Allen Colby (Jerry Miley) had been reported lost at sea. Henrietta Lowell (Henrietta Crosman) hires Charlie Chan (Warner Oland) to find out if Allen actually died at sea or if he is still alive. Investigation of the sunken boat proves that Allen was on board but his body was not found. He does find a diary where Allen states there have been several attempts on his life. Charlie goes to San Francisco to bring Henrietta up to date on his investigation. At this time he has no proof that Allen is dead.
Allen was the heir to the Colby estate. If he is actually alive then the estate goes to him. Should he die then the estate goes to his father’s sister Henrietta. Henrietta is the mother of Alice Lowell (Rosina Lawrence) and Janice Gage (Astrid Allwyn). Alice is engaged to Dick Williams (Charles Quigley). Janice is married to Fred (Edward Trevor). Both men would benefit from Allen’s death. Henrietta also employs a medium, Carlotta (Gloria Roy), and her partner Professor Bowen (Arthur Edmund Carewe). Bowen knows that Allen didn’t believe in the supernatural so if he is actually alive Henrietta’s support would cease. The caretaker of the old Colby estate, Ulrich (Egon Brecher), blames Allen for his daughter’s suicide when he broke off their engagement years ago.
Just about everyone wants Allen to be dead. In reality he is alive and has been in the French Foreign Legion. He had been captured by Rifs and was a prisoner. He eventually escaped. He has been out of touch with his family until now. Allen shows up at his old home, the abandoned Colby residence, where he is stabbed. Not knowing this Henrietta holds a séance at the Colby home. All the family is there and so is Charlie. During the séance Allen’s dead body falls from a hidden alcove in the wall.
Through his investigation Charlie proves that, although Carlotta believes in herself, Professor Bowen is faking Carlotta’s power. When Henrietta finds out she’s been duped she tells her lawyer Warren Phelps (Jonathan Hale) that she wants to change her will cutting out Bowen and his phony research. When Henrietta is shot all the clues seem to point to Professor Bowen as the culprit but Charlie knows there is more to the story than that.
“Charlie Chan’s Secret” was released in 1936 and was directed by Gordon Wiles. It is the 10th film of the 44 films in the 20th Century Fox/Monogram Cannon. It is also the tenth to feature Warner Oland as Charlie Chan.
Creepy rambling abandoned houses and séances pretty much go hand in hand when it comes to spiritual who-done-its. Toss in a black cat and murder is always involved. It’s a good solid addition to the Charlie Chan cannon. It is the last of the Oland Warner films where number one son does not appear. Instead we have comic relief from Baxter (Herbert Mundin), the butler. Mundin is good as the frazzled servant without being overly obnoxious. Henrietta Crosman, as the matriarch of the family Henrietta Lowell, is excellent and plays off Warner wonderfully.
In the scene where Charlie is flying from Hawaii to San Francisco there is a shot of the San Francisco bay. In the shot you can see the unfinished western portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The western portion is a twin suspension bridge that connects San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island. You can see the anchors and trusses partially built. The eastern portion of the bridge runs from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland and is a combination truss and cantilever bridge. It was a part of the eastern section of the bridge that collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake. The shot in the film is stock footage since the bridge in the picture is still under construction. The bridge was completed in 1936, which is the same year the movie was released. Also in the shot is a brief view of a Sikorsky S-42 flying over the unfinished bridge.
The western portion of the bridge was named after Willie L. Brown Jr. Willie served in the California State Assembly for thirty years and was the first black mayor of San Francisco.