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Castle in the Desert (1942)

Charlie Chan investigates apparent poisonings at a mystery mansion in the Mojave Desert.


Harry Lachman


John Francis Larkin (original screenplay) (as John Larkin), Earl Derr Biggers (character)


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Complete credited cast:
Sidney Toler ... Charlie Chan
Arleen Whelan ... Brenda Hartford
Richard Derr ... Carl Detheridge
Douglass Dumbrille ... Paul Manderley (as Douglas Dumbrille)
Henry Daniell ... Watson King
Edmund MacDonald ... Walter Hartford
Victor Sen Yung ... Jimmy Chan (as Sen Yung)
Lenita Lane ... Lucy Manderley
Ethel Griffies ... Madame Saturnia
Milton Parsons ... Arthur Fletcher
Steven Geray ... Dr. Retling (as Steve Geray)
Lucien Littlefield ... Gleason


Paul Manderley, eccentric historian, and his wife, descendant of the Borgias, live in an isolated castle-like mansion in the Mojave Desert. When a guest suddenly collapses, Charlie Chan is invited to stay. As the standard mystery-mansion props come into play, and all means of outside communication are sabotaged, it becomes evident that one of the inhabitants has access to poisons and is prepared to use them... Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


...a poison arrow whizzes past... as Charlie Chan opens the gate to his most baffling adventure!


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Release Date:

27 February 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Charlie Chan in Castle in the Desert See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Naming the residents of the isolated castle Manderley is an obvious reference the the mansion of Rebecca (1940) from two years earlier. See more »


Paul Manderley, supposedly an expert on the Italian Rennaissance, mispronounces Cesare Borgia's first name, making it sound like Caesar as in Julius Caesar. See more »


Lily, Mme. Saturnia: You have enemies, Mr. Chan?
Charlie Chan: Man without enemies like dog without fleas.
See more »


Follows Charlie Chan in London (1934) See more »

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User Reviews

A most CLASSIC isolated old mansion!
18 March 2014 | by binapiraeusSee all my reviews

Charlie Chan, who's just planning a little vacation with son Jimmy, gets a letter from a Mrs. Manderley, née Lucrezia Borgia (!), who summons him urgently to Manderley castle because she fears for her life... And THERE we've got a classic isolated old mansion if ever there was one: Mr. Manderley, a famous historian, has built his castle in the middle of the Mojave desert, complete with a vault full of poison bottles and Renaissance torture instruments, with no electricity and no phone - and very soon the distributor of the only car available is stolen as well, which leaves the persons present in TOTAL isolation - except for Jimmy, of course, who finds his way to the castle together with a strange old lady with spiritualistic gifts, Madame Saturnia...

And very soon it is revealed that recently, a genealogist who wanted to investigate on Mrs. Manderley's Borgia family tree (although she seems perfectly alright, her step-brother was a mad poisoner...) was poisoned in the castle - but strangely, Madame Saturnia insists that 'the finger of Isis has never touched this house'... yet...

She also warns Charlie to 'watch out for an arrow' - and very soon, arrows from an old crossbow start flying through the castle halls, dangerously near to our detective hero! And the suspects are plenty: Mrs. Manderley (who insists she didn't write the note to Charlie, and that her step-brother is dead; another thing Madame Saturnia denies vehemently...), Mr. Manderley, who wears a mask over one side of his face (a result of an accident, he explains), Dr. Retling, whose death certificate for the genealogist is being questioned by private eye Fletcher, Mr. Hartford, Manderley's attorney, who together with his wife seems to be seeking to take control of the Manderley fortune, and sculptor Watson King, who reveals himself as yet another private detective hired by Mrs. Manderley... Make your choice!

The creepy atmosphere of the old castle of course makes this entry in the 'Charlie Chan' series another immensely entertaining whodunit; and the cast is also superb: apart from distinguished British star Henry Daniell as Watson King and Douglas Dumbrille as Manderley, we also meet again with some of the cast members of that magnificent Charlie Chan movie "Dead Men Tell" from the previous year: Milton Parsons, Lenita Lane - and Ethel Griffies, giving once again a FORMIDABLE performance as the mysterious Madame Saturnia. Jimmy as always adds lots of fun, disguised in a medieval armor - a great mystery movie that shouldn't be missed by any fan of the genre!

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