The Charlie Chan Encyclopedia - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan

Fans of Charlie Chan (and there are more of them than you may think) are a fairly discrete group.  Whenever there is even a whisper of a rumor to reactivate the series, focus groups pounce on the prospect as if it were the worst idea ever.  Why didn’t a Chinese actor play Charlie Chan?  He did in Chinese language Chan films.  Doesn’t the series reinforce racial stereotypes?  Read the books or watch the movies.  Charlie Chan is a clever, patient investigator.  Whenever he senses resistance to his polite, persistent methods, he tells the resisters to cut it out with quiet, firm courtesy.  Charlie Chan doesn’t cut corners, brawl or rely on car chases to catch killers.  He disarms them with tried and true techniques so unobtrusive, they’re barely noticed. 

Earl Der Bigger’s novels are precise, colorful and entertaining.  The 20th Century Fox films tried to capture their flavor and usually succeeded, thanks to sharp scripts, careful direction and vivid character actors.  That’s part of the reason I bought all the books and the Fox Collection when it became clear that broadcast television was skittish about airing the films, even though all the available titles had been beautifully restored. 

The paperback edition of “The Charlie Chan Encyclopedia” by Howard Berlin is a welcome addition to the Charlie Chan canon.  Berlin knows and loves his subject and in 1900 entries he supplies a welcome context for the golden age of Charlie Chan in Hollywood.  The photographs are sharp and well-chosen, although on page 111, a slinky picture of Marguerite Chapman is identified as Marguerite Churchill.  Berlin succeeds in showing why Charlie Chan was so popular in his heyday and also why he is still a source of interest for today’s audiences.  For more information on “The Charlie Chan Encyclopedia” check out

© 2012 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 02/29/12
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