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Charlie Chan in the Secret Service

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**½

Man who never leave wheelchair should never wear out shoe leather.

Tommy, Iris and Charlie Chan with Birmingham Brown (Benson Fong, Marianne Quon, Sidney Toler, & Mantan Moreland) in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, © 1944, 2004 MGM Home Ent.

Tommy, Iris and Charlie Chan with Birmingham Brown (Benson Fong, Marianne Quon, Sidney Toler, & Mantan Moreland) in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, © 1944, 2004 MGM Home Ent.

Well this movie is very offensive. Should I focus on that? A white man in “yellow face”? Stereotypical black man? “Confucius say” style of speech? The only thing a Secret Service man said all he wished to learn of the Germans and Japanese “is what I can get lookin’ over a rifle sight.” Or should I focus on the honestly enjoyable murder-mystery?

Hmm. After some thought I have fallen on the side of, sweet christmas this is offensive! I am glad to have seen it, since at long last I understand where the wonderful Peter Sellers’ terrible, racist impressions of Chinese people came from! To learn what I am talking about, please see The Pink Panther Strikes Again and Murder By Death. They both have their merits as films. So does this one, truth be told. Or you can watch any of the thousands of films that are not nearly as horribly offensive.

Call Northside 777

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****

That’s the trouble with being innocent – you don’t know what really happened.

Like most people, I had never heard of this 1944 film. I saw that it was going to be on tv and DVRed it because it had me with Jimmy Stewart and Lee J. Cobb. I did not know the third lead,  Richard Conte, but who cares? It turns out that he plays a very convincing wrongfully convicted jailbird.

Despite the black and white the voiceover that starts the film could have been out of any 1950’s to 1980’s cop show. It starts with a copper getting iced in front of a Polish dame who runs the most boring speakeasy I have ever seen. After the murder, investigation and trial we are thrust into the editor’s office at the Chicago Times. Lee J. Cobb plays the editor and Jimmy Stewart the reporter.

Stewart plays the reporter as one who does not believe that a convicted cop killer’s should be freed. I think that he has to play it like that to win over an audience who might have walked out of the theater rather than let their hearts bleed over someone even accused of murdering a police officer. I suppose some things never change; those audiences now enjoy Live Free or Die Hard. Also, just as the Chicago Police are helpful now they were real helpful then. Similarly, as modern films like cutting edge technology, so did they in the 40’s, except that the technology consisted of enlarging photographs and wiring pictures. Not that it matters, the tension in the scenes are real so the use of technology works.

There is one scene that outshone the rest—the convict’s mother, Tillie–Kasia Orzazewski–breaking down. She does so when she hears that after years of slaving away to save enough to put out a reward to free her son she finds out the that the Chicago Times feels it cannot win with the appeals board and she will die with her son languishing in prison. It’s a harrowing moment that she made seem so real. Rare is it when an actress I have never heard of out acted the great Jimmy Stewart.