Just as Edgar C. Ulmer would at PRC around the same time, young Phil Karlson turned Monogram's almost nonexistent production values to his advantage in two Charlie Chan whodunits: The Shanghai Cobra (1945) and Dark Alibi (1946). Karlson added touches of film noir to the usual hoary Chan melodramatics and the result was arguably the best of the Monogram "Chans." In The Shanghai Cobra, Charlie (Sidney Toler) is investigating several murders connected with the manufacture of wartime radium. The employees of a bank connected with the radium experiments have an unfortunate tendency to get themselves killed by the injection of cobra venom. Charlie remembers a similar case back in Shanghai in 1935, but the suspect in those murders escaped. Since his face was damaged in an explosion, the only tell-tale sign to identify him is by a streak of white in an otherwise jet-black mane -- unless of course the murderer has heard of hair dye. As always, Charlie's faithful if bumbling companions, Birmingham Brown (Mantan Moreland) and Tommy, the Number Three Son (Benson Fong), are along for the ride, offering their now patented sidekick humor. Toler, whose fondness for imbibing on the job was legendary, could basically sleepwalk through his role by 1945 and does so here. As for director Karlson's noir-ish touches, they quickly give way to business as usual, but the opening scenes of The Shanghai Cobra remain quite evocative.
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