Charlie Chan Movie Poster Roland Winters as Charlie Chan Charlie Chan Movie Poster
The Charlie Chan Films of Roland Winters

Born Roland Winternitz in Boston, Massachusetts on 22 December 1904, Winters was the son of Felix Winternitz, a violinist and composer who was teaching at New England Conservatory of Music. In his teens he began appearing in productions from local theater groups around Boston and made his Broadway debut in 1924 in "The Firebrand." In 1931 he became the sports announcer for the Braves and Red Sox games on the radio station WNAC. He had a few uncredited film roles in the 1940s (including a brief appearance in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane in 1941), but continued to work in radio until 1947.

At the age of 44, Winters was the youngest actor to tackle the role, and was actually several months younger than Keye Luke, who portrayed his "Number One Son" and assistant in the last two Chans. Winters made six Chan films, starting with The Chinese Ring in 1947 and ending with Charlie Chan and the Sky Dragon (also known as Sky Dragon) in 1949.

His other Chan films were "Docks of New Orleans" (1948), "Shanghai Chest" (1948), "The Golden Eye" (1948) and "The Feathered Serpent" (1948). During this period, in addition to his work as Chan, Winters also appeared as a character actor in three other feature films.

Viewers are divided about Roland Winters as Charlie Chan. Some consider him an ineffective successor to Oland and Toler; others defend him for his unique approach to the character. Oland's Chan was shrewd and placid, Toler's was observant and crabby, and Winters' was generally sarcastic and impatient. In 1949 Monogram had funds tied up in England, and decided to send Winters and Keye Luke there to make more Chan films, but when the British government suddenly devalued the currency, the Chan series was abandoned.

After the series finished, Winters continued to work in film and television until 1982, including roles in So Big, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, as Elvis' father in Blue Hawaii, as the judge in Follow That Dream also with Elvis and appearances in the early TV series "Meet Millie" as the boss, and the Bewitched TV series as the normally elusive McMann of McMann and Tate. He also portrayed Mr. Gimbel in Miracle on 34th Street in 1973.

Winters died as the result of a stroke at the Actor's Fund Nursing Home in Englewood, New Jersey on 22 October 1989.

Warning: Plot summaries may contain spoilers!

The Chinese Ring (1947 - Monogram) Charlie Chan Movie Poster
First film with Roland Winters.

A Chinese princess, just arrived from the East by ship, comes to visit Charlie at his home. Just as the princess gives Birmingham an ancient heirloom ring, she is shot and killed by a poisoned arrow shot through the window. She leaves a note behind with the name 'Captain K'.

Bill Davidson with the SFPD comes to the scene but his friend, reporter Peggy Cartwright, also arrives uninvited to the scene. By examining the ring, it turns out the princess' name was Mei Ling. She arrived in San Francisco weeks earlier with two men, Captains Kong and Kelso, to try and acquire fighter planes for her country. To that end, she had brought $1,000,000 with her.

A search for the money follows but it soon turns out there are more people looking for the lost money. Peggy helps out in the hunt and she meets the princess's maid, Lillie Mae, and a deaf-mute boy living in the princess apartment. When Charlie comes to talk to the maid, he finds her murdered. The deaf-mute boy manages to tell him that a man came to visit the apartment shortly before the maid was found dead.

Charlie visits Armstrong, the banker in charge of handling the princess's assets abroad. While they are talking, Kong and Kelso, eager to get their share of the money, break in and kidnap both men to hold them for ransom. They are taken to the Chinese cargo vessel but Birmingham tracks them down. Together with Charlie's son Tommy, they free Charlie and Armstrong. When Bill and Peggy arrive to the ship with the police, Kong and Kelso are captured and arrested. Charlie discovers that Armstrong is guilty of the princess's murder and of stealing her money. He also killed the maid to cover his tracks.

Directed by William Beaudine
Writing Credits: Earl Derr Biggers; Scott Darling - screenplay (as W. Scott Darling)
Cast Roland Winters
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan
Warren Douglas as Police Sgt. Bill Davidson
Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown
Louise Currie as Peggy Cartwright
Victor Sen Yung as Tommy Chan (as Victor Sen Young)
Philip Ahn as Captain Kong
Byron Foulger as Armstrong
Thayer Roberts as Captain James J. Kelso
Barbara Jean Wong as Princess Mei Ling (as Jean Wong)
Chabing as Lillie Mae Wong
George Spaulding as Dr. Hickey (as George L. Spaulding)
Uncredited players: Paul Bryar as Police Sergeant, Spencer Chan as Chinese Officer, Thayer Cheek as Chinese Boy, Kenneth Chuck as Chinese Boy, Thornton Edwards as Palace Hotel Clerk, Lee Tung Foo as Armstrong's Butler, Charmienne Harker as Kelso's Stenographer, Jack Mower as Policeman Ballard, Richard Wang as Hamishin
Docks of New Orleans (1948 - Monogram) Charlie Chan Movie Poster

Simon Lafontanne, head of the Lafontanne Chemical Co., goes to consult Charlie as he thinks that he has an enemy who is having him tailed. The trouble started when he entered into a partnership with Henri Castanero and Theodore Von Scherbe to ship a chemical to South America.

After Charlie agrees to investigate, Lafontanne discovers that his chauffeur has been beaten up and his car stolen. The next morning, at his office, Lafontanne's secretary René, who is also his niece, tells him that his new partners are waiting to speak with him. Castanero and Von Scherbe are concerned about the possibility of one of them dying suddenly and have added a clause to their agreement, whereby in the event of the death of any of the principals, his share will revert to the survivors.

After Lafontanne signs the clause reluctantly, Oscar Swendstrom shows up at the office, brandishing a gun and claiming that Lafontanne stole his formula for the chemical. René phones police captain Pete McNally to have Swendstrom arrested, but when McNally and his assistant, Dansiger, arrive, they find Lafontanne dead in his office. Charlie then shows up to keep his appointment, and the police tell him that they think Lafontanne may have died from a heart attack.

Although Charlie investigates and finds a shattered tube in the office radio, the police take Swendstrom in for questioning. Meanwhile, Tommy, Charlie's "number two" son, and chauffeur Birmingham Brown locate Lafontanne's car. Charlie looks it over and finds some cigarette ash containing traces of a Mexican bark. Later, Charlie discovers that a certain sound frequency will cause the glass in radio tubes to shatter.

Charlie then visits Castanero, and while he is there, André Pareaux and Nita Aguirre, who have an interest in diverting the chemical shipment for their own use, arrive. Pareaux offers Charlie one of his specially made cigarettes, in which Charlie detects the same material he found in Lafontanne's car. Later, a letter is delivered to Castanero, which prompts him to phone McNally to report that he is in great danger. However, by the time the police arrive, Castanero is dead under circumstances similar to Lafontanne's demise. Charlie investigates Pareaux and finds that he has had various aliases and is apparently after the formula. Swendstrom finally tells McNally that Von Scherbe is the murderer, then he, too, is murdered. All of the suspects in the case are invited to Charlie's house.

Pareaux and Aguirre, along with henchman Grock, arrive early and knock out Birmingham and Tommy, then demand information from Charlie about the Lafontanne deal and the formula. In response, Charlie tells them that a radio tube he is holding contains a deadly poison gas. He then plays a recording of a soprano singing a note which is of a pitch high enough to shatter the glass. Charlie tells Pareaux and his associates that the gas is in the room and they panic. Tommy and Birmingham break in, but discover that there was no poison gas in the tube. McNally and his men arrive and arrest Pareaux and company, but Charlie explains that it was Swendstrom who had used the gas in the tubes to kill his former business partner and who had also carried out the subsequent murders. Swendstrom's wife was in on the crimes as it was her singing voice on the radio programs that triggered the shattering of the tubes.

Directed by Derwin Abrahams
Writing Credits: Earl Derr Biggers (characters) Scott Darling- screenplay; (as W. Scott Darling)
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan
Virginia Dale as Rene Blanchette
Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown
John Gallaudet as Capt. Pete McNalley
Victor Sen Yung as Tommy Chan (as Victor Sen Young)
Carol Forman as Nita Aguirre
Douglas Fowley as Grock
Harry Hayden as Oscar Swenstrom
Howard Negley as Andre Pereaux
Stanley Andrews as Theodore Von Scherbe
Emmett Vogan as Henri Castanaro
Boyd Irwin as Simon LaFontanne
Rory Mallinson as Thompson
George J. Lewis as Police Sgt. Dansiger
Uncredited players: Paul Conrad as District Attorney, Dian Fauntelle as Mrs. Swenstrom, Haywood Jones as Mobile Jones, Forrest Matthews as Detective, Fred Miller as Armed Dock Guard, Larry Steers as Doctor, Frank Stephens as Police Sergeant, Ferris Taylor as Dr. Doobie - Medical Examiner, Wally Walker as LaFontanne's Chauffeur, Eric Wilton as Watkins the Butler,
The Shanghai Chest (1948 - Monogram) Charlie Chan Movie Poster

As Victor Armstrong visits his uncle, Judge Wesley Armstrong in San Francisco, he is knocked unconscious by an unknown attacker, and when he wakes up he finds out his uncle has been stabbed to death. The judge's private secretary, Phyllis Powers, finds the two men and calls the police to the scene. When Victor wakes up he has the knife that stabbed his uncle in his hand.

In another part of the city, Tommy Chan and his chauffeur Birmingham, discover a man trying to burglar his way into a house as they are walking home from the movies. They make a citizens arrest of the man, who turns out to be the house owner, district attorney Frank Bronson, trying to climb in through the window. Tommy, Who is the son of private detective Charlie Chan, and his chauffeur are put in jail because of their unlawful action.

Bronson is head of investigating the judge's murder, and hears from the judge's butler, Bates, that Victor wasn't allowed into the judge's home, and had to climb in through the window in the same way Bronson did. In an interview with the police, Phyllis also tells them that she her Victor, who is her boyfriend, argue with the judge about the purchase Victor had made of some stock worth $30,000. Phyliis also heard how the judge contacted his lawyer Ed Seward and asked for a meet the following day, in order to update his will, to exclude Victor. This information gives Victor the most plausible

Charlie visits Bronson, his old acquaintance, to apologize for his son and Birmingham and their behavior the other night. At his visit, Chan overhears that two sets of fingerprints were found on the knife used to kill the judge; one set belonging to Victor and one to hardened criminal Tony Pindello. Charlie happens to know that Pindello was executed for another murder at San Quentin six months earlier. Pindello got his death sentence from Judge Armstrong. Chan is then asked by police investigator Ruark to help the police out on the case.

When district attorney Bronson is shot and killed soon after, Pindello's fingerprints are again found on the scene, on Bronson's desk. While investigating the case at judge Armstrong's office, Chan and Ruark catch the judge's clerk Walter Somervale looking through the judge's files. The two men also find out that Seward, the judge's attorney, defended Pindello in the trial which ultimately sent him to the gallows. From the judge's documents they find that Seward is also working on a commission against racketeering. A letter addressed to Victor, to be opened in case the judge died, it states that the judge had found evidence that Pindello may have been innocent of the murder for which he was convicted, and that Bronson was to be informed of this.

Charlie and Ruark go to find Tony's buried body, but finds his coffin has been dug up and removed. Fearing that Pindello's murder trial is connected to the judge's murder and racketeering, Chan sees to it that all the jurors involved in the ruling is taken into protective custody for the time being. They locate everyone but one, Thomas Cartwright, who is attacked in his home and killed before the policemen get there. Pindello's fingerprints are once again found on the murder scene. Charlie looks into the fingerprints and learns that it is in fact possible to forge someone else's prints. He gathers Phyllis, Victor and Seward at the judge's home to confront them about the fake fingerprints.

When all are gathered in the judge's study, the power is cut and everything turns dark. They are locked in by an unknown man holding a gun, but manage to break out again, and find all documents related to the racketeering, insurance fraud and Pindello gone. Charlie discovers that Pindello has a brother, Joseph, who got a letter from Tony when he was in jail, saying he was about to be sentenced to death for a murder he didn't commit. Charlie tells everyone that Joseph, to revenge his brother, Joseph was planning on killing everyone involved in the wrong sentencing of his brother, and dug up his brother's coffin.

While Charlie explains this, Joseph enters the room with a gun and explains that his real purpose for digging up the coffin was simply to give his brother a proper burial. Joseph is then overpowered by Seward, who grabs Joseph's gun. Charlie goes on to explain the real murderer is Seward, because he was involved in an insurance scam with Pindello and wanted all the money for himself, thus framing Pindello for a murder to get rid of him. Seward, sure to get away now that he has a gun, explains how he copied Pindello's prints to lead the police on a false trail. Chan tells Seward that the gun isn't loaded, since he gave it to Joseph earlier, and that it was all part of a set-up. Seward tries to flee but is stopped by Birmingham and arrested.

Directed by William Beaudine
Writing Credits: Earl Derr Biggers (characters) Samuel Newman (original story) (as Sam Newman) Samuel Newman (screenplay) (as Sam Newman) and Scott Darling (screenplay) Tim Ryan (additional dialogue)
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan
Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown
Tim Ryan as Police Lt. Mike Ruark
Victor Sen Yung as Tommy Chan (as Victor Sen Young)
Deannie Best as Phyllis Powers
Tristram Coffin as Edward Seward
John Alvin as Victor Armstrong
Russell Hicks as Dist. Atty. Frank Bronson
Pierre Watkin as Judge Wesley Armstrong
Philip Van Zandt as Joseph Pindello
Milton Parsons as Mr. Grail - Undertaker
Olaf Hytten as Bates - the Butler
Erville Alderson as Walter Somervale
George Eldredge as Police Sgt. Pat Finley
Uncredited players: Lois Austin as Landlady, Willie Best as Willie Best, Chabing as Miss Lee - Receptionist, Eddie Coke as Thomas Cartwright, Louis Mason as Cemetery Custodian, William Ruhl as Jailer, John Shay as Dr. Stacey - Medical Examiner, Charles Sullivan as Officer Murphy,
The Golden Eye (1948 - Monogram) Charlie Chan Movie Poster

Manning, owner of the Golden Eye Mine in Arizona, persuades Charlie to help him. To avoid alerting Manning's murderous enemies, Charlie registers as a guest at a nearby dude ranch along with his number two son, Tommy, and his black servant, Birmingham Brown. There he meets San Francisco Police Lieutenant Mike Ruark, posing as drunken fellow guest "Vincent O'Brien" to investigate why the mine has suddenly become valuable.

When Charlie goes to see Manning, he finds that he has supposedly fallen down a mineshaft, leaving him in a coma. While there, he is recognized by assayer Talbot Bartlett, who knows him from a previous case. Later, Charlie guesses that prospector Pete is stealing ore from the mine, and persuades him to guide him, Tommy and Birmingham to the mine through his secret passageway. However, when they arrive, Tommy and Birmingham find Pete's body.

Charlie eventually surmises that much cheaper Mexican gold is being smuggled in and sold in the US at a huge profit by Driscoll and his men. When Driscoll makes a break for it, he is shot in the back by Bartlett. Then Charlie reveals that it is Bartlett who is the boss of the smuggling ring and the killer of both Manning and Pete.

Directed by William Beaudine
Writing Credits: Earl Derr Biggers (characters) Scott Darling (as W. Scott Darling)
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan
Wanda McKay as Evelyn Manning
Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown
Victor Sen Yung as Tommy Chan (as Victor Sen Young)
Bruce Kellogg as Talbot Bartlett
Tim Ryan as Vincent O'Brien / Lt. Mike Ruark
Evelyn Brent as Sister Teresa
Ralph Dunn as Jim. Driscoll
Lois Austin as Mrs. Margaret Driscoll
Forrest Taylor as Mr. Manning
Lee 'Lasses' White as Pete
Uncredited players: Edmund Cobb as Mine Foreman, Geraldine Cobb as Girl in Riding Clothes, Babs Cox as Bathing Girl, Sam Flint as Dr. Groves, Lee Tung Foo as Wong Fai, Michael Gaddis as Pursuer, Jack Gargan as Man in the Darkness (voice), Mary Ann Hawkins as Bathing Girl, John Merton as Miner, Bill Walker as Henchman,
The Feathered Serpent (1948) Charlie Chan Movie Poster

In San Pablo, Mexico, an expedition prepares to look for two archaeologists, Professors Scott and Farnsworth, who have been searching for the lost Aztec Temple of the Sun, but have been missing for months. Detective Charlie Chan, en route to Mexico City for a vacation with his two sons, Lee and Tommy, and his chauffeur, Birmingham, finds Scott delirious as he collapses on his way into San Pablo. Scott explains that after he and Farnsworth found the temple, they were held hostage and forced to unearth a fortune of jade and gold. Before Scott can name his captor, however, he is knifed to death.

The search party includes Farnsworth's sister Joan, who is also his heir; her fiancé, archaeologist John Stanley; Farnsworth's fiancée, Sonia Cabot; and archaeologist Professor Paul Evans. While Charlie discusses the case with Captain Gonzales, a poison dart is shot through the window, and Lee sees an Aztec Indian fleeing the scene. Charlie and his sons join the expedition, which camps at the foot of the Diablo mountains in search of a stone containing ancient hieroglyphics that Scott said will lead them to the secret opening of the temple. While on night watch, Birmingham catches an Indian named Manuel fleeing the camp, and Charlie and Lee follow him. Meanwhile, Stanley sneaks into the secret temple, where he is holding Farnsworth hostage in order to unearth the tomb of an ancient king that contains a fortune in antiques.

Stanley orders his henchman, Diego, to kill Charlie, but Diego is shot by Pedro, the camp cook, who turns out to be a member of the Mexican secret service. Charlie removes Diego's wig and reveals that he was not an Aztec, but an American disguised in order to cast suspicion on the Indians. Stanley, meanwhile, threatens to kill Joan and Sonia if Farnsworth does not cooperate. After Sonia is killed at the camp with Evans' knife, two search parties go out. Charlie's sons find the rock containing directions to the temple, but do not know how to enter it. When Birmingham inadvertently sits on the rock and is pulled inside, Lee and Tommy think he has disappeared.

Stanley holds up Joan and a Mexican guide named Jose and brings them into the temple, where Manuel shoots Jose. Charlie and his sons finally realize that the rock, which is marked by a symbol of a feathered serpent, is the temple's entrance and enter with Pedro. They knock out Stanley, then Charlie explains that Stanley killed Sonia because she had been helping him smuggle Aztec treasures and he wanted to silence her. Charlie now prepares for his vacation in Mexico City, but he is assured that the police there also will be needing his help.

Directed by William Beaudine
Writing Credits: Oliver Drake (original story "Riders of the Whistling Skull") Oliver Drake (adaptation and screenplay) Earl Derr Biggers (character creator) Hal Collins (uncredited)
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan
Keye Luke as Lee Chan
Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown
Victor Sen Yung as Tommy Chan
Carol Forman as Sonia Cabot
Robert Livingston as Prof. John Stanley
Nils Asther as Prof. Paul Evans
Beverly Jons as Joan Farnsworth
Martin Garralaga as Pedro Francisco Lopez
George J. Lewis as Capt. Juan Gonzalez
Leslie Denison as Prof. Henry Farnsworth
Uncredited players: Erville Alderson as Prof. Scott, Fred Cordova as Filippe, Juan Duval as Dr. Castalara, Frank Leyva as José, Charles Stevens as Manuel
The Sky Dragon AKA Murder In The Air (1949 - Monogram) Charlie Chan Movie Poster

While in the air, pilots Tim Norton and Don Blake talk with insurance couriers Ben Edwards and Ed Davidson, who are carrying a $250,000 settlement. Tim walks to the back of the cabin for some coffee, just as flight attendant Marie Burke begins serving the passengers. Marie, a former racketeer whose real name is Connie Barrett, notices that two of her accomplices, Andy Barrett and follies star Wanda LaFern, are among the passengers. When they accuse her of stealing $60,000 from them, Marie denies it and begs them not to ruin her chance at a new life. Minutes after drinking the coffee, everyone on board the plane falls asleep, including the crew.

Passenger Lee Chan, the first to awaken, notices a limp hand protruding from the cockpit door, then discovers that Davidson has been knifed to death and the insurance money stolen. After Charlie is awakened, John Anderson introduces himself as an investigator for the insurance company. When the plane lands in San Francisco, police lieutenant Mike Ruark and the owner of the insurance company, William E. French, question the passengers and crew.

Later, at the theater where Wanda performs, Tim and Don eavesdrop as Wanda accuses Marie of stealing the insurance money. Meanwhile, Charlie, Lee, Ruark and Birmingham go to the theater, where they find Don, whose skull has been fractured. When Ruark sees Tim running away, he arrests him, while Don is rushed to the hospital. After being questioned by Charlie, Barrett breaks into the detective's house, but is shot by Anderson, who had been following him. Later, Charlie and Lee go to the home of Jonathan Tibbetts, the justice of the peace who officiated at the Barretts' wedding. They ask to see the negatives of the wedding photos, but when Tibbetts goes into the garage to get them, a shadowy figure knocks him out, then lights the negatives on fire. After Charlie and Lee rescue Tibbetts, he checks his order book and notes that he sent prints to the LaFern sisters.

Charlie and Lee find a photograph of the LaFern sisters in the newspaper and recognize Connie as Marie. With Ruark's help, Charlie summons all of the remaining suspects back onto the plane. Charlie then asks Connie, Wanda and Tim to take their places next to the coffee cart, where they had been standing just prior to the robbery. After Charlie tells them about Don's attack, a heavily bandaged Lee impersonates Don and boards the plane. As he raises his arm to point toward the thief, Connie grabs a gun from her purse. Before Connie can fire Anderson shoots her then Charlie reveals that Anderson passed the money to French, his accomplice, after the plane landed.

When Ruark tries to arrest them, French also draws his gun. Anderson, an experienced pilot, locks the cabin door and takes off. With the plane's sole parachute on his back, Anderson shuts off the plane's fuel and locks the cockpit door. Realizing that he has been double-crossed, French struggles with Anderson, but both are grabbed by the police. After the cockpit key is found and fuel restored to the engines, the plane lands safely.

Directed by Lesley Selander
Writing Credits: Oliver Drake - story & screenplay (as Clint Johnson); Earl Derr Biggers
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan
Keye Luke as Lee Chan
Mantan Moreland as Birmingham Brown
Noel Neill as Jane Marshall
Tim Ryan as Lt. Mike Ruark
Iris Adrian as Wanda LaFern
Elena Verdugo as Connie Jackson, alias Marie Burke
Milburn Stone as Capt. Tim Norton
Lyle Talbot as Andrew J. Barrett
Paul Maxey as John Anderson
Joel Marston as Copilot Don Blake
John Eldredge as William E. French
Eddie Parks as Jonathan Tibbetts
Louise Franklin as Lena Franklin - Maid
Uncredited players: Frank Cady as Clerk, Bob Curtis as Pilot Watkins, George Eldredge as Det. Stacey, Suzette Harbin as Maid #2, Edna Holland as Demanding Old Woman Passenger, Charles Jordan as Stage Manager, Lyle Latell as Ed Davidson, Steve Pendleton as Ben Edwards, Guard, Lee Phelps as Detective at Airport Gate, Emmett Vogan as Doctor at Theater, Joe Whitehead as Stage Doorman
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