Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Charlie Chan's Cure For Insomnia

 Today is April 30th ... the last day of the month ... the waning hours of the evening of the last day of the month.  Midnight is an hour and a half away, and after midnight, it is no longer April.  I promised myself to do an article here before the end of April.  I also made that promise to a caring friend who gave me a nudge about doing something, anything on my blog.  So here it is ... something.  It's not an in-depth review or a historical retrospective.  It's just some stream-of-consciousness thinking about my intimate relationship with Charlie Chan in the wee hours of the morning.  (I know what you're thinking....)

The month of April brought with it some stressful events, and one side-effect was an unrelenting insomnia that didn't respond well even to sleeping pills.   I would get about 3-4 hours of comatose sleep and then wake right up again.  Reading doesn't work well with tired eyes, and you have to be careful what you watch on TV at 2 a.m.  Action shows or thriller movies just wake you up more.  Great classic movies aren't usually a good idea because your mind insists on staying awake to experience them.  Finally, I settled upon the perfect thing to enjoy and yet settle the brain down to eventual sleep ... Charlie Chan.

Warner Oland
I just love Charlie Chan movies, always have.  My high school steady boyfriend fell in love with me when I was able to name the three famous Chan actors, Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Roland Winters.  (I knew we were a match made in Heaven when he started quoting W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.)  I never liked Roland Winters, but I love Oland and Toler.  Oland seemed to me the more sophisticated Charlie Chan, with a bit of polite menace in his countenance.  Toler is the friendlier father type of Charlie Chan, always ready with Confucius humor.  There is a Charlie Chan for any mood.

Sidney Toler
I know it isn't correct anymore to love the two best Charlies ... Oland was Swedish and Toler was from Missouri ... but I can't help it.  I didn't know they were a stereotype when I was a kid watching them on TV.  I just thought they were always smarter than anybody else at solving mysteries, and they always had a superior smile in answer to any insults they might receive.  I felt the same way about Mantan Moreland ... my favorite Toler movies are the ones in which Mantan appears as Birmingham Brown.  Again, my child self was not aware that these movie roles were hurtful to black people.  I just thought Mantan was so funny, and was the only one who seemed smart enough to know when he was in a dangerous situation.  Willie Best appeared in one Chan film as Chattanooga Brown, Birmingham's cousin, and I remember wishing I had a cool nickname like those.

Mantan Moreland and one of Charlie's sons
(I forget which one...)
The Charlie Chan movies are fun, not very long, pretty quiet actually ... when insomnia kept me from sleeping, I began to stretch out on the recliner, turn off all the lights, keep the volume low, and play some on a loop that included Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, Murder at Midnight, Charlie Chan in Egypt.  The background scores are soothing, the pace is not hurried, and eventually I was usually out like a light.  The loop would keep playing until it turned itself off, and I was blissfully asleep.  So thanks, Charlie ... you cured me.

I found a clip on Youtube of Mantan Moreland and his vaudeville partner, Ben Carter, doing their famous "interrupted sentence" routine in some of the Chan movies.  (The clip names it "incomplete sentence" routine, but that's wrong.)  They are so good at it, and it always tickles me.





20 comments:

  1. I recently wrote a piece about watching CC for the first time (the Oland version) after having deliberately avoided those movies for a very long time. What convinced me to finally sample one was seeing how fans like you seemed to have genuine affection for them despite their political incorrectness. While I still wasn't blown away by it, I did find some positive things - his relationship with his children, for one. I think liking CC may just be a generational thing.

    Hope you're sleeping better these days.

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    1. You are quite right, Rich -- they are not movies to blow you away. They are just quiet little movies that made an impression on me as a kid. They were fun and appealing to a child. Sometimes those feelings just stay with you even when you get to be an adult. And thanks, I am sleeping better now, without Charlie!

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  2. Lovely post, Becky. CC and a lot of the old series movies were like comfort food, I suppose. Sleep well.

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    1. Comfort food is the exact right feeling, Jacqueline. It's like mashed potatoes for the brain!

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  3. Like a visit from an old friend. We know him so well that Charlie Chan demands nothing of us.

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    1. That's it, CW - nothing is demanded of us, just like an old friend. That's why it's so soothing, I guess.

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  4. I never watched the Charlie Chan movies for some reason - but congratulations on DOING SOMETHING! Now you can get ready to DO SOMETHING ELSE!

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    1. Charlie Chan won't change your life, Christian -- but he is a lot of fun. OK, I'll prepare for SOMETHING ELSE now!

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  5. So good to see you blogging again, Becky - and to know that you've found an entertaining way to ease your insomnia.

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    1. Thanks Eve ... I'm finding that I can sleep better now, and Charlie isn't always necessary! LOL!

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  6. Becky, Charlie Chan movies are like comfort food (well, the ones with Oland and Toler). They may not be politically correct, but the mysteries are entertaining and the acting solid (although sometimes the comedy almost overwhelms the investigations). Several years ago, Kevin wrote a fine post on Mantan Moreland.

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    1. I agree 100%, Rick. And thanks for the heads-up for Kevin's post -- I'll get over and read it.

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  7. Sheesh - I need to watch me some CC and get some sleep! Good to see you back, my friend. Actually, between you and Caftan Woman, these films seem like a lot of fun. I promise to give them a whirl before the year is over (mental note: December post about Charlie Chan!).

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    1. Becky, my friend, I can sympathize with your insomniac issues. Luckily, Birmingham Brown and his pal is just the kind of thing that can help when you're anxious and out .of sorts. Besides, their banter is hilarious, so what's wrong with that? In fact, their banter kind of reminds of the way my family and I talk over each other in a banter-y way! All of us here at Team Bartilucci HQ hope you're feeling more like your sassy self again! Warmest wishes to you and yours, Big Sis, and here's to happier times!

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    2. Chick, they can be a lot of fun -- I'll be interested to see your take on them.

      Dorian, banter is indeed what Mantan and Ben do best -- I think it's time to recognize these comedians and actors for their talents, not just remember the negative era in which they worked.

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  8. I remember a few years ago when the Fox Movie Channel was going to showcase the Chans and some Asian groups complained. Now, that is their right to do so. But to have one of the persons quoted, a professor of Asian Studies or something like that, say one of his complaints was that Charlie Chan was a stereotypical asexual Asian made me fall off the chair laughing. Asexual? He has something like 14 kids!

    I suspect the person never saw a Chan movie. Charlie Chan is one of the most likeable characters the movies have even given us. Perfect viewing if wide awake or trying to fall asleep. Good luck with your insomnia.

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    1. Kevin, I had to laugh at your laughter! Too true about Charlie's virility! LOL!

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  9. Sorry to hear about your bouts with insomnia, Becky...that must be very frustrating. It is nice to see you back with a piece on good old Charlie Chan, however.

    I came to the Chan films late but enjoy the heck out of the earliy ones - especially the Olands. I prefer his beatific manner and gentle, sly way of insulting the occasional obnoxious racist types that crop up, though Toler's more razor-tongued approach is fun, too.
    Although it might on the surface seem almost a backhanded compliment, saying you find the Chan movies easy to fall asleep too, I know precisely what you mean. They're like a comfortable old blanket, lulling you into a peaceful, stress-free state. Might I also suggest nature documentaries, especially those BBC ones narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Stunning photography, married to Attenborough's dulcet tones...an excellent way to relax and drift off to slumberland.

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    1. You are quite right, Jeff -- often I get so interested in the movie that I fight to keep awake! Thanks for the idea about the BBC documentaries. I am going to look them up!

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  10. I love the Charlie Chan films, Becky. So great to see your post. I too love to watch them late into the night. What is it about these films that is so relaxing? Familiarity, maybe.

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