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Castle in the Desert (1942)

Charlie Chan investigates apparent poisonings at a mystery mansion in the Mojave Desert.


Harry Lachman


John Francis Larkin (original screenplay) (as John Larkin), Earl Derr Biggers (character)


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Complete credited cast:
Sidney Toler ... Charlie Chan
Arleen Whelan ... Brenda Hartford
Richard Derr ... Carl Detheridge
Douglass Dumbrille ... Paul Manderley (as Douglas Dumbrille)
Henry Daniell ... Watson King
Edmund MacDonald ... Walter Hartford
Victor Sen Yung ... Jimmy Chan (as Sen Yung)
Lenita Lane ... Lucy Manderley
Ethel Griffies ... Madame Saturnia
Milton Parsons ... Arthur Fletcher
Steven Geray ... Dr. Retling (as Steve Geray)
Lucien Littlefield ... Gleason


Paul Manderley, eccentric historian, and his wife, descendant of the Borgias, live in an isolated castle-like mansion in the Mojave Desert. When a guest suddenly collapses, Charlie Chan is invited to stay. As the standard mystery-mansion props come into play, and all means of outside communication are sabotaged, it becomes evident that one of the inhabitants has access to poisons and is prepared to use them... Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


...a poison arrow whizzes past... as Charlie Chan opens the gate to his most baffling adventure!


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Release Date:

27 February 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Charlie Chan in Castle in the Desert See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Guests are chauffeured to the Castle in a 1941 Ford Station Wagon. See more »


The supposed statue of a Medieval executioner sways momentarily, revealing the statue as an actor. See more »


Dr. Retling: They say poison is a woman's weapon.
See more »


Followed by The Jade Mask (1945) See more »

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User Reviews

No phone! No lights! No motor cars!
1 August 2008 | by bensonmum2See all my reviews

While I admit that the Chan films of Warner Oland are, as a group, superior to those of Sidney Toler, that doesn't mean that some of the Toler films aren't rock solid and as good individually as anything Oland made. Three that immediately come to mind are Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, and this film, Castle in the Desert. (By the way, why isn't the title Charlie Chan and the Castle in the Desert? It would have made sense to me.) In Castle in the Desert, Charlie is summoned to a strange, isolated castle in the middle of the Mojave Desert. But no one in the house will admit to having sent of Chan. His presence is, however, quickly needed when in no time at all Charlie finds himself up to his elbows in murder, poison, deadly arrows, red herrings, and suspects galore. What could be more fun!

I've seen someone use this phrase before to describe a Charlie Chan film and I think it fits Castle in the Desert – "It's a crackling good mystery". As I've indicated, all of the necessary ingredients for a fun outing with Chan are here. In fact, Castle in the Desert is really more like two mysteries in one. While the solution to the first is fairly obvious, it's still a lot of fun and just an appetizer for the more difficult and dangerous mystery to come. This was Toler's last Chan film for Fox and, by the time this one was made, Toler could have played the role in his sleep. He seems so at ease with the character. The rest of the cast is enjoyable with Henry Daniell and, one of my favorites, Douglass Dumbrille standing out in support. Another bonus for Castle in the Desert is that Victor Sen Yung as #2 son Jimmy Chan isn't anywhere near as annoying as he is in some of the other Chan films.

Overall, Castle in the Desert is a nice finale to the Chan films at Fox. Nothing that would come later at Monogram is anywhere close to matching it. I've got no problem rating this one a strong 7/10 verging on an 8/10.

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