The Jade Mask (1945)
Eccentric scientist Harper lives in a spooky mansion with all the trimmings: hidden lab, secret panels, inscrutable butler, and greedy relatives with unusual talents. When Harper seems to be murdered, Charlie Chan (with the uninvited help of No. 4 son) tries to answer such questions as Where's the body? How can a dead man walk? And how can a secret murder be done in full view of detectives and witnesses?
The Jade Mask, Released 1-26-45
It was a moonlit, fog-enshrouded evening, outside a fortified mansion, a face-covered-stranger rattles the entryway gate, the jostling produces a screen to light inside, prompting an inquiry from the butler as to who is at the gate. There is no spoken response from the intruder. The butler, Roth, steps outside to look, the stranger only answers with a gunshot, then scurries away. Michael, the mute chaufferl, approaches, indicating he was using an air pump held in his hand. Michael heard the shot, too. Inside the house, there are two men, wearing gas-masks, working at a bench, in a gaseous laboratory. One man is Harper, the master of the house, the other man is his assistant, Walter Meeker. Harper tells Meeker, he likes his work, but he could detest him as much as anyone else in this house. Meeker reminds him, he forgot, as usual, to make his notes. Harper is interrupted by Roth, who is summoning him, saying there is a murderer about the place. Harper dismisses Meeker for the night.
Roth tells Harper that someone shot at him from the gate. Roth informs Harper that Michael was the only house-member outside. Harper declares let us go see if anyone has been tampering with my notes. Harper pushes something on the wall, opening the secret panel, leading to an opening with a vault door open to another room. Harper turns to Roth in the hall, between the vault room and the entry area, commenting about the strange safety precautions with both doors open, for anyone finding that panel in the hall, the rest is easy to get into, impossible to get out. Harper walks into the vaulted room, there is a chest-high-desk with a lid closed; it appears untouched. Harper says to Roth, nobody has tried to steal it yet. Roth exits, Harper lifts the desk lid, triggering the door to close while gas is emitted. Harper examines the documents, returns them to the desk, closes the lid. He temporarily forgets the new word combination to exit the room, calls out to Roth, then remembers the words, the panel opens. He brags to Roth, anyone without a gas mask, trapped in there, will die within an hour, and with a gas mask, the person will starve to death inside, if I leave him. Harper tells Roth the combination words have to be spoken in my voice, so even you cannot rob me. They both go out into the main hallway, where Harper pushes against the panel, almost at head height and the panel closes. Establishing for the record, the panel entrance is known to Harper and Roth only. Roth asks if he should call the police. Harper refuses having the police come to the house, further stating, he doesn't trust the police anymore than his own relatives and servants.
A motorcycle policeman comes to the front gate, shakes it, activating the security signal inside the mansion. Roth answers, stating no one called the police. The officer responds, he wants to see someone inside. Roth touches a lever, opening the gate, the patrolman walks the motorcycle inside the iron gate. A stranger enters from behind, hiding in the bushes, the policeman investigates the rustling bush, nobody appears, the only sound are the bushes moving. An officer appears, drives to the front door, Roth looks through bars in the door, asking the cop why it took so long to appear. The policeman speaks with a different voice than he used before, saying he thought he saw a prowler. Roth tells him he should investigate outside of the gate, Mr. Harper doesn't allow anyone inside. He drives back to the gate, revving the engine to fake exiting the grounds, then pulling the bike off to the side, hiding it from plain view, and approaching the building, gaining access, while two women watch him, one from above the stairs, the other from a main level side room. Both women see each other look at the patrolman, neither responds to his presence, both turn away, and leave the area. Harper is seen working in his laboratory, inquiring who is there, with no response from the intruder. Suddenly there is a noise, Harper clutches his throat, slowly falling and reaching for a switch on an intercom as he descends to the floor.
The Carlton Hotel sign-plaque is shown, next the hotel lobby, then the door to room A 324, where inside, we see Charlie Chan sitting on a suitcase, attempting to close it, with Birmingham Brown aiding him. Chan summons number four son, Eddie, for help closing the luggage. Eddie helps latch the suitcase by lifting Charlie's legs upward, the latch closes. Phone rings, Inspector Godfrey is on the phone for Charlie, saying he will pick him up in five minutes, it is a matter of murder and the government wants Charlie Chan on the case. Charlie tells the Inspector, he will be ready to venture to Harper House. Charlie informs Eddie that only his name was on the invitation; he leaves with Godfrey for the Harper mansion. Inspector Godfrey speaks of a gas process used to harden wood to the toughness and durability of metal. Charlie adds that such a process would be valuable to any nation, in war or peace. Godfrey says that is why the government wants Chan on the scene. Godfrey mentions that the Harper House is out of his jurisdiction, and Sherriff Mack phoned him, requesting a good man. There are two policeman in the front seat, accompanying the detectives, they are the Inspector's men.
Arriving at the estate, Roth opens the door, Mack greets the Inspector, asking, where is the body? There is no body available, but Roth summoned the Sherriff regardless. Roth said he was in his room, ready to retire, he was summoned by Harper from the gas chamber. Roth and the Sherriff went to the chamber, but found nothing, not even Harper. Chan proposes the question, was Mr. Harper alive or dead before he disappeared?
Charlie enters a room with house members present, the women are seated. A man named Meeker tells Charlie, a mask will be needed before entering the gas chamber, due to the nauseous fumes emitted by the gas. Meeker introduces himself as the laboratory assistant to Mr. Harper. Chan asks the Sherriff if he had questioned all the people in attendance; he replies, I was just about to ask them.
The first woman to speak is Louis Harper, sister of the missing man. The second woman, seated next to Louise, is Harper's orphaned niece, Jean Kent, housemaid. Charlie greets Michael Strong, learning why he doesn't speak; he is mute. Michael is the chauffeur and handyman. The third woman is Stella Graham, assisting Harper in experiments with puppets, ventriloquism and his display dummies. Harper had an idea for a toy robot for children. Charlie comments about Mr. Harper having many irons in same fire. Roth says he has been with Mr. Harper for fifteen years, as the butler. Meeker thinks this is amusing, as Charlie asks him, why he laughs. Meeker says anyone who had to be near Harper, disliked him, even hated him. Roth has been with him longer than anyone else. Roth says his feelings toward Harper are his own, he does not wish to share them with anyone.
Charlie questions if everyone in house had retired, when Roth had to arouse them. Roth responds all, except Mr. Meeker. Meeker claims he was just retiring, and when he went upstairs, he left Harper with Roth. By the way, he says, since you let everyone in and out of here, speaking to Roth, what about that policeman I saw upstairs? Roth insists the policeman came up to the door, then he left the grounds. Stella Graham insists Jean and I saw him in the house. Jean Kent says she saw no policeman at all. The women disagree on the sight of a policeman, who is identified as possibly being Jim Kimble, a local patrolman on the motorcycle. Charlie looks at the people departing the room with careful eyes, making his way into another room, and finding several ventriloquist dummies and life-masks hung about the walls.
Back at the hotel, Eddie and Birmingham are talking, when the bellboy enters their room with other bags belonging to the people recently checked into the same room. The bellboy claims there is not another room available in the whole hotel, and Mr. Chan checked out some time ago. The two would-be-assistants pick up their luggage and are next seen outside the front gates of Harper House. They are looking for a way to enter the closed gate.
Inspector Godfrey says the police dispatcher cannot locate Officer Kimball, and he was not sent to the Harper residence. The Sherriff is finally introduced to Charlie Chan, here to solve the disappearance or possible murder of Mr. Harper. Inspector Godfrey informs Mack and Chan his men are making a thorough search of the grounds. Charlie informs the law enforcement gentlemen he will continue his search of the interior, despite Mack stating he has already completed same. Eddie and Birmingham rattle the gate, Roth wants to know their identity, the Inspector intervenes, asking, who is at the gate? Eddie Chan, son of Charlie Chan, is the response given to the Inspector. The two grab their luggage and enter the property. They are confronted at gunpoint to get going to the door. The officer pointing the gun is likely one of the policemen accompanying Charlie and Godfrey to Harper House, i.e. the Inspector's men.
The Inspector tells Charlie he has guests, in walks Eddie and Birmingham. Charlie excuses himself, will meet law officers in puppet room shortly. Eddie explains you checked us out of hotel, we had no choice but to come to the mansion. Charlie orders his assistants to remain where they are, as he enters the room where all the household members are seated. He asks all of them the question, was there any place Mr. Harper might go when he wished to be alone? Meeker quips, wherever Harper kept his formula notes, he often disappears there. Roth denies knowing the place where Harper went behind the secret panel. Charlie comments, this is a very strange household. Head of house is missing, yet no one seems sorry. Charlie pulls curtain open to reveal Harper lying dead, where he appeared to have collapsed. Meeker adds his comment about somebody finally did it; Harper is dead at last. Charlie closes curtain. Chan tells his audience, here is the missing man, must now find murderer.
Chan and Meeker are in the gas chamber, Meeker has his gas mask on, while Charlie is using his handkerchief. Meeker is looking at notes. Meeker says it is important to find Harper's formula, for they contain the composition of the gas the government wants kept secret. Charlie declares, once he finds killer, he will find formula. Chan inquires to assistant, if he should arrest him for the murder of Mr. Harper. The response is Walter Meeker never did nor ever will, kill a man. Chan adds just one happy family with murderer in center; Charlie exits the chamber.
Sherriff Mack and Roth are just outside the gas chamber, as Roth strongly inquires why Chan was in the chamber. What business is it of yours, asks Roth. Charlie answers, it is government business, and I am representative of government. Sherriff Mack chastises Roth for his inquiry. Charlie asks Roth where Mr. Harper kept gas formula. Roth says he would know where the formula was kept before anyone else, but he denies any knowledge of the exact formula location. Chan asks Roth, not many life-masks about household about face, why? Roth says if anything is stolen, the masks would be great assistance to the police in tracking down the criminals. Chan mentions to Mack we must remember that fact.
Charlie hears from Eddie and Birmingham that Miss Graham carried all four of their bags upstairs at the same time, when they were too heavy for the two of them to carry. Roth says Miss Graham is a strong woman, besides being a puppeteer and ventriloquist. The phone rings, Sherriff Mack answers, learns Coroner Doc Peabody reports autopsy findings show Harper died from natural causes. Charlie rejects the idea, says it was murder. They visit office of Dr. Samuel R. Peabody. Phone rings at his office, Inspector Godfrey says Officer Kimball wasn't located last night and today he is missing entirely. A motorist claims seeing Officer Kimble near the Harper house last night. The Inspector thinks Kimball is mixed up in the Harper killing. Doc Peabody, enters, stating you are right Mr. Chan, presenting a poison dart formerly imbeddedl in the back of Harper's throat; the dart killed Harper. Peabody asks Chan how he knew the dart was there; you study medicine? Chan replies to Peabody, no Dr. Peabody, but I studied crime a great deal.
Gathered once again, the six house members do not agree on Officer Kimball's presence. Roth did not know the officer, insisting he did not get inside. Charlie dismisses all, but Graham and Kent; Louise Harper stays, too. Miss Graham saw policeman inside the house last night, in the hall, and she says Jean Kent saw him at the same time. Chan dismisses Stella Graham. Chan turns to Sherriff Mack, inquiring Officer Kimball was young, good-looking man. Sherriff confirms Kimball's traits. Jean Kent admits Officer Jim came to see her. The plan was to let Kimball in the gate at nine o'clock, then we would meet in the grounds, but Roth was at the front door, and I couldn't let him inside the gate. After further questions from Mack and Chan, Jean Kent says the policeman I saw was not Jim Kimball. There was a policeman at the house last night, perhaps not Kimball. Jean Kent says she saw a policeman, it was not Jim, and she was afraid for Jim Kimball, that is why she denied seeing anyone initially. Charlie says excellent reason. At the door, Eddie and Birmingham report the police found a motorcycle in the bushes, down near the gate, perhaps it belonged to Kimball.
Sherriff Mack confirms the motorcycle finding, Kimball is still missing. Charlie reiterates, Miss Graham, Miss Kent, Mr. Meeker say policeman was inside house last night. Roth is stopped at the foot of the stairs by Chan. Roth says someone here tried to make me out a killer, give me five minutes to produce the killer and clear my name, and I insist on doing it alone. I do this myself or not at all, no help from the law. Five minutes passes, no Roth, Chan and Mack investigate Roth's location, start for upstairs. Roth appears in the recessed passageway area, behind the base of the stairs. Birmingham sees Roth, Chan approaches the figure, finds Roth dead, obviously not upstairs. Chan notices the man's wet feet making tracks in middle of passageway. Charlie asks the question, how did the man get wet feet making tracks beginning in middle of passageway?. Chan motions to his assistants to hide from view, as Michael approaches Roth's body, Charlie says for him not to touch, he comes forward, all look up at the stairs, as the three women descend. Chan asks them if any of them see Mr. Roth lately? Meeker enters, saying you will not seek murderer by questioning. Charlie responds, we now seek murderer of Mr. Roth. Chan announces questions will begin immediately in living room, where the five house members assemble. Charlie orders Eddie to telephone Dr. Peabody to perform immediate autopsy on Roth. Addressing the group of five, Charlie preaches two men are murdered, yet everyone here have perfect alibi. Chan quips, is that strange? Eddie says the doctor is on his way, he is told to watch the door, and let the doctor in when he arrives. Birmingham is ordered to watch Roth's body, as Chan and Mack head upstairs to Roth's room.
Chan and Mack walk into the room, Chan eyes the flowers and broken vase in the wastebasket, when Miss Harper enters. She says she was looking for a vase, Roth always liked flowers. Charlie pulls broken vase from wastebasket, asking her this vase. Chan orders her to return downstairs to living room. Charlie finds recording Dictaphone in room, it is still running and he asks Mack why. Charlie plays a partial message with Harper's voice, part of which is murder, repeated with the word ear. A wet spot is found on the floor, caused from vase of flowers, getting shoes wet. Chan determines Roth died in his room; this dead man walked and talked. Charlie picks up the bell-light on Roth's desk, commenting must find out how thing works. Downstairs, Peabody says it was the same type of murder, except this dart got Roth in the back of the neck. Lloyd Archer appears, introduces himself to Chan and Mack, stating Harper was his stepfather. Harper stole the formula from Lloyd's father, and he asks the detective where Harper is. Charlie explains Harper was murdered. Archer says he would have done it himself the first time he got close enough to him. Archer says he intends to stay there to protect his interests. Chan retorts, would not think of allowing you to depart, Mr. Archer.
Charlie is inspecting footprints outlined on carpet where Roth was found, Eddie is asleep in chair nearby, someone shoots dart at Charlie; the dart luckily gets stuck in his suit coat. Eddie removes the dart from Charlie's lapel, Chan puts it away for evidence. Charlie is lecturing his son when Louise Harper comes down the stairs, turns, looking toward the footprint area, Charlie and Eddie surprise her. Chan says to her, you thought I was dead? Chan observes large surface contains four walls, but no opening. Stella says her brother built this part of the house when he was alone. Adding, her brother never told people why he did things. Chan quips, perhaps excellent place to contain secret papers, a place for secret panel, perhaps. Stella says she was making her last minute rounds of the house, she excuses herself with Charlie's permission.
Chan and Mack exit the gas chamber. Charlie is curious how Mr. Roth walked downstairs after being killed upstairs. Roth knew the identity of killer, therefore, he was killed. Eddie picks up lamp, it begins blinking, Charlie says that is alarm lamp, quick downstairs. The secret panel is open, Louise Harper is in the secret room, listening to someone inside the wall. Charlie knocks, no response. Louise says Roth told her the panel opens with the spoken word to a microphone in the panel. Harper was forgetful, he had to have someone else to remember things for him; that person was Roth. Charlie sends Eddie to bring down the Dictaphone records to play Harper's voice recording. The correct roll is chosen by Charlie, Harper's words open the panel, finding Miss Graham in the gas filled room, alive. The doctor is summoned, Mack and Eddie remove Stella Graham from the room. Charlie enters the same secret room, holding his handkerchief to his face, he lifts papers from the open desk, the gas stops, Charlie places papers in his inner pocket coat, closing the desktop. Stella is revived. She said she thinks she heard someone, she went back there to look. She saw the desk and lifted the top, then she was locked inside, with gas pouring into the room. Eddie comes from the back, saying the case is solved, Michael has the information needed.
Michael comes from the passageway indicating he has something to show Charlie, exposing the murderer. Michael is carrying a life-mask, like one found on the house walls. Michael gets near the stairs, sees the ladies standing at the stair base, appears shocked, backs away and drops to the floor. The Sherriff declares him dead. Charlie brings attention to all the life-masks are strangely missing from the walls. He adds, while we were with Dr. Peabody, someone entered the house and removed the masks. They were removed preventing us from knowing which mask Michael had. The mask Michael had would have convicted the killer. Mack chimes in saying Archer can't be the killer, because the masks were from people inside the house. Charlie pulls out an ear from the broken mask Michael was carrying. Matching the ear Charlie has to the people in the house gives us the killer, according to Mack. Charlie says this ear is from masks made from a dead man, Harper. Chan asks Mack to bring all suspects down to living room, asks Eddie and Birmingham to go into the gas chamber to see if anyone is in there. Birmingham discovers a dead policeman, as the man falls to the floor.
Charlie has assembled all the house members, the three ladies and Meeker, as Eddie and Birmingham run to Charlie telling of the dead unidentified policeman. Mack confirms from sight of the officer, it is Jim Kimball, dead. Charlie declares he has been dead for many hours. Chan and Mack leave the gas chamber, return to the living room, when Charlie announces at last pieces of murder puzzle begin to fit in place. Three men are murdered by poison darts, darts fired by some strange kind of air gun, Charlie holding the tire pump. Eddie is quick to the obvious with Miss Kent having the air pump in her hand recently. Charlie states Miss Kent use the air pump for a slow leak in tire. Charlie states ignore Eddie, tire pump was not the deadly weapon. Charlie demonstrates the murder weapon, a ventriloquist dummy with a very fine air gun concealed. Charlie demonstrates by shooting a dart from the dummy's mouth, knocking a book over on the desk it was standing. He confers with his two assistants, whispering to them as they leave the room. Mack is accusing Archer. Mr. Roth died trying to leave important clue, Charlie tells Mack, Roth was saying in Dictaphone message, murderer ear, referring to the mask Michael held.
Chan demonstrates how Roth died upstairs and was found downstairs. Eddie is lowered from upstairs to the main level by ropes, similar to those manipulating a marionette. Louise Harper accuses Stella Graham as the murderer, being a master puppeteer and stronger than a man. Stella denies any involvement. Charlie claims Graham is an accomplice by making dead man appear to walk. Chan pulls the masked-ear from his pocket, saying this ear will convict killer. Roth and Michael recognized what police already know, that like finger prints, no two human ears are exactly alike. Charlie states the broken-masked-ear he holds is the murdered man's ear, matching the right ear of Meeker. An escape is attempted by Meeker, or someone posing as Meeker, uncovering a rubber mask from the man's face, reveals Mr. Archer. Mack holds Archer in cuffs.
Chan says Mr. Archer has been in this house ever since he killed Mr. Harper. Mack asks where the real Mr. Meeker is located. Charlie says perhaps Miss Graham could tell where Meeker is located, the mask disguising Archer as Meeker indicates all murders were premeditated. Charlie presses Stella that Archer tried to murder her, secret vault is a death trap, which he knew. Stella admits to knowing Meeker's body is in the basement, he died immediately after Harper. Graham tells she and Archer were in vaudeville together. Archer was a quick-change artist and impersonator. He can imitate anyone. Archer comments, haven't I been fooling you all along? Charlie asks Stella Graham, why did you continue to help him after murders began? Graham answers, he is my husband. Mack says he will turn the two over to the State Police; he exits with the two criminals.
Charlie closes with words to Louise and Jean, fog of murderer will soon lift, and house will be happy again. Louise thanks Chan, admitting not liking him at first, but she has changed her mind. Charlie produces the gas formula from his coat pocket, saying the government would like to have it. Louise tells him to take charge of it, and feel free to stay here until morning. Chan tells his two assistants, case is finished when we find final victim's body, that of Mr. Meeker, downstairs.