Sidney Toler had settled very comfortably into the role of Charlie Chan by the time Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise appeared in 1940 (one of no less than four Chan movies released that year by 20th Century-Fox). And, as the title suggests, it really does involve murder on the high seas.
The action starts in Hawaii when Lieutenant Chan of the Honolulu Police Department gets a visit from an old friend, Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard. A world cruise organised by Dr Suderman (Lionel Atwill) has been marred by murder. In fact more than one of the wealthy participants in the cruise has been murdered, slain by a brutal strangler. Charlie is of course happy to offer his help but he takes a much more personal interest in the case when Inspector Duff becomes the strangler’s latest victim.
The shipboard setting serves the tried and tested purpose of confining suspicions to a small group of suspects. Among the cruise passengers there’s no shortage of rather suspicious characters.
The cast is impressive. Lionel Atwill overacts less than usual this time but he’s still as enjoyable as ever to watch. Leo G. Carroll manages to look potentially sinister as one of the cruise passengers, an archaeologist whose field of study is China. Robert Lowery is a young lawyer with a plausible motive while Marjorie Weaver as his intended bride Paula Drake has a strong motive as well. They make a good romantic couple who might perhaps dabble in murder. And then there’s Ross, played with verve by Don Beddoe, whose languid manner might well conceal murderous impulses.
Eugene Forde helmed a number of Chan movies as well as plenty of other similar mystery B-features so he knows what he’s doing and he gets on with the job with his usual competence.
Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise ticks the right boxes for this type of B-movie - it has the charismatic great detective, just enough comic relief to add seasoning without overwhelming the dish, a pretty well-constructed plot and a fine supporting cast. A shipboard setting is always a bonus for a mystery film. Highly recommended.