me on
the spot for murder!"
President Benes (Eduard Benes) - (1884-1948) A Czechoslovakian
politician who was foreign minister (1918-1935) and president (1935-1938) until the German occupation forced him to flee the
country. On his return he was again elected president (1946) but resigned after refusing to sign a Communist constitution
Narrator: "President Benes
urges the Czechs to defy the Nazi demands."
Prime Minister Chamberlain (Neville Chamberlain) - (1869-1940) A British politician and prime
minister (1937-1940) who advocated a policy of appeasement toward the fascist regimes of Europe. He was forced to declare
war on Germany after its invasion of Poland in 1939.
Narrator: "...Prime Minister
Chamberlain rushes by plane to Hitler for a last-minute plea to avert war."
sugar daddy - (Idiom)
A wealthy, usually older man who gives expensive gifts to a young person in return for sexual favors or companionship.
Charlie Chan: "Quite evident sugar daddy attract many butterflies."
THE MUNICH CONFERENCE:
Text of the agreement concluded at Munich, Germany, on September 29, 1938, between Germany,
Great Britain, France, and Italy:
Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, taking
into consideration the agreement, which has been already reached in principle for the cession to Germany of the Sudeten German
territory, have agreed on the following terms and conditions governing the said cession and the measures consequent thereon,
and by this agreement they each hold themselves responsible for the steps necessary to secure its fulfilment:
(1) The evacuation will begin on 1st October.
(2) The United Kingdom, France and Italy agree that the evacuation
of the territory shall be completed by the 10th October, without any existing installations having been destroyed, and that
the Czechoslovak Government will be held responsible for carrying out the evacuation without damage to the said installations.
(3) The conditions governing the evacuation will be laid down
in detail by an international commission composed of representatives of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia.
(4) The occupation by stages of the predominantly German territory
by German troops will begin on 1st October. The four territories marked on the attached map will be occupied by German
troops in the following order:
The territory marked No. I on the 1st and 2nd of October;
the territory marked No. II on the 2nd and 3rd of October; the territory marked No. III on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of October;
the territory marked No. IV on the 6th and 7th of October. The remaining territory of preponderantly German character
will be ascertained by the aforesaid international commission forthwith and be occupied by German troops by the 10th of October.
(5) The international commission referred to in paragraph
3 will determine the territories in which a plebiscite
is to be held. These territories will be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite has been completed. The
same commission will fix the conditions in which the plebiscite is to be held, taking as a basis the conditions of the Saar
plebiscite. The commission will also fix a date, not later than the end of November, on which the plebiscite will be
(6) The final determination of the frontiers will be carried
out by the international commission. The commission will also be entitled to recommend to the four Powers, Germany,
the United Kingdom, France and Italy, in certain exceptional cases, minor modifications in the strictly ethnographical determination
of the zones which are to be transferred without plebiscite.
(7) There will be a right of option into and out of the transferred
territories, the option to be exercised within six months from the date of this agreement. A German-Czechoslovak commission
shall determine the details of the option, consider ways of facilitating the transfer of population and settle questions of
principle arising out of the said transfer.
(8) The Czechoslovak Government will within a period of four
weeks from the date of this agreement release from their military and police forces any Sudeten Germans who may wish to be
released, and the Czechoslovak Government will within the same period release Sudeten German prisoners who are serving terms
of imprisonment for political offences. Munich,
September 29, 1938.