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The Black Camel (1931)

Passed | | Crime, Mystery, Thriller | 21 June 1931 (USA)
The unsolved murder of a Hollywood actor several years earlier and an enigmatic psychic are the keys to help Charlie solve the Honolulu stabbing death of a beautiful actress.


Hamilton MacFadden (uncredited)


Earl Derr Biggers (novel), Hugh Stanislaus Stange (adaptation) (as Hugh Stange) | 4 more credits »

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Complete credited cast:
Warner Oland ... Inspector Charlie Chan
Sally Eilers ... Julie O'Neil
Bela Lugosi ... Tarneverro
Dorothy Revier ... Shelah Fane
Victor Varconi ... Robert Fyfe
Murray Kinnell ... Archie Smith
William Post Jr. ... Alan Jaynes
Robert Young ... Jimmy Bradshaw
Violet Dunn Violet Dunn ... Anna
J.M. Kerrigan ... Thomas MacMasters
Mary Gordon ... Mrs. MacMasters
Rita Rozelle Rita Rozelle ... Luana
Otto Yamaoka ... Kashimo


Movie star Sheila Fayne is seeing wealthy Alan Jaynes while filming in Honolulu, Hawaii, but won't marry him without consulting famed psychic Tanaverro first. Tanaverro confronts her about the unsolved murder of fellow film star Denny Mayo three years earlier, and she decides to reject Jaynes' proposal. When Sheila is found shot to death in her beach-front pavilion, Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police investigates. Written by Sister Grimm <srgrimm@teleport.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The unsolved secrets of Hollywood See more »


Passed | See all certifications »






Release Date:

21 June 1931 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Charlie Chan in the Black Camel See more »

Filming Locations:

Honolulu, O'ahu, Hawaii, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Fox Film Corporation See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The second of three Chans directed by Hamilton MacFadden, who also appeared in three. McFadden also began directing a fourth, "Charlie Chan in Paris" (1935) but was terminated after a week on set. See more »


In the scene where Jimmy and Julie are getting out of the water after their swim you can hear singing. Julie explains that the group singing is from a local high school come to sing to Sheila. When the camera pans to the group, no one's lips are moving. See more »


Charlie Chan: You quench fire of my curiosity with handful of *straw*!
See more »


Followed by Castle in the Desert (1942) See more »


I Have a Thought in My Heart for You
Written by Sol Hoopii Jr.
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User Reviews

The Earliest Surviving Film In The Famous Charlie Chan Series
2 April 2005 | by gftbiloxiSee all my reviews

With the character loosely based on Chang Apana (1887-1933), a police officer of Chinese heritage, author Earl Derr Biggers wrote six Charlie Chan novels between 1925 and 1932. House Without A Key and The Chinese Parrot were filmed as silents in 1926; Behind That Curtain was filmed, with Chan reduced to a minor character, in 1929. Starring various actors and filmed as individual pieces, none of the films can be described as entries in the series, but in 1931 Fox Studios cast Warner Oland in Charlie Chan Carries On--and with its success Fox Studios discovered a money spinner. Between 1931 and 1942 the studio would create no less than 27 Charlie Chan films, first starring Warner Oland and then starring Sidney Toler.

Charlie Chan Carries On has not survived. The earliest Chan film of the series that still exists is The Black Camel, which is based on the 1929 Diggers novel. The film follows the book quite closely. Shelia Fane (Dorothy Reiver) is an actress who has come to Hawaii to make a motion picture. She has fallen in love with a wealthy man and wants to marry--but she is troubled by something that has occurred in her past. She accordingly sends for psychic Tarneverro (Bela Lugosi), who warns her not to marry--but no sooner does she refuse the marriage than she is found dead, stabbed, in her beachfront home.

Like most of the later Chan films, The Black Camel has a remarkable cast that includes an unexpected number of notables. Bela Lugosi has already been mentioned, and other up-and-comers include Robert Young and character actor Dwight Frye. But this film is very early in the game, and Fox is still tinkering with style and characters; instead of being assisted by a son, Chan is saddled with inept junior officer Kashimo (Otto Yamaoka), a character drawn directly from the Biggers novel. The chemistry is not effective, and although most of the cast offers good performances much the same might be said of the project as a whole.

Part of the problem is the story itself. Apparently suggested by the 1920s murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor, the plot itself is more than adequate, but the "how and why" details of the investigation are awkward. The script itself has an occasional zinger (at one point Chan warns Kashimo that "the wages of stupidity is search for new job!") but by and large it never manages to strike the balance between mystery and comedy for which the series was ultimately famous. It is also a film very much of the early sound era, which is to say visually static, and although it was partly filmed on Hawaiian location one sees little of the islands.

Overall, and while it has its moments, this is really a film best left to Chan fans, who will be interested to see the character at an early stage of development. Unfortunately, however, Chan fans will have a problem latching onto it: it is not presently available on either VHS or DVD and it is seldom broadcast.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

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