Amazon Prime Video is the go-to place for old Charlie Chan movies. This is one from 1946, starring English actor Sidney Toler as Chines detective Charlie Chan. It’s The Trap out of Monogram Pictures, which produced a bunch of these films from 1931 to 1953.
The Charlie Chan character was introduced by Earl Derr Biggers in a series of novels starting in the 1920s. Various actors played the role, with Toler appearing in 22 episodes. This was his last movie ever. At the time of production he was dying of cancer and barely able to perform.
Details are from Wikipedia. Here is the cast:
- Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan
- Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy Chan (as Sen Yung)
- Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown
- Tanis Chandler as Adelaide Brandt
- Larry J. Blake as Rick Daniels (as Larry Blake)
- Kirk Alyn as Sgt. Reynolds
- Rita Quigley as Clementine
- Anne Nagel as Marcia
- Helen Gerald as Ruby
- Howard Negley as Cole King, Impresario
- Lois Austin as Mrs. Thorn
- Barbara Jean Wong as San Toy
- Minerva Urecal as Miss Weebles, the Housekeeper
- Margaret Brayton as Madge Mudge
- Bettie Best as Winifred
- Jan Bryant as Lois
- Walden Boyle as Doc Brandt
Although originally cast as a detective of the Honolulu police, few of the films show him there. Most often he is seen in San Francisco, which has been notable for its Chinese immigrant population But this takes place entirely in Malibu, California. The opening scene is a motorcycle cop stationing himself beside the Pacific Coast Highway.
He spots a car going by, loaded with Hollywood actresses and much to fast. He cautions the driver to ease up on the pedal.
The car arrives at a beach bungalow, where the young women and some production officials debark and take up residence. The housekeeper, Miss Weebles, looks menacing.
There is bickering among the women as they compete for social position and favoritism. Lois is under age, and Adelaide knows it. She uses this knowledge as leverage. She has Lois go steal damaging letters from Brandt’s luggage.
Lois gets some letters, but somebody is watching, somebody with a garrote, preparing to strangle her. She turns. She sees the person. It’s her final scene in the movie.
They find Lois’ body in the room, but now Marcia is missing. She is found dead on the beach. Charlie Chan is summoned, and Birmingham drives him out to the bungalow.
Jimmy Chan finds the note left by Birmingham, and he comes to help solve the crime. Also, he is sweet on one of the actresses. The motorcycle cop is enlisted to work the case.
No more people are murdered. There is much skulking around, false accusations, hidden compartments, noises in the walls. The housekeeper says the noises are mice.
Charlie sets a trap, hence the title. Jimmy’s girlfriend is the bait. But when Jimmy and Birmingham find the sought-after box, they rush in and foil Charlie’s surprise. The murderer makes a getaway. We can see those are woman’s legs under the disguise.
Charlie and Jimmy give chase. The murder’s car crashes. It is the wardrobe woman as I always suspected. She dies.
There were mice in the wall. This is the final scene.
Mantan Moreland received top billing in this movie. He had a long career, beginning as a teenager and creating a great comic persona, playing the bumbling Birmingham in several of these films. When this portrayal went out of fashion his career dwindled.