Chanthology: Meeting at Midnight / The Jade Mask Review
Meeting at Midnight and The Jade Mask , the two titles which make up the second disc in MGM’s Chanthology box-set of six late entries in the Charlie Chan franchise, offer much the same pleasures and problems as those which appeared on the first. Sharing the same lead in Sidney Toler, director in Phil Rosen and year of production (1944), this is perhaps understandable, yet whilst they remain brisk, engaging affairs, if more than a little dated, the cracks become all the more apparent when watching the pictures in quick succession.
Indeed, the formulaic qualities are ever apparent, with little present to distinguish the two entries. In both an elaborate scheme has been devised which involves a murder occurring in a large house, one which contains hidden rooms and secret compartments. Chan is called upon to solve with inadvertent sidekick Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland) and one of his (Chan’s) kids in tow. He does so, of course, in a Holmesian manner whilst dispensing with pithy Confucian-esque sayings (“If silence is golden, you are redundant”) and a good humour which goes some way to elevating the limitations of Toler’s talents, not to mention the racist undertow.
Yet it would appear that the writers are fully aware of this formula and more than a little complacent with it. As such the various suspects never become three dimensional characters but rather mere pawns in the diabolical schemes. What this means is that each becomes instantly forgettable once the films are over and that the schemes become integral to each entry’s individual qualities.
Of the two, it is perhaps Meeting at Midnight which proves the more engaging. Set at a séance it allows for a slight encroachment onto horror territory, especially during the early scenes (incidentally, in both it is these early moments which prove the more inviting, perhaps because Toler hasn’t reached the screen yet), whilst the plot involves black magic, suicidal trances, plastic surgery and bullets constructed of frozen blood. In comparison, The Jade Mask with its insane ex-vaudevillian is no slouch, though its familiar device of a murdered government scientist involved in top secret research lends it an extra air of familiarity. That said, when compared to the 1980 debacle that was Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen both acquit themselves as fine, if minor, little potboilers.
As with the first disc no extras are apparent, though the picture quality is a slight improvement. The image still flickers from time to time and demonstrates some visible damage, but there is now a crispness present which makes each perfectly watchable. Sadly the soundtracks still leave much to be admired and waver throughout. That said there are subtitles available, though again this is only a minor concession.