As the U.S. fleet prepares to pass through the Panama Canal, Panama City becomes a city of
spies. A seaplane load of suspicious characters lands in Balboa, arriving from Cristobal on the on the Atlantic side
of the isthmus. Among the group are British novelist Clivedon Compton, Miss Sarah Finch, a schoolmarm from Chicago,
sinister scientist Dr. Rudolph Grosser, cabaret owner Emil Manolo, singer Kathi Lenesch, tabacco store owner Achmed Halide,
U.S. government engineer Richard Cabot, and American government agent R.J. Godley.
Upon landing, Godley goes to a
Panama hat shop that is owned by Fu Yuen, who is actually Charlie Chan, working for U.S. intelligence. Godley, seeking
Chan's help to identify and capture a deadly spy and saboteur known as Reiner, suddenly dies just as he was about to give
the Oriental detective some valuable information. Chan must now work on his own to expose Reiner before the spy can sabotage
the Panama Canal, thus trapping the U.S. fleet.
Chan, still in the guise of Fu Yuen, is taken to jail because of the
suspicious death of Godley in his shop, where he finds his second son, Jimmy, who has gotten himself arrested on suspicion
of being a spy. Once out of jail, father and son work together to solve the mystery of Reiner's identity and save the
Two other suspects are killed; first Compton in his hotel room, and later, Manolo, who was on the run from
While searching for clues at a cemetery, Charlie Chan, Jimmy, Miss Finch, and Captain Lewis, U.S. intelligence
officer, become trapped in a tomb. While in the tomb, a number of large empty cans are discovered. Chan determines
that the cans contained a very high explosive, which he now feels will be used to destroy the canal. After hours of being
trapped, the group finally makes its escape and hurries to the Miraflores locks which, Chan has determined, have been targeted
for destruction at ten o'clock that night.
hour of destruction approaches, all personnel at the Miraflores powerhouse are evacuated. Before the group of suspects
can exit the facility, Chan stops them, holding them all at gunpoint. With each passing minute, individuals in the group
become more overcome with fear. Finally, as the fateful moment arrives, the murderer, in a desperate attempt to escape,
pulls out a gun. To the surprise of most everyone, Miss Finch reveals herself to be Reiner. As she flees through
a door, she is captured by authorities who were waiting outside, obviously privy to the ploy of Charlie Chan, who had shortly
before discovered, and disarmed, the explosive device.
NOTES: Charlie Chan in Panama provides a glimpse at the stresses experienced by the United
States in the stages that led to the eventual entry of our nation into World War II.
At this point, the United States was "neutral" in the war which had already begun in both Europe and in the Far East. We note the hints throughout the movie as to the identities of the hostile nations,
although no definite references are provided in the interest of appearing neutral. Film footage containing sequences
of U.S. Navy warships, including the USS Arizona and USS Lexington passing through the Panama Canal,
is seen in this picture.
Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG - Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American
Feature Films, 1911-1960
CHARLIE CHAN'S APHORISMS:
Thousand friends too few.
One enemy one too many.
Man without relatives is
man without troubles.
Absence of proof open cell door.
Perhaps better to let cat out of bag than drown same.
for worst, can hope for best.
Young brain, like grass, need dew of sleep.
Truth win more friendship than lies.
Bad alibi like dead fish - cannot stand test of time.
No heart strong enough to hold bullet.
Gun can be made to talk.
Marks left by gun barrel on bullet like fingerprints.
Features familiar as markings on bad penny.
Nerves make time crawl backward.
line between folly and wisdom very faint in dark tomb.
Patience lead to knowledge.
Precaution much safer than
Time bomb without electric arteries cannot speak.
Intelligent defense of nation best
guarantee for years of peace.
OTHER WORTHY STATEMENTS:
Panama, walls equipped with eyes as well as ears. (To R.J. Godley)
(Jimmy: "How'd you know it was me?") Frequent spankings
have made favorite son's anatomy most familiar. (Following his slapping Jimmy on his behind
after having seen him only from that position)
Godley and Reiner play cat-and-mouse game, and mouse strike
first. (To Governor D.C. Webster)
If [canal] lock does not function, battleship caught like fish in trap. (To
Governor D.C. Webster)
Very difficult to smile. Death visit my humble shop today. (To
Manolo, spoken as Fu Yuen)
On soil of democracy you are safe from persecution. (To
Inside pocket like vault of National Bank. (To Kathi Lenesch)
Gun can be made to talk. (Regarding comparison "rifling marks")
(Miss Finch: "Why, it's your son!") Features familiar as markings on bad penny.
in graveyard, son forgets parable of angels and fools. (To Miss Finch and Captain Lewis regarding
Like actress intoxicated by success, lady overplayed part. (To all,
regarding Miss Finch)
Variety, February 21, 1940
This latest Chan whodunit is a real chiller and ranks high among the many turned out. Picture
definitely tags Sidney Toler as worthy of carrying on the role that the late Warner Oland made a screen fixture. There's
less of that slow-motion delivery Toler showed before. He makes it a distinct characterization even in the face of alert
competition from 'honorable No. 2 son.' Production has patterned for enough time on the screen to fill out a double-feature
bill, where it will lend strong support.
Exhibitor should not overlook the story's timeliness, centering about a plot
to destroy part of the Panama Canal and trap the fleet going through on maneuvers. Added to this is a long array of
Scripters John Larkin and Lester Ziffren have skillfully fastened suspicion on six different characters
and then made the discovery of the mysterious German spy, Ryner, the seventh and long-sought suspect. They have done
this without permitting too much of it to seem unreasonable. Fable is vastly helped by Norman Foster's direction, former
screen player apparently having won his spurs in directing. He has fashioned a whole series of suspenseful moments
without making the developments seem ludicrous.
Toler dominates every scene once he's introduced working for the army
intelligence disguised as a hat store proprietor. He is tremendously effectual in the well-conceived climax when the
destruction of the canal locks seems to hang on his ability to force a confession from one of five suspects. Sen Yung
makes the 'No. 2 son' character highly important.
Jack La Rue, as a nightclub operator and one of the menaces, contributes
probably his best recent performance. Frank Puglia, another suspect, is good. Jean Rogers, as the Czech refugee
showgirl, adds a nice minor role while Mary Nash, as the supposedly innocent schoolmarm, chips in with a topflight portrayal.
DATE: July 15-16, 1939 (Saturday and Sunday) (Evidence: The
date written on R.J. Godley's Trans-Panama Air Line ticket - "7-15")
DURATION: Two days
LOCATIONS: Panama City, Panama and Balboa, Panama Canal Zone
THE SIGN SHOWN NEAR THE DOCK IN CRISTOBAL:
THE WORDING ON FOUR CRATES SEEN ON THE DOCK:
"MARINE EXPORTING CO.
"SANG HOP CO.
"YEE SING CHANG CO.
THE SHIP THAT WAS BEING PHOTOGRAPHED BY THE ENEMY SPY ON THE DOCK:
USS Indianapolis (CV-35)
THE NAME OF THE AIRLINE USED TO TRANSPORT PASSENGERS WITHIN
THE PANAMA CANAL ZONE: Trans-Panama Airways
THE ORIGIN OF THE TRANS-PANAMA AIRLINES FLIGHT: Cristobal
THE DESTINATION OF THE TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS FLIGHT:
THE ARRIVAL TIMES FOR BALBOA, ACCORDING TO THE POSRED SEAPLANE SCHEDULE FOR TRANS-PANAMA
MISS FINCH'S STATED PROFESSION: "For eighteen years
I've been teaching the students of Chicago the mysteries of algebra and geometry."
THE NAME OF THE PERSON FOR WHOM SR. MANOLO MISTAKES RICHARD
THE PORT FROM WHICH MISS FINCH AND R.J. GODLEY HAD SAILED
FOR PANAMA: New York City
R.J. GODLEY'S EVENTUAL DESTINATION: San Francisco, California
ACCORDING TO THE STEWARDESS, THE TIME REMAINING UNTIL THE SEAPLANE'S
DEPARTURE: "...five minutes.'
ACCORDING TO ACHMED HALIDE, THE NAME OF SR. MANOLO'S BARBER
WHO WAS IN JAIL FOR ESPIANAGE: Felipe
THE TYPE OF AIRPLANE USED BY TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS:
Douglas "Dolphin" flying boat
ACCORDING TO THE STEWARDESS DURING THE FLIGHT, THE TIME UNTIL ARRIVAL
IN BALBOA: "...20 minutes..."
THE SIGN SEEN BY PASSENGERS ON ARRIVAL IN BALBOA:
THE SIGN ON THE SHOP ACROSS THE STREET FROM FU YUEN'S PANAMA HAT SHOP:
THE NAME OF THE TAXI COMPANY: Taximetro
THE SIGN ON THE PANAMA HAT STORE WINDOW RUN BY CHARLIE CHAN AS "FU YUEN":
THE SIGN WORN BY THE STREET GUITAR PLAYER: "Ciego" ("Blind")
ACCORDING TO R.J. GODLEY, TWO CRIMES COMMITTTED BY THE SECRET
AGENT "REINER": "...sabotaged the Eldredge Drydock...crashed the 409..."
THE TEXT AS PRINTED ON R.J. GODLEY'S TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS TICKET ENVELOPE:
THE TYPE OF PASSPORT CARRIED BY R.J. GODLEY: Diplomatic
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, SON JIMMY'S SUMMER JOB: "...working
as steward on boat during college vacation."
THE REASON THAT JIMMY CHAN WAS SRANDED IN PANAMA: His
ship sailed to New York without him as he was in jail under suspicion of espianage because of photographs that he had innocently
JIMMY CHAN'S DATE OF ARRIVAL IN PANAMA: The morning
of July 15, as his boat had "docked in Balboa this morning."
THE MILITARY DOCTOR'S STATED AUTOPSY RESULTS FOR R.J. GODLEY RELATING TO
THE CAUSE OF DEATH: "Concentrated poison in both lungs."
THE TYPE OF POISON THAT KILLED R.J. GODLEY: Boanide
(Charlie Chan: "Most deadly when inhaled with smoke from cigarette.")
ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN, REINER'S CRIME "SIGNATURE":
"...unnusual method of causing death..."
ACCORDING TO COLONEL WEBSTER, THE PLANNED ARRIVAL OF THE U.S.
FLEET AT THE PANAMA CANAL: "...in the next 18 hours..."
PANAMA CANAL LOCATIONS MENTIONED BY COLONEL WEBSTER:
"...Cristobal at ...the Atlantic Gate." "(The fleet) ...must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the Pedro Miguel,
and the Miraflores Locks" (to reach the Pacific battle stations).
THE PASSENGER LIST FOR THE TRANS-PANAMA AIRWAYS FLIGHT:
THE AGE OF MISS FINCH, ACCORDING TO CHARLIE CHAN: "...young
maiden of 50 summers or more."
CHARLIE CHAN'S SHORT DESCRIPTION OF DR. GROSSER:
THE INFORMATION OFFERED REGARDING DR. GROSSER BY JIMMY CHAN TO HIS POP: "We studied Grosser in our biology class. He's an expert on tropical diseases and plagues."
THE NAME OF THE HOTEL ACROSS THE STREET FROM FU YUEN'S PANAMA
HAT SHOP WHERE DR. RUDOLPH GROSSER LIVED AND WORKED: Hotel San Miguel
THE NAME OF CLIVEDEN COMPTON'S HOTEL: Hotel San Pablo
THE FOUR SIGNS SHOWN AT THE LOCATION OF DR. GROSSER'S LABORATORY:
THE LABEL SEEN ON THE RAT CAGE IN DR. GROSSER'S LABORATORY:
THE SIGN ON AN UPSTAIRS CURTAIN IN MANOLO'S CABARET:
KATHI LENESCH'S NATIONALITY: Czech
THE TITLE OF THE SONG SUNG BY KATHI LENESCH AT MANOLO'S CABARET:
"Vereda Tropical" ("Tropical Path")
THE SIGN AND THE HANDWRITTEN WRITTEN MESSAGE BELOW IT ON THE HOSTESSES' DRESSING
ROOM DOOR AT MANOLO'S CABARET:
KATHI LENESCH'S POLICE RECORD PHOTOGRAPH FOUND BY CLIVEDON
COMPTON IN MANOLO'S OFFICE:
CHAN'S CURENT DETECTIVE RANK: Lieutenant (Honolulu Police Department)
THE NOTE WRITTEN BY CLIVEDEN COMPTON ON HIS BUSINESS CARD:
CLIVEDEN COMPTON'S ROOM NUMBER AT THE HOTEL SAN PABLO:
THE BEVERAGE ORDERED BY CHARLIE CHAN AT THE RESTAURANT AT THE HOTEL SAN PABLO: Coffee
JIMMY CHAN'S SPORT IN COLLEGE (PRESUMABLY THE UNIVERSITY OF
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA): Baseball (Jimmy Chan: "They're going to let me pitch next year.")
THE NAME OF THE BOOK FROM WHICH THE PAGE CONTAINING THE HAND-DRAWN
MAP SHOWING THE "OLD PANAMA CEMETERY" CAME: "Henley's Guide to Panama"
THE NAME OF THE CEMETERY VISITED BY CHARLIE CHAN AND CAPT.
LEWIS: Santa Carmen Cemetario (St. Carmen Cemetery)
ACHMED HALIDE'S NATIONALITY: Egyptian
THE PASS PRESENTED BY THE "WATER DELIVERY MAN" TO THE GUARD AT THE MIRAFLORES LOCKS
THE COMPANY NAME AS PAINTED ON THE SIDE OF THE WATER DELIVERY TRUCK:
THE NAME OF THE PERSON AT THE MIRAFLORES POWER HOUSE WHO WAS
TO SIGN FOR THE WATER DELIVERY: Joe
THE CURRENT TIME SEEN ON THE CLOCK USED TO DETONATE THE BOMB:
THE TIME SET FOR THE BOMB TO EXPLODE: 10:00 (p.m.)
U.S. NAVY SHIPS SHOWN PASSING THROUGH THE PANAMA CANAL:
USS Arizona (BB-39)
USS Lexington (CV-2)
USS Tracy (DD-214) and USS Dahlgren (DD-187), as
as two other Town-class destroyers in the background
THE TIME, ACCORDING TO COLONEL WEBSTER, THAT CHARLIE CHAN AND
CAPT. WEBSTER HAT LEFT HIS OFFICE: "They left at eleven this morning."
THE TIME AS NOTED BY CHARLIE CHAN WHILE INSIDE THE CEMETERY
TOMB: "Eight-fifteen (p.m.)."
THE TIME, ACCORDING TO GOVERNOR WEBSTER, AS THE FLEET
ENTERED THE PANAMA CANAL: "The fleet began entry four hours ago." (stated at about 8:30 or 9 p.m., making
the thime that the fleet began to enter the canal about 4:30 or 5 p.m.)
THE TIME AS SHOWN ON THE TIME BOMB AS CHARLIE CHAN AND RICHARD
CABOT ENTER THE MIRAFLORES POWER HOUSE: 9:45 p.m.
THE EXACT TIME SHOWN ON THE "POSTAL TELEGRAPH" CLOCK AFTER
GOVERNOR WEBSTER ORDERS EVERONE OUT OF THE POWERHOUSE: 9:48:34...
THE TIME AS THE MILITARY POLICE BRING MISS FINCH, ACHMED HALIDE,
AND KATHI MENESCH INTO THE ROOM CONTAINING THE TIME BOMB TO BE QUESTIONED BY CHARLIE CHAN: 9:49 p.m.
THE TIME AS CHARLIE CHAN DETAINS THE SUSPECTS INSIDE THE ROOM
WHERE THE TIME BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED: 9:55 p.m.
THE APROXIMATE TIME AS MISS FINCH IS REVEALED AS REINER:
TITLE OF THE SONG HEARD DURING THE FINAL SCENE AND CLOSING
CREDITS: "Anchors Aweigh"
- A part of Panama City, located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. It includes Balboa Harbor – the city's main port – and is the location of the Canal Administration
Clivedon Compton: "Stewardess, when shall
we be in Balboa?"
thunder novels - A term for popular adventure novels such as those
in the pulp fiction realm.
Miss Finch: "...like one
of those blood and thunder novels you write."
- A ficticious chemical mentioned by Charlie Chan as being "most deadly when inhaled with smoke
Charlie Chan: "Poison called boanide?"
- A contagious, often fatal epidemic disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, transmitted from person
to person or by the bite of fleas from an infected rodent, especially a rat, and characterized by chills, fever, vomiting,
diarrhea, and the formation of buboes.
Jimmy Chan: "Bubonic plague!"
- A telegram sent by trans-oceanic cable.
Stewardess: "Cablegram for
- A Panamanian port city located at the entrance of Limon Bay that leads to the entrance to
the eastern side of the Panama Canal.
Governor D.C. Webster: "Here's our fleet, concentrated
off Cristobal at the Atlantic gate."
cuts no ice
- (Idiom) Making no effect or impression.
Military Police Officer: "That cuts no ice
- (Slang) A disreputable or run-down bar or nightclub.
Richard Cabot: "This is
no place for you; why, it's just a dive."
dock - To withhold or deduct a part from
one's salary or wages.
Powerhouse Worker: Oh, they dock you, huh?"
- (Slang) Figured out.
Jimmy Chan: "I have it all doped out."
- The point at which the Panama Canal crosses the continental divide. The Gaillard Cut was the scene of some of the
most arduous work during the construction of the canal.
Governor D.C. Webster: "To reach battle
stations in the Pacific, the fleet's full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut,
the Pedro Miguel, and the Miraflores Locks."
- A series of three locks at the eastern entrance to the Panama Canal.
Governor D.C. Webster: "To reach battle stations
in the Pacific, the fleet's full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the
Pedro Miguel, and the Miraflores Locks."
humidor - A container designed for storing
cigars or other tobacco products at a constant level of humidity.
Jimmy Chan: "Why, even this humidor has an English school emblem on
- The locks located at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The Miraflores Locks have the tallest gates in
the Panama Canal system due to the great tidal fluctuation of the Pacific Ocean.
Governor D.C. Webster: "To reach battle
stations in the Pacific, the fleet's full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the Pedro Miguel,
and the Miraflores Locks."
- (Abbreviation) Military police. The branch of an armed force assigned to
perform law enforcement duties, as on a military installation.
Notation on the arm band of the Military Police
- (Slang) First-rate; great.
Jimmy Chan: "Boy oh boy! Why don't
I think of nifties like that?"
nitroglycerin - A liquid appearing like
a heavy oil, colorless or yellowish, and consisting of a mixture of several glycerin salts of nitric acid, and hence more
properly called glycerin nitrate. It is made by the action of nitric acid on glycerin in the presence of sulphuric acid.
It is extremely unstable and terribly explosive.
Miss Finch: "...I wondered if we could use a small portion of that nitroglycerin
and blast our way out of here."
Zone - A strip of land, about 10 milkes (16 km) wide, across the Isthmus of Panama. Formerly
administered by the United States for the operation of the Panama Canal, it was turned over to Panama in 1979.
"MILITARY RESERVATION PANAMA CANAL ZONE"
- The capital and largest city of Panama.
Emil Manolo: "You know, you will like Panama
(Panama hats) - Natural-colored, hand-plaited hats made from leaves of the jipijapa plant of South and Central
America. These hats come in many styles.
R.J. Godley: "They tell me this fellow
makes great Panamas."
- The second-to-last lock encountered by ships heading toward the Pacific along the Panama Canal.
Governor D.C. Webster: "To reach battle
stations in the Pacific, the fleet's full war compliment must pass through the Gatun Locks, the Gaillard Cut, the Pedro
Miguel, and the Miraflores Locks."
- (Slang) To question closely or persistently.
girl here, she's trying to pump me about the fleet."
rain check - A promise that an
unaccepted offer will be renewed in the future. This term comes from baseball, where in the 1880s it
became the practice to offer paying spectators a rain check entitling them to future admission for a game that was postponed
or ended early owing to bad weather. By the early 1900s the term was transferred to tickets
for other kinds of entertainment, and later to a coupon entitling a customer to buy, at a later date and at the same price,
a sale item temporarily out of stock.
Charlie Chan: "...must ask for rain check."
screwy - (Informal) Odd or eccentric.
Jimmy Chan: "Sounds awful screwy
PANAMA CANAL ZONE MAP:
The Panama Canal measures about 51 miles
in length, and
it takes ships about nine hours to complete
The complete words to "Vereda Tropical" as sung
by Kathi Lenesch at Manolo's Cabaret
Voy por la vereda tropical
noche plena de inquietud
con su perfume de humedad
Y es la brisa que viene del mar
se oye el rumor de
canción de amor y de piedad.
Con ella fuí noche tras noche hasta el mar
su boca fresca de amor
Y me juro quererme más y más
sin olvidar jamás
noches junto al mar.
Hoy solo me queda recordar
mis ojos duelen de llorar
el alma muere de esperar.
¿Por qué se fue?
tu la dijiste ir vereda tropical.
Hazla volver a mí
quiero besar su boca otra ves junto