Our Relations

“A couple of Singapore Eskimos.”

A masterpiece of the first water, consciously so. It begins with four cups of tea passed around and around a placid matrimonial table, but this is a thematic prelude (like the gag coda) to a film that stands with Way Out West and Sons of the Desert in another tempo entirely, though it is made up of incidents and situations intertwined like several two-reelers, the allegro con brio of farce.

Stan and Ollie have twin brothers long since “gone to the bad” as sailors and thought to be hanged. Bert and Alf put into port, pick up a package for their captain, and then a couple of girls. Confusion of identity is the order of the day. The scene shifts from Denker’s Beer Garden to The Pirate Club, a “high-class joint” like the set of Britten’s opera Billy Budd yet stylishly a monochrome white (cf. Luther Reed’s Rio Rita). A couple of gangsters want the package, Stan and Ollie are nearly deep-sixed.

Some critics have found this hard to follow, but the film makes sure with musical themes (nautical, cuckoos) to identify the action. Variety recognized it, the New York Times was nonplussed, Halliwell acknowledges the feat.

Which is how the other half lives, or the sins of youth, represented concurrently.


Castle in the Desert

“Sixteenth Century-Fox”, Jean Renoir said. A one-eyed jack of a scarred scholar and his wife, a princess in the Borgia line.

“Expensively educated” number two son Jimmy on furlough from the Army for one week provokes this comment, “glamour boy who jump to conclusion sometimes get hair mussed.”

The scarred stepbrother, tried for poisoning, is said to have been “killed in the Spanish War,” a prince and yet no Borgia.

“Say, Pop, you haven’t been drinking, have you?”

“Only wine of discovery.”

Jimmy Chan has an idea, but “theory like thunderstorm, very wet.”

Furthermore, “sharp wit sometimes much better than deadly weapon,” a crossbow, say. “Jimmy, please! Remember you are rear guard, not Cupid.” Indeed, “timid man never win lottery prize.”

Leonard Maltin, “first-rate mystery”.

The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “playful murder mystery”.

Hal Erickson (Rovi), “would have been a worthy screen finale for the inscrutable Mr. Chan; alas, the character would be revived two years later in a much inferior series at Monogram.”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “one of the sharpest Charlie Chan mysteries.”