What's It All About?

What's It All About?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Charlie Chan's Cure For Insomnia


The last few months have brought with them some stressful events, and one side-effect was an unrelenting insomnia that didn't respond well even to sleeping pills.   I would get about 3-4 hours of comatose sleep and then wake right up again.  Reading doesn't work well with tired eyes, and you have to be careful what you watch on TV at 2 a.m.  Action shows or thriller movies just wake you up more.  Great classic movies aren't usually a good idea because your mind insists on staying awake to experience them.  Finally, I settled upon the perfect thing to enjoy and yet settle the brain down to eventual sleep ... Charlie Chan.

Warner Oland
I just love Charlie Chan movies, always have.  My high school steady boyfriend fell in love with me when I was able to name the three famous Chan actors, Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Roland Winters.  (I knew we were a match made in Heaven when he started quoting W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.)  I never liked Roland Winters, but I love Oland and Toler.  Oland seemed to me the more sophisticated Charlie Chan, with a bit of polite menace in his countenance.  Toler is the friendlier father type of Charlie Chan, always ready with Confucius humor.  There is a Charlie Chan for any mood.

Sidney Toler
I know it isn't correct anymore to love the two best Charlies ... Oland was Swedish and Toler was from Missouri ... but I can't help it.  I didn't know they were a stereotype when I was a kid watching them on TV.  I just thought they were always smarter than anybody else at solving mysteries, and they always had a superior smile in answer to any insults they might receive.  I felt the same way about Mantan Moreland ... my favorite Toler movies are the ones in which Mantan appears as Birmingham Brown.  Again, my child self was not aware that these movie roles were hurtful to black people.  I just thought Mantan was so funny, and was the only one who seemed smart enough to know when he was in a dangerous situation.  Willie Best appeared in one Chan film as Chattanooga Brown, Birmingham's cousin, and I remember wishing I had a cool nickname like those.

Mantan Moreland and one of Charlie's sons
(I forget which one...)
The Charlie Chan movies are fun, not very long, pretty quiet actually ... when insomnia kept me from sleeping, I began to stretch out on the recliner, turn off all the lights, keep the volume low, and play some on a loop that included Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, Murder at Midnight, Charlie Chan in Egypt.  The background scores are soothing, the pace is not hurried, and eventually I was usually out like a light.  The loop would keep playing until it turned itself off, and I was blissfully asleep.  So thanks, Charlie ... you cured me.

I found a clip on Youtube of Mantan Moreland and his vaudeville partner, Ben Carter, doing their famous "interrupted sentence" routine in some of the Chan movies.  (The clip names it "incomplete sentence" routine, but that's wrong.)  They are so good at it, and it always tickles me.