Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) is a fascinating movie (if not always a very exciting one) on a multitude of levels. The first of the Chan films to be produced by Monogram Pictures (which revived the series two years after 20th Century Fox dropped the Chan movies). It avoids the usual cheap and threadbare look of most Monogram features, with a good-sized cast and decently furnished (if not exactly opulent) sets. But more than that, the entire mindset of the movies altered in the two years that had elapsed since the Fox series ended -- in the earlier Charlie Chan movies, Inspector Chan was a respected presence among the more educated higher-ups in law enforcement in the mainland United States, but he was treated as an outsider (and often an unwelcomed one) among the rank-and-file police and less imaginative government officials. Additionally, as a member of the Honolulu police force, Chan was considered less than a full American citizen, as Hawaii was a possession, but not a part of the United States. But in Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, made at the height of American involvement in World War II, he is treated with respect by every police officer and official from the top down, and a welcomed ally, much as the Chinese were in the fight against the Japanese empire. One has the sense that Honolulu and Hawaii -- though not yet admitted to the Union, thanks to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the omnipresent awareness that the U.S. Pacific Fleet was headquartered there -- were every bit as much a part of the United States as San Francisco or Chicago. The story itself is a little predictable, and the setting, with all of the characters restricted to the house in which the murder took place, is a little claustrophobic. But the movie has its virtues in pacing and atmosphere and including the introduction of Mantan Moreland as driver Birmingham Brown, who is a lot smarter than most of the characters around him, despite some elements of stereotyping. Another strong point is the presence of Marianne Quon as Chan's daughter.
by Bruce Eder review