Friday, August 28, 2009

The Scarlet clue

I'm watching a Charlie Chan movie called The Scarlet Clue. Charlie Chan, a Chinese detective, is being played by Sidney Toler, a white dude. But his son (excuse me, "Number Three son") Tommy is played by Benson Fong, who appears to have actual Chinese blood. I think it's weird that the one played by a White guy speaks in a pidgin English (although he can't be bothered to put on an accent, so he's just talking slowly and ungrammatically) while the one who looks Chinese speaks perfect unaccented English. I mean, it's also weird that they insisted on hiring a white guy for the main character when they were perfectly willing to have non-whites elsewhere in the movie.

Speaking of non-whites, Tommy's comic relief role is mostly played off Mantan Moreland. He spends about 80% of his screen time in bug-eyed terror. It's not dignified, but it's the kind of work that African Americans could get back then. He also engages in a classic vaudeville routine (with his partner Ben Carter, who appears in the film with no introduction and then vanishes just as mysteriously) called "The Incomplete Sentence". Personally, I don't think the routine is racist, but practically everything else in the movie is.

Anyway, you can see references to Mantan Moreland in Bamboozled, which borrows both his name and the Incomplete Sentence routine. I would not recommend this movie unless the words "fascinatingly racist" sound like a good idea.

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