Castle in the Desert (1942) Poster

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"Man who fears death die a thousand times."
classicsoncall6 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Lucy Manderley is the obvious suspect when two guests are seemingly murdered at Manderley Castle, located in the Mojave Desert. Her husband Paul is a mysterious recluse who stands to lose his $20 million dollar estate if it can be proved he is mentally unfit.

Charlie Chan has a lot to piece together in this brisk mystery. Number Two Son Jimmy Chan is on leave from the army to help out his "Pop". If at all possible, try to view the Chan films in the order that they were released, the continuity is amazing. It was in the prior "Charlie Chan in Rio" film that Jimmy received his military papers.

Ethel Griffies and Milton Parsons are on hand from "Dead Men Tell" and perform admirably, particularly Ms. Griffies as the amazingly accurate psychic Madame Saturna - "The stars never lie".

The funniest line in the film comes from Sidney Toler's Chan character, responding to son Jimmy's choice of a suit of armor for a disguise - "What has canned outpost observed?" My compliments to the writer of that line, I can't get it out of my head!

Keep an eye out at the hotel stop where Charlie boards his ride for Manderley Castle, the sign overhead states "Rooms 50 cents". Better get an early reservation!

This is an enjoyable film with a fine cast, and well worth your time. Give it a try.
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positive comments on this film
logan244522 April 2000
My opinion is this is one of the best in the Chan series. It has a good story that is written well. The cast is great with some wonderful character actors. I think the production quality is a little better than other Chan films. One thing that stands out are lighting and camera angles. They create an ambiance of suspense.
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A most CLASSIC isolated old mansion!
binapiraeus18 March 2014
Charlie Chan, who's just planning a little vacation with son Jimmy, gets a letter from a Mrs. Manderley, née Lucrezia Borgia (!), who summons him urgently to Manderley castle because she fears for her life... And THERE we've got a classic isolated old mansion if ever there was one: Mr. Manderley, a famous historian, has built his castle in the middle of the Mojave desert, complete with a vault full of poison bottles and Renaissance torture instruments, with no electricity and no phone - and very soon the distributor of the only car available is stolen as well, which leaves the persons present in TOTAL isolation - except for Jimmy, of course, who finds his way to the castle together with a strange old lady with spiritualistic gifts, Madame Saturnia...

And very soon it is revealed that recently, a genealogist who wanted to investigate on Mrs. Manderley's Borgia family tree (although she seems perfectly alright, her step-brother was a mad poisoner...) was poisoned in the castle - but strangely, Madame Saturnia insists that 'the finger of Isis has never touched this house'... yet...

She also warns Charlie to 'watch out for an arrow' - and very soon, arrows from an old crossbow start flying through the castle halls, dangerously near to our detective hero! And the suspects are plenty: Mrs. Manderley (who insists she didn't write the note to Charlie, and that her step-brother is dead; another thing Madame Saturnia denies vehemently...), Mr. Manderley, who wears a mask over one side of his face (a result of an accident, he explains), Dr. Retling, whose death certificate for the genealogist is being questioned by private eye Fletcher, Mr. Hartford, Manderley's attorney, who together with his wife seems to be seeking to take control of the Manderley fortune, and sculptor Watson King, who reveals himself as yet another private detective hired by Mrs. Manderley... Make your choice!

The creepy atmosphere of the old castle of course makes this entry in the 'Charlie Chan' series another immensely entertaining whodunit; and the cast is also superb: apart from distinguished British star Henry Daniell as Watson King and Douglas Dumbrille as Manderley, we also meet again with some of the cast members of that magnificent Charlie Chan movie "Dead Men Tell" from the previous year: Milton Parsons, Lenita Lane - and Ethel Griffies, giving once again a FORMIDABLE performance as the mysterious Madame Saturnia. Jimmy as always adds lots of fun, disguised in a medieval armor - a great mystery movie that shouldn't be missed by any fan of the genre!
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Well done!
LeRoyMarko2 June 2001
Good movie set in the Mojave desert. One of the best Chan movie with Sidney Toler. The ambiance for suspense is nicely set in a castle in the middle of nowhere. And there's always that famous phrase: «One of us is a murderer». I just love it when they say that!

The acting is good. Victor Sen Yung is funny as Number 2 son and I also liked the fortune teller lady. She was adding some fun to the movie.

One quote: «What I'd like now is the relaxation of a good murder case»! (Jimmy Chan to his father)

In all, an entertaining movie.

Out of 100, I gave it 78. That's good for **½ on a **** star rating system. Seen at home in Welland, June 2nd, 2001. Marko Roy.
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Entertaining Murder Mystery
DerrickFerguson121 September 2003
I caught this movie on the FOX MOVIE CHANNEL which had pulled it's CHARLIE CHAN month long marathon due to protests from Asian Americans. FMC resumed showing the Chan movies in September, bookending the movies with discussions by prominent Asian-Americans inluding George (Mr. Sulu)Takei who explored the racial issues of the movies.

I respect the discomfort and resentment the CHARLIE CHAN movies cause Asian Americans and there are some blatantly racial comments in this movie. There's a part where Charlie enters a hotel to await a car and the hotel manager takes one look at him and says; "Chop Suey salesman, eh? I hate the stuff!" that frankly made me cringe. But these movies have a historical value beyond simple entertainment. They remind us of how we once acted and thought of other races and other people. Even though Charlie Chan is a respected and internationally famous detective, he is still based on his appearance and skin color. Maybe we haven't come so far since this movie was made.

Taken strictly as entertainment, though, CASTLE IN THE DESERT is a nifty murder mystery with an eccentric cast of characters trapped in a remote location with a murderer running around loose. One character is a descendant of Lucrezia Borgia. Another is a fortune teller whose predictions actually DO come true. Charlie Chan and Number 2 son do a great job of finding the true murderer and putting things aright. The plot is perhaps more complicated than it needs to be but that's the great thing about those 30's/40's murder mysteries: it wasn't that easy to guess who was the killer. Despite the unplesant racial remarks, CASTLE IN THE DESERT is a fine entry in the CHARLIE CHAN series. I enjoyed it a lot. Lots of humor and sharp, witty dialog and great atmospheric sets.
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The last of the Fox Chans and one of the best!
admjtk170116 April 2000
This was, sorry to say, the last Chan film made by 20th Century Fox. It is also one of the most fun and atmospheric. It is set in a castle in the Mojave Desert owned by a descendant of the Borgias, played by Douglass Dumbrille. This is creepy and funny with Jimmy Chan (Sen Yung)sneaking around the castle amid the suits of armor. Henry Danielle is also on hand as a guest of the house. A nutty fortune teller also adds to the fun! Another one to watch over and over.
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A desert delight
pbalos29 June 2000
by far one of the better Chan films with Sidney Toler.It's filled with some nice surprises, a touch of chamber music, and familiar faces.Good acting for this type of film, the direction stood out (as opposed to Chan movies that would follow), but a flawed script that left some questions unresolved. Overall a good movie!
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No phone! No lights! No motor cars!
bensonmum21 August 2008
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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"Man without enemies like dog without fleas."
utgard1410 March 2014
Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is summoned to a mysterious castle in the Mojave Desert where a bizarre masked man (Douglas Dumbrille) lives with his wife, a descendant of the famous Borgia family. There are also several other guests at the castle. When one of them is poisoned, Charlie must investigate with meddlesome son Jimmy (Victor Sen Yung).

The last of the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films is one of the weirdest. The plot, at its heart, is a simple old dark house mystery. But the setting here, a castle in a desert, is different enough to keep things somewhat fresh. Also the eccentric characters help out a lot. It's an enjoyable entry in the Fox series. Not the best or worst but somewhere in the middle. Sadly, the quality would drop considerably when the series moved to Monogram a couple of years later.
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Two criminal conspiracies
bkoganbing30 April 2013
Citizen Kane might have indirectly inspired this Charlie Chan classic oddly enough. The setting is a Castle In The Desert whose look might have been taken from the real life San Simeon or the film Xanadu. But it has that look of a sinister place where all kinds of crime does occur. And in this case murder does visit the Castle In The Desert.

There are two criminal conspiracies going on at the same time and the instigator of one has the hubris to ask Charlie Chan in to help with one. Silly perpetrator, did the individual not realize what forces they were turning loose, the mind of one shrewd detective?

Sidney Toler arrives with Victor Sen Yung as number 2 son and they're both among others trapped in the place. Their hosts are eccentric millionaire Douglass Dumbrille and wife Lenita Lane with such interesting and varied guests as Ethel Griffies, Henry Daniell, Steven Geray, Arleen Whelan, Richard Derr, Edmund MacDonald, and Milton Parsons, all of whom have dabbled in screen villainy. In fact that's the best thing going about Castle In The Desert, a ton of red herrings to choose from.

Castle In The Desert is not one of the strongest Charlie Chan features and 20th Century Fox would drop the series after this film and it would reemerge at Monogram in two years. But the cast makes this one a lot of fun.
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`He'll die a violent death, he will, and his murderer shall go unpunished'
Jim Tritten11 August 2002
Final Fox Chan film leaves us somewhat dissatisfied despite a complicated but enjoyable plot. There is a body within the first few minutes, sufficient suspects, ties to the Borgia family, lots of misdirection and clues, and Chan once again dodging arrows. The characters are marooned in an eerie reconstructed medieval castle (complete with a dungeon in the basement) located in the Mojave Desert. For a change, it is possible to figure out the ending ahead of or along with Chan. $20M is a great incentive for crime.

Sidney Toler does good job at discovering a mystery and solving murder but fails to perform his usual wrap up at the end clarifying all of the loose ends. Son Jimmy (on leave from the Army) assists Pop without resorting to too much comedy. Pop takes US Army Carrier Pigeon No. 13576 with him to the desert but alas, the pigeon succumbs to the poison nightshade. `Man without enemies like dog without fleas.'

Good supporting cast. Ethel Griffies and Milton Parsons return to play small but effective roles. Only a few (unnecessary) racial slurs. Some interesting camera work with the use of shadows to convey danger. By the way, there is a real castle in the desert, Scotty's Castle, now part of Death Valley National Park. And I suspect that hotels in the region now rent rooms for more than $2/night! Recommended.
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Clever Chan mystery in unusual setting
mlraymond20 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
An ornate medieval castle in the Mojave desert is the location for this intriguing Charlie Chan mystery. A semi-recluse author is married to a beautiful descendant of the infamous Borgia family of poisoners, and the wife is suspected of doing away with her guests in the same fashion, with poisoned wine at the dinner table. Chan is called in to investigate the strange goings-on, with uninvited help from Number Two Son Jimmy Chan and an eccentric astrologer.

Some small town desert settings are cleverly used, in contrast with the imposing castle. The town of Mojave Wells looks like a leftover from the Old West days, with flat fronted buildings and prospectors with donkeys. Comedy is provided by the cantankerous hotel proprietor and his opportunistic brother in law. The grumpy hotel owner gets mad every time anything to do with Manderley Castle is mentioned, and assumes every Chinese man he sees must be a chop suey salesman. When Jimmy Chan arrives on the Twenties vintage bus, he is accosted by Madame Saturnia, amusingly played by the great Ethel Griffies. She and Jimmy travel the last few miles to the castle on foot, where Jimmy promptly falls into the dungeon, to be greeted with something less than enthusiasm by his father.

A cast of suspicious characters including a reserved butler, a sleazy lawyer, a slightly corrupt doctor and guests who keep dropping dead, all make for an entertaining old mystery, with plenty of atmosphere. Such stalwarts of old movies as sinister Henry Daniell and cadaverous Milton Parsons add color to a delightful cast. This movie is lots of fun for Charlie Chan enthusiasts; highly recommended.
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Good Chan , bad ending
jonfrum200016 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
As another commenter mentioned, this Chan does not end well. If you're a Chan fan, you'll enjoy it - it's done quite well

  • but the reveal at the end leaves the attentive viewer scratching his/her head. The truth is that loose ends are very common in murder mysteries - only the best are well thought out and sewed up at the end. In this case, we're left wondering how in the world a British detective/sculptor came to be hired by Mrs Manderley in the California desert. And oh, by the way, how did her evil step-brother replace or become that detective? And the guy in the suit of armor? Charlie refers to his law-breaking, but no to his motive.

If you watch Charlie for the atmosphere, sit back and enjoy. If you're a mystery fan, don't take this plot too seriously.
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The very best Charlie Chan film.... ever.
Ospidillo28 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Not ONE of the other Charlie Chan films can touch this one! The casting is brilliant, the acting is superior, the cinematography is dramatic and, the location is PERFECT. Imagine that! A castle in the desert!

This is a poisoning case, (sort of), and Charlie is summoned to help solve it. He's warned from going from the moment he's invited and, of course, one of his numerous sons (not quite so goofy as some others we've seen), tags along to watch out for his dear dad. Dark characters are everywhere and the sub-plots are above average.

Fans of Charlie Chan films will drool over this one but the average viewer can enjoy this light mystery as well. The desert town, old vehicles, the landscapes, the castle, (and it's creepy accoutrements) are all about the coolest things you'll ever view in a black and white old-timey mystery film.
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Enjoyable Chan mystery with average plot but plenty of atmosphere
csteidler8 November 2012
Lucy Manderley makes a brusque announcement: "Two things we never discuss in this house—my family and Paul's accident." –Her husband Paul wears a mask that covers half of his face; Lucy herself is descended from the Borgias of Renaissance Italy, renowned for power and poison. "This house" is the Manderley estate, a lonely medieval-style castle stuck out in the desert.

Charlie Chan is on hand at said estate—but the urgent invitation he answered was apparently a fake. Has Mr. Chan been summoned to witness a murder or provide an alibi? Sidney Toler is steady as always as he attempts to find out.

Eerie music, dimly lit castle sets and some good shadowy camera work create an appropriately spooky atmosphere for this fairly standard but highly enjoyable Chan mystery.

Among the entertaining cast on hand at the old dark castle are Douglass Dumbrille as the odd Mr. Manderley and Lenita Lane as his nervous wife; Henry Daniell as mysterious sculptor Watson King; and Ethel Griffies as Madame Saturnia, a spooky soothsayer whose predictions all involve death.

Sen Yung also offers assistance as Jimmy Chan. On a week's leave from the Army, Jimmy tells his Pop that "What I'd like now is the relaxation of a good murder case." He finds a suit of armor a good hiding place to spy from, but keeps getting pushed over and tumbling down flights of stairs….

The plot involves a couple of murders by poison—pointing suspicion at Lucy Manderley, the only possibly-unbalanced Borgia in the group. Other elements adding to the mystery include a sleeping potion like the one Shakespeare's Juliet took, and the early disappearance of the only vehicle's distributor, leaving the entire group stranded and cut off.

Overall, it's a fairly standard Charlie Chan: a decent mystery plot featuring a few chills, a fair mix of comedy, and a bit of action as well. Very entertaining for fans.
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Mystery death in the desert.
michaelRokeefe14 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A noted professor(Lucien Littlefeld)is murdered at the Mojave Desert mansion of millionaire Paul Manderley(Douglas Dumbrille)and his wife(Lenita Lane), a descendant of the infamous Borgia family. House guests become murder suspects along with their hosts when Oriental sleuth Charlie Chan(Sidney Toler)and his Number-Two-Son Jimmy(Sen Yung)start searching for clues. While poking about the castle, Detective Chan discovers an assortment of poisons and a torture chamber along with other things that could make good murder weapons. Mr. Manderley claims the items are there because he is a medieval scholar targeting research of the Borgias. Not the best Chan flick, but then again not the worst; good enough to please any murder mystery fan. Supporting cast features: Arleen Whelan, Edmund MacDonald, Richard Derr and Henry Daniell.
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For Astrology Buffs Only
ccthemovieman-19 April 2007
This is the only Charlie Chan I threw in the waste basket, but that's because I was disgusted with all the pro-astrology message in this film. For those who could care less about that, this will be another entertaining Chan mystery. For the rest of us, this was disappointing.

Normally, Chan debunks these "stargazer" figures in his films but, for some reason, in this movie the astrologer is given total validity. Everything she predicts comes true so Chan gives her respect. It was amazing how many times the occult was presented in classic-era movies. Since the Code restricted profanity, nudity, anti-clergy bias, etc., one of the ways these could still get anti-Biblical messages across was through all the occult nonsense. This is just one more example.

This was Sidney Toler's last Charlie Chan before switching studios, adding Mantan Moreland to the cast and making the last of the films a lot more humorous (or stupid, depending on what you prefer). Moreland was funny as "Birmingham Brown" but he also was demeaning to the black race with his role.

Regardless of the stories or the cast, Charlie Chan always remained smart, funny and a good family man, and his films (including this one) are always entertaining.
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A true Chinese box of a mystery
gridoon20192 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Castle In The Desert" apparently holds a special place in the hearts of many Charlie Chan fans, because it was the last film in the series to be produced by 20th Century Fox, before Monogram took over (this is better-produced than Monogram, yes, but it is still unmistakably a B-movie). There is absolutely nothing special about it directing-wise (there is little atmosphere or invention), but it does have a good plot (it's like a Chinese box: the real mystery is hidden inside another mystery) and a particularly smart and subtle clue about the identity of the murderer early on - see if you can spot it. My favorite Chan line (paraphrased from Shakespeare!): "Man who fears death die a thousand times". **1/2 out of 4.
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I Liked the Locale
Hitchcoc17 January 2016
Some supposedly bad folks live in a castle in the desert. We are privy to a murder, when a man who has had some friction with the principle characters, dies from a poison drink. Meanwhile, Charlie and Jimmy receive a cryptic message to come to the castle. The family, which are supposedly descendants of the Borgias, are shunned by their neighbors. Charlie gets someone to take him there against the wishes of others in the town and not long after that the number two son shows up like a bad penny. It turns out that this is one weird family. A private detective shows up shortly after and he is poisoned. I rather enjoyed the bleakness of this as well as the skeletons in the closet of these persons. It was quite entertaining.
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Hey Pop, Hey Pop!
bsmith55527 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
"Castle in the Desert" is noteworthy because it was the last of the Charlie Chan movies produced and released by 20th Century Fox. This one has the look of a Universal "B" horror film in that it set within the walls of a remote castle in the middle of the Mojave desert complete with a dungeon, a mysterious owner, shadowy halls, things that go bump in the night et al.

Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is summoned to the castle by a note apparently sent by Lucy Manderly (Lenita Lane) the wife the wife of the owner (Douglas Dumbrille) a mysterious partly masked eccentric. On his arrival Charlie and later No. 2 son (Victor Sen Yung) find that a guest has apparently been poisoned. Lucy Manderly it seems is a descendant of the notorious Borgia family so suspicion immediately falls onto her. Manderly we learn, is a student of Cesar Borgia and is living as a recluse in an isolated castle to replicate Borgia's life and to write a book about him.

Also at the castle are suspects Carl Dethridge (Richard Derr) who is there researching a project, sculptor Watson Key (Henry Daniell), Madame Saturnia (Ethel Griffies) a seer who predicts tragedy, Dr. Retling (Steven Geray) the Manderlay's personal physician and their lawyer Walter Hartford (Edmund MacDonals and his comely young wife Brenda (Arleen Whelan).

Attempts are made on the lives of some of the guests including Charlie. Charlie discovers a sinister plot to discredit Manderly and take over his $20 million dollar fortune. And then a key figure is murdered. As part of Charlie's investigation son Jimmy dons a suit of armor with hilarious results. Needless to say Charlie unravels the mystery, identifies the culprits and moves on.

Although this was the last of the Fox Chans that had begun in 1931, the series would be resurrected 1944 by poverty row studio Monogram where it would run first with Toler until his death in 1947 and later with Roland Winters until 1949.
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last Chan for Fox
blanche-23 December 2013
Castle in the Desert (1942) was the last Charlie Chan movie produced by 20th Century Fox. This one starred Sidney Toler as the man himself and Sen Yung as number 2 son.

Charlie is invited to a desert castle to see Mrs. Manderley, a descendant of the Borgias, and her husband Paul, who wears a handkerchief over one side of his face because of a horrible accident. The castle has no phone or electricity because Paul is a historian and tries to replicate the conditions of the men he is studying.

A death has occurred, but in order for Manderley to hold onto his $20 million fortune, he cannot be attached to any scandal. He persuades a doctor to allow the man to be moved to a hotel where he will be found, and nothing will attach to the Manderley or the castle.

Soon Jimmy Chan arrives with a sculptor (Henry Daniell) he met at the station who also needed a ride; there is also an eccentric astrologer (Ethel Griffiths) who claims the man who died is not dead, and neither is Mrs. Manderley's stepbrother, who presumably died in the war.

There is another death and a murder, and Charlie soon uncovers not one, but two conspiracies that are designed to get control of the Manderley money.

This was a good movie, but confusing. I still can't figure out what the deal was with the stepbrother. All they did was talk about him being alive, and I think Charlie said he was in the house. I swear I never saw him. Anyway, I wasn't satisfied at all with the ending. They should have stuck with one conspiracy.

Anyway, Toler and Sen Yung are good, and the cast is high quality, with Douglas Dembrille as Manderley, Henry Daniell, Richard Derr, and Arlene Whelan. The quality of the series is about to go down -- this is the last one of any quality.

When Charlie arrives, it seems that Mrs. Manderley did not invite him. The invitation was forged. But now there's no way to leave because the distributor cap is missing. 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...
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Ends Better Than It Starts
Lechuguilla17 January 2011
After a muddled, convoluted first half, the plot really picks up in the second half. A big house full of suspects, candles in lieu of electric lights, an ever-so-subtle echo from the large rooms, and at least one murder combine to create mystery and suspense. At one point in the second half, Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) advises all: "Return to rooms, lock doors; no one is safe now." Good plot misdirection leads us astray, as some "facts" aren't what they seem to be.

The overall premise is vaguely believable. But a runtime of only 62 minutes suggests an underdeveloped plot. We don't really get to know the suspects very well. The film hardly gets started; then it's over.

One character is strictly ornamental. I could also have done without number 2 son (Victor Sen Yung), added apparently as comic relief, who comes across as merely annoying, mostly because Sen Yung overacts.

Stark B&W lighting creates a creepy look and feel, with Chan's very white suit against a dark background and eerie shadows. Some overhead camera shots add visual interest. The castle itself creates an atmosphere of isolation.

"Castle In The Desert" ends better than it starts. A script re-write, both to make the first half clearer and to expand the back-stories of the characters, would have helped. Even so, it's not a bad Chan film, owing mostly to some good plot misdirection and effective cinematography.
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Charlie Chan Should Be An Asian Role Model
Barbara-423 November 2012
I've never understood why some folk in the Asian community don't like Charlie Chan.

A reviewer here said he cringed at the racist comment of an innkeeper who wouldn't let Charlie sit on his porch. Well, 1940 America that was common behavior. But Charlie Chan doesn't throw a fit, he gets on with the job of investigating murder and at the end of the film shows himself to be smarter than all the white folk who looked down on him.

Doesn't that make him a great role model? That was the case in many of the Charlie Chan films. The character was created at a time when Orientals were always villains, nothing more. Earl Derr Biggers created Chan to be a hero. He is brighter than everyone else he meets, for all that he doesn't speak grammatical English. Not because he's stupid, but because he's an immigrant from Hong Kong! Lesson? Just because someone's English language skills are not up to snuff doesn't mean that they can't run rings around you intellectually.

True also to the tenor of the times, Chan has to have "comic relief" - either his fully Americanized sons (and occasionally daughter) who speak English perfectly and are played by Asians who deserve to have their work seen - or by African Americans Stepin Fetchit or Mantan Moreland. I admit I do have problems watching those characters - I don't think I would have thought their actions funny then, nor do I think their funny now, but again, they're part and parcel of the times.

Having said all that, Warner Oland is the only Charlie Chan for me. I've never really cared for Sidney Toler's version. The plot is rather labyrynthine, but fun for all that. For the most part, anyway!
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The Last and Least of the Fox Chans
JohnHowardReid14 July 2008
A confused and totally muddled screenplay fittingly closes the Fox series of Charlie Chan entries, which is number 30 in the official 47-picture compendium which excludes the 1981 "Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen".

Actually, the equally preposterous script of this one is so full of holes, red herrings, misleading alliances, spooky hallucinations and other bizarre elements, it would make an equally amusing parody; but unfortunately the players and the director have all chosen to play it straight as a die. A shame, because a fair amount of money has been thrown at the movie which is beautifully produced and often quite stylishly directed.

Although it's disconcerting to see such wonderful sets and glistening cinematography squandered on this ridiculous mish-mash of impossible plotting and over-the-top characters, within these limits, Castle in the Desert is quite fascinating. The players are particularly engrossing. Toler is in top form as he tosses off the usual quota of quixotic aphorisms, including: "Man has enemies like dog has fleas"; "Caution sometimes mother of suspicion"; "The man who walks always has both feet on ground"; "Elaborate excuses seldom true"; and "A timid man never win lottery prize!"
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Talk about a contrived plot!
MartinHafer19 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Wow does this movie have a weird and confusing setup! We are expected to believe that some freaky distant relatives of the infamous Borgia family (circa 15th century Italy) are maintaining the family name and have built a huge mansion dedicated to the family--complete with a huge poison collection AND torture chamber! And, the head of the family runs around with a giant towel over his face because he apparently is disfigured!! To make this worse, this home was supposedly built in the Mojave Desert (the home used for the film actually was there and is apparently a famous landmark--thank you Steve S. for alerting me to this)!! These elements together show that the writers at Fox were running out of serious ideas. Not surprisingly, this is the last film in the series before it moved to Monogram Studios two years later.

The film begins with a man being poisoned at the family mansion. Just because she was named 'Lucretia', people automatically assume that this lady killed this man and the next poisoning victim. Great logic, eh? Well, naturally Charlie Chan gets an invitation to the place and he begins to unravel the clues to get to the truth. There's a lot more to the film than this and several surprises about the poisoning victims, but I don't want to divulge these and ruin the film.

Overall, it's diverting and fun but also quite stupid if you think about the plot. It's among the very worst of the Fox series--and not a great ending to their series.
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