DOCKS OF NEW ORLEANS. Monogram, 1948. Roland Winters (Charlie Chan), Virginia Dale, Mantan Moreland (Birmingham Brown), John Gallaudet, Victor Sen Young (Tommy Chan), Carol Forman, Douglas Fowley, Harry Hayden, Howard Negley, Stanley Andrews, Emmett Vogan, Boyd Irwin, Rory Mallinson. Based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers. Director: Derwin Abrahams.

   That’s quite a list of actors above, and you may or may not be surprised to learn that each and every one has a essential role to play in this, the second of Roland Winters’ attempts to play Charlie Chan in the movies. He’s full of the usual parables and platitudes, maybe even more than usual, and his facial makeup is fine, but his delivery lacks any sense of urgency, to put it mildly.

   In fact, the whole affair seems dull and flat to me, with only an occasional twinkle in Charlie’s eye as he goes about his business of investigating the mysterious murders of three members of a small syndicate of chemical manufacturers, bound together by a contract that leaves control of the syndicate to any survivors, in case of the sudden death of any one of them.

   There is also a disgruntled chemist who is shoved aside when his newly discovered formula proves to be valuable, and a gang of spies who don’t want certain chemicals to be sent to South America and the opposition to the forces they are working for. Plus, taking a deep breath, the niece and the new assistant to the first man to die may not be be wholly innocent of wrongdoing.

   So you do need a scorecard to keep everyone straight. Without one, it may prove difficult to figure out who did what and when to to whom, let alone why, but it can be done. Strangely enough, there is so much story crammed into the running time of 64 minutes that there is very little left for the usual antics and byplay of Birmingham Brown and number two son Jimmy. Except, of course, for the crucial scene in which the means of the murders is uncovered.

   Which perhaps comes too soon in the movie to suit anyone such as I who would have liked the mystery, something like a locked room affair, but not quite, to have stayed on the front burner longer. Even with the large array of suspects at hand, I don’t think the identity of the actual killer will come as much of a surprise to anyone reading this, but sometimes it feels good to be proven right when you watch a movie like this one.