The House on Punchbowl Hill





















Black Magic/Meeting at Midnight


Monogram Pictures Corporation
Distributed: Monogram Pictures Corporation, September 9, 1944
Production: May 3 to mid-May 1944
Copyright: Monogram Pictures Corporation, July 15, 1944; LP12437
Sound: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Film: Black and White
Length: 5,822 feet
Running Time: 64-65 minutes
Source: Suggested by Earl Derr Biggers' character


Producers: Phillip N. Krasne and James S. Burkett
Director: Phil Rosen
Assistant Director: Bobby Ray
Original Screenplay: George Callahan
Director of Photography: Arthur Martinelli
Camera Operator: Dave Smith (not credited)
Assistant: Monte Steadman (not credited)
Still Photography: Earl Crowley (not credited)
Special Effects: M. B. Kinne (not credited)
Art Director: Dave Milton
Film Editor: John Link
Set Decorations: Al Greenwood
Ward: Harry Bourne (not credited)
Musical Director: David Chudnow
Musical Score: Alexander Lazlo
Sound Recording: Max Hutchinson
Production Manager: Dick L'Estrange
Script Girl: Marie Messinger (not credited)
Props: Sammy Gordon and Ralph Martin (neither credited)
Grip: Lew Dow and George Booker (neither credited)
Gaffer: Joe Wharton (not credited)


CAST:

Sidney Toler: Charlie Chan
Mantan Moreland: Birmingham Brown
Frances Chan: Frances Chan
Joseph Crehan: Sergeant Matthews
Helen Beverly: Norma Duncan (alias Nancy Woods)
Jacqueline deWit: Justine Bonner
Geraldine Wall: Harriett Green
Ralph Peters: Rafferty
Frank Jaquet: Paul Hamlin
Edward Earle: Dawson
Claudia Dell: Vera Starkey
Harry Depp: Charles Edwards
Charles Jordan: Tom Starkey
Richard Gordon: William Bonner
Darby Jones: Mr. Johnson (not credited)



SUMMARY:

While holding a sťance at his home, psychic William Bonner asks for questions from those present.  After a voice asks, "What happened in London on the night of October 5th, 1935?" the lights are extinguished Bonner slumps forward.  When the lights are restored, it becomes apparent that the psychic has been murdered.

As Bonner's wife, Justine, summons Sgt. Matthews of the homicide bureau, Bonner's assistants, Tom and Vera Starkey, who operate from a hidden room, are panicky and wish to flee.  Arriving on the scene, Matthews orders all of those present at the Bonner house, including, Justine Bonner, Harriet Green, Paul Hamlin, Charles Edwards, Nancy Wood, and Frances Chan, Charlie Chan's daughter, along with newly hired butler Birmingham Brown, to police headquarters for questioning.  When the coroner notifies Matthews that the murder bullet cannot be found in Bonner's body, the inspector coerces Chan into joining the investigation, suggesting that he will have to hold his daughter, Frances, as a suspect.

After studying the interviews with the suspects, Chan asks to speak with Nancy Woods, informing the inspector that she must be using an alias because the monogram on her purse reads "ND."  A conversation with the hotel clerk reveals that Nancy's real name is Norma Duncan.  When confronted with her lie, Norma claims that she had used the alias to infiltrate Bonner's sťance and prove that the psychic had driven her father to commit suicide.

Meanwhile, at the Bonner house, Mrs. Bonner communicates to Tom and Vera through an intercom that is linked to their hidden room.  When Frances, who has come to visit Birmingham, overhears the conversation, she alerts her father.  Hurrying to the house, Chan discovers the secret room hidden behind a cabinet in the seance room.

After reassembling the suspects at police headquarters, Chan reveals that Mr. Hamilton and Mrs. Green were both being blackmailed by Bonner, and that Mrs. Bonner had threatened to kill her husband because of his infidelity.  Chan then asks if anyone can identify the speaker at the seance who has asked the question about London, however, no one offers any information.

Later, Norma Duncan sends Chan a message asking him to come to her hotel, but when the detective enters her room, he finds her in a trance. Suddenly, the lights go out, a gun is fired, and the assailant runs out the door.  Awakened from her trance, Norma is unable to remember what happened to her.  Leaving Norma in the care of Rafferty, Matthew's assistant, Chan leaves to send a cable to Scotland Yard.

Later, at the Bonner house, Frances and Birmingham overhear Mrs. Bonner asking her unseen assistants, Tom and Vera, for their help, and Frances decides to follow her.  Following her to the Berkeley building, Frances meets her father and Inspector Matthews there and finds Mrs. Bonner's glove on the floor outside of an office door.  Mrs. Bonner, in a trance, ascends the rooftop of the building across the street. Standing on the rooftop of the building, Mrs. Bonner hears a voice coaxing her to step over the edge.

After she plunges to her death, Chan notices a peculiar stain on her coat, and takes it to be examined at a lab, where it discovered that the residue is that of a mind-altering drug that renders its victims helpless.  Chan is then given several pills that contain the antidote to the drug.

Announcing that Mrs. Bonner had committed suicide out of remorse for murdering her husband, Matthews declares the case closed.  Dissatisfied with the sergeant's conclusion, Chan returns to search the room in front of which Mrs. Bonner's glove had been found.  After entering the room, Chan is attacked, manacled, drugged, and hypnotized by an unseen assailant who orders him to climb to the rooftop of the adjacent building and jump.  Having earlier swallowed one of the antidote pills (which has not yet taken effect), Chan proceeds, still under the influence of the drug and hypnotic suggestion, to the other building and ascends to the roof.

Meanwhile, becoming concerned when she is unable to locate her father, Frances notifies Rafferty.  Together they hurry to the Berkeley building where they find that Chan has gone to the building across the street. As they see Chan tottering on the ledge of the roof, the antidote suddenly begins to work and he comes out of his trance just as Rafferty and Frances are about to grab hold of him.  When Rafferty hands Chan the response from Scotland Yard, Chan reconvenes a seance at the Bonner house.

CONCLUSION:

That night, Chan exposes Tom and Vera and their secret room and then challenges the sťance participants to answer a series of word association questions.  Suddenly, the lights go out and a silent shot is fired.  As the lights are turned back on, a small hole can be seen in the back of the chair in which Chan had been seated, the detective having moved during the blackout.  Chan then produces the cable from Scotland Yard imparting the information that on October 5, 1935, Chardo the Great, a well-known magician, had been gravely injured in an automobile accident.  The detective continues, stating that Chardo's wife, Justine, had run away with his assistant, Bonner.  After undergoing plastic surgery to alter his appearance, Chardo was determined to make Justine and Bonner pay for their betrayal.

Blood is seen to be dripping from the hole in the chair that had been occupied by Chan, to which the detective deduces that a similar bullet, made of frozen blood, was used to kill William Bonner, thus explaining why no bullet was found in Bonner's body.

Addressing Hamlin as Chardo, Chan seizes the cigar case which contains the hidden spring gun that was used to kill Bonner.

NOTES: The working titles of this film were Murder Chamber and Charlie Chan in the Murder Chamber.  It was also reviewed as Charlie Chan in Black Magic.  The film was later reissued as Meeting at Midnight.  Although a Hollywood Reporter news item lists Trevor Bardette in the cast, his participation in the completed film has not been confirmed.

Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG - Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960



CHARLIE CHAN'S APHORISMS:

Spirits cannot kill.

Shady business do not make for sunny life.
 
New toot out of old horn. 

Spirits always have very long way to come.


OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:

"Beauty of Chan family" also have brains - very fine combination.  (To Sgt. Matthews regarding daughter Frances)
 
(Frances: "Oh, Pop!  You say I have brains, then you make me sit around and twiddle my thumbs!")  Twiddling thumbs at hotel keep pretty nose out of trouble.
 
Return to your home, Miss Duncan, for the present, and try to forget the past.  (To Norma Duncan refering to her father's suicide)
 
Very "low spirits" in Bonner seances - all come from basement.  (To Frances while searching the Bonners' basement and finding the source of the "supernatural" happenings)

(Frances: "Wait till the folks back home see me - I'll knock their eyes out.")  You are, perhaps, pugilist?

(Frances: "I bought a crownless hat, and a backless dress, and some toeless shoes.")  Stores have no clothes which are complete?

(Frances: "You know, Pop, I got an idea about this Bonner case.")  Water on brain now leaking, huh?



FILM NOTES:

PROBABLE DATE: Spring 1944, probably around mid-April, as Mr. Johnson tells Birmingham Brown that the moaning they are hearing is probably someone "moaning about their income tax."
 
DURATION: Three days 
 
POSSIBLE LOCATION: Los Angeles, California
 
THE TEXT OF THE SIGN OUTSIDE OF THE BONNERS' HOUSE:
 
"W. BONNER
----o----
PSYCHIC MEDIUM
SEANCES"

THE TITLE ON THE COVER OF THE BOOK GIVEN TO BIRMINGHAM BROWN BY MR. JOHNSON:
 
"MAGIC
 
HOW TO
DISAPPEAR
---
VANISHMENT MADE EASY"

THE "SPIRIT" CONTACTED AT THE SEANCE: Mrs. Edwards

MRS. EDWARDS' FIRST NAME: Gertrude
 
CHARLES EDWARDS' "PET NAME" FOR HIS LATE WIFE: "Gert"

THE QUESTION ASKED BY THE VOICE DURING THE SEANCE: "What happened in London the night of October 5th, 1935?"
 
THE ADDRESS OF THE BONNER HOUSE ACCORDING TO SGT. MATTHEWS: "349 Dexter Street."  

THE HOMICIDE OFFICERS AS REQUESTED BY SGT. MATTHEWS: "...Smith and McCarthy."

THE NAME OF CHARLIE CHAN'S HOTEL: Shattuck Hotel
 
CHARLIE CHAN'S HOTEL ROOM NUMBER AT THE SHATTUCK HOTEL: 832
 
SOME OF THE TOYS THAT CHARLIE CHAN WAS PACKING TO TAKE TO HONOLULU TO HIS CHILDREN: Dancing puppet, toy bear, stuffed cloth doll, Mexican jumping beans, noise maker.
 
CHARLIE CHAN'S TRAVEL PLANS: "I am leaving tomorrow for Hawaii..."
 
THE REASON FOR CHARLIE CHAN'S PLANNED TRIP TO VISIT HIS FAMILY IN HONOLULU: "Am on brief vacation from government work."
 
THE NAME OF THE PERSON CONTACTED BY SGT. MATTHEWS AT THE CORONER'S OFFICE: Peters
 
ACCORDING TO SGT. MATTHEWS, THE NUMBER OF MURDER CASES THAT BIRMINGHAM BROWN HAD BEEN INVOLVED THUS FAR: "...three murder cases already." 
 
SGT. MATTHEWS' SHOE SIZE: 9 1/2 (although he should wear size 11)
 
THE NAME OF NANCY DUNCAN'S APARTMENT BUILDING: The Brockton Apartments
 
THE NAME AND INFORMATION AS PROVIDED BY NANCY DUNCAN REGARDING HER LATE FATHER: "My father was Charles Duncan, a civil engineer."

INFORMATION AS ADDED BY SGT. MATTHEWS REGARDING NANCY DUNCAN'S LATE FATHER: "He committed suicide a year ago."

 
THE TEXT OF THE NOTE FOUND BY CHARLIE CHAN WITH NANCY DUNCAN:
 
"DEAR MR CHAN
        HERE IS A
CHARMING GIFT
ALTHOUGH IT WILL
BE OF NO VALUE
TO YOU --- NOW"

THE LOCATION OF MRS. BONNER'S OFFICE AND CHARLES EDWARDS' MAGICIANS SUPPLY: The Berkeley Building

THE TEXT OF THE NOTE FROM DAWSON TO CHARLIE CHAN:
 
"Congratulations, Mr. Chan.
You were right.
                   Dawson"

THE NUMBER OF MRS. BONNER'S OFFICE AT THE BERKELEY BUILDING: 722

THE NUMBER OF CHARLES EDWARDS' OFFICE AT THE BERKELEY BUILDING: 726

THE SIGN ON THE DOOR OF CHARLES EDWARDS' OFFICE:
 
"Charles Edwards inc.
Magicians Supplies"
 
THE NAME OF THE DRUG USED TO HELP INDUCE AN HYPNOTIC STATE: Menasgerol (also referred to as "mesmerol" by the murderer)

MR. DAWSON'S DESCRIPTION OF THE EFFECTS OF MENASGEROL: "It's a derivitive of of the powerful shock drug
."
 
ACCORDING TO MR. DAWSON, THE EFFECTS OF MENASGEROL: "A few minutes after taking it, there would seem to be no effects whatever.  But, actually, the drug leaves a person with no mental or physical resistance."
 
ACCORDING TO MR. DAWSON, THE LENGTH OF TIME NEEDED FOR THE ANTIDOTE TO MENASGEROL TO TAKE EFFECT: "...10 to 15 minutes."

THE NUMBER OF THE ROOM AT THE BERKELEY BUILDING WHERE CHARLIE CHAN WAS HYPNOTIZED: 720 (accessed through room 722) 

THE TIME ON CHARLIE CHAN'S WATCH WHEN HE WAS HYPNOTIZED: 10:14 a.m.
 
THE NAME AND LOCATION OF THE BUILDING WHERE MRS. BONNER JUMPED TO HER DEATH WHILE HYPNOTIZED AND WHERE CHARLIE CHAN ALMOST DID THE SAME: Chalmot(?) Building (located accross the street from the Berkeley Building) 
 
THE APPROXIMATE TIME THAT RAFFERTY AND FRANCES CHAN NOTE THAT CHARLIE CHAN had been in mrs. bonner's office: 10:30 a.m.
 
THE "WORD ASSOCIATION TEST" ADMINISTERED TO COLLECTED SUSPECTS BY CHARLIE CHAN:
 
Chan: (to Edwards) "Magician."
Edwards: "Supplies."
Chan: (to Edwards) "5:18."
Edwards: "Train."
Chan: (to Norma Duncan) "Bonner."
Norma: "Dead."
Chan: (to Norma Duncan) "Revenge?"
Norma: "No."
Chan: (to Paul Hamlin) "Magician."
Hamlin: "Trickster."
Chan: (to Paul Hamlin) "October."
Hamlin: "Month."
Chan: (to Harriett Green) "Bullet."
Harriett: "Gun."
Chan: (to Harriett Green) "London."
Harriett: "City."
Chan: (to Norma Duncan) "1935."
Norma: "Year."
Chan: (to Paul Hamlin) "London."
Hamlin: "England."
Chan: (to Charles Edwards) "Cigar."
Edwards: "Cold."
Chan: (to Charles Edwards) "Case."
Edwards: "Icy."
 
THE LENGTH OF CHARDO'S STAY IN THE HOSPITAL FOLLOWING HIS AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT IN LONDON IN 1935: One year

 
 

GLOSSARY:

cablegram - A telegram sent by trans-oceanic cable.
Charlie Chan: "Cablegram report from Scotland Yard."
 
dime novel - A melodramatic novel of romance or adventure, usually in paperback.
Sgt. Matthews: "That's dime novel stuff."
 
gremlins - (1) Imaginary gnomelike creatures to whom mechanical problems, especially in aircraft, are attributed.  (2) Makers of mischief.
Birmingham Brown: "I got gremlins gallopin' up and down my spine."
 
For a complete list from all films, please visit our Charlie Chan Glossary.

 
 

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