THE BLACK CAMEL. Fox Film Corporation, 1931. Warner Oland (Inspector Charlie Chan), Sally Eilers, Bela Lugosi, Dorothy Revier, Victor Varconi. Based on the novel by Earl Derr Biggers. Director: Hamilton MacFadden.

DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON. Paramount Pictures, 1931. Anna May Wong, Warner Oland (Fu Manchu), Sessue Hayakawa, Bramwell Fletcher (Ronald Petrie), Frances Dade, Holmes Herbert (Sir John Petrie). Based on the novel Daughter of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. Director: Lloyd Corrigan .

   As it turned out, Cinevent 1990 featured a number of films with Oriental characters and settings. The first of these was The Black Camel, featuring Warner Oland as Charlie Chan in the first film version of the Biggers’ novel. We were warned about the noisy sound track which did not, however, significantly reduce ny enjoyment in this well-made, atmospheric classic.

   Charlie’s co-star was Bela Lugosi skillfully playing a phony psychic who is advising an actress with a shady past, The print was worn, but the acting of a good cast shone through.

   The other Warner Oland starrer was Daughter of the Dragon, directed from a story by Sax Rohmer. An older Fu Manchu (also stouter, as played by the well-nourished Oland) comes to London after being thought dead for ten years to avenge the death of his wife and son.

   He murders Petrie (upgraded from Dr. to peer of the realm) but is himself killed, after pledging his daughter, Ling Moy (the beautiful Anna May Wong) to continue his mission. Unfortunately for the honor of the family, Ling Moy is not, unlike her father, ruthless and she falls in love with Ah Kee (Sessue Hayakawa), a Scotland Yard detective.

   The actors play with utter conviction in a plot riddled with contrivances as patently manufactured as the secret passage that leads from Petrie’s house to the Fu Manchu/Ling Moy residence. The superb cinematography is by Victor Milner who takes advantage of half-tones, London fog and menacing shadows to capture the nighmarish night-world of Oriental intrigue.

   The film is slow-paced but so arresting in the visuals that this is nor a major drawback. The Cinevent film notes claim that Oland “brought an almost spiritual suffering to the role [of Fu Manchu].” As I recall what I saw, there was an overlay of fatigue and sadness in Oland’s performance that might pass for spiritual suffering. I won’t argue the point.