The Scarlet Clue (1945) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Charlie discovers a scheme for the theft of government radar plans while investigating several murders.

  • Charlie Chan investigates the theft of government radar papers (the laboratory is located in the same building as a radio station!) with the help of Number Three Son Tommy and comic sidekick Birmingham Brown.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The Scarlet Clue, released 5-11-45 On a foggy street at night, a few men walk about, one ducks in and out of a car, then enters a building, while Charlie Chan walks the same street, meets and greets his friend, police Captain Flynn. They discuss recent events, namely Rausch, tracked by Flynn earlier where he knows he is being followed, but much to the disappointment of Chan. Rausch is a suspect in radar theft from the U.S. Government, and Charlie wanted him to be located only, permitting Chan to observe his trail, hoping he would lead to all espionage agents. Flynn apologizes for the intense surveillance, Charlie says no matter. Flynn says he is on that nearby tug boat. They board the tug, looking for Rausch. They look around the vessel, find Rausch stabbed, dead, in the last twenty minutes, according to Flynn. Chan notices someone stepped in blood, leaving a heal print, there is a noise from inside, Chan sees the two-door coupe out front, as the car is driven away. Chan tells Flynn murderer just left the scene.

    At police headquarters, Flynn gets the plate number from Charlie, the car is reported stolen from owner Diane Hall, a radio actress employed by Cosmo Radio Center, tenth floor, the same floor as the Hamilton Research Laboratory. Flynn says Hamilton experiments in radar. Chan predicts them to soon meet Miss Hall. Out from Flynn's office are Birmingham Brown and Tommy Chan, claiming a crime was committed disguising the truth looking for Charlie Chan. Charlie and Flynn come out the office, Chan introduces his feeble-minded son and Chan's driver. He requests they follow him to investigate a case of murder.

    At the Cosmo Radio Center, the three wait for the manager Ralph Brett, Charlie greets him, wants to speak to Miss Hall, regarding her automobile. Tommy and Birmingham greet Hulda Swenson, mopping the floor in front of a studio door. Chan follows Brett, Tommy and Birmingham follow; all go into a studio. They encounter an actors ensemble, with an outspoken producer, Mrs. Marsh, chastising manager Brett for letting in tourists. She goes further to scold Herbert Sinclair, she did not want sightseers in the studio. Marsh asks what do you want? Chan asks for private conversation with Miss Diane Hall. The detective introduces himself as Charlie Chan, representative of federal government. Willie Rand, actor with the group including Hall, excuses himself. Chan explains to Miss Hall, you reported your car stolen. Hall says it was borrowed, not stolen, but she doesn't know who borrowed it. She introduces her fellow actress, Gloria Bayne. When they went to the parking lot, the car was missing, Hall telephone the police, they went out to eat, came back, the car had been returned. They agree with Chan, the car went missing about 8:30 to 9:00. Bayne asks why the federal government is interested in a stolen car that wasn't completely stolen? Charlie states that is all, charmed to meet radio ladies, hope to meet you again, real soon. Hall and Bayne exit, and the three detectives exit the studio. Chan accidently bumps into Horace Karlos, a formal exchange is presented by the Shakespearean actor Karlos, as he departs. Charlie notices a stained, right shoeprint on the floor, he identifies it as the same right shoe print from tug boat cabin, scene of the Rausch murder. Charlie observes, the killer is someone who walked here recently, perhaps someone we have all seen. Chan adds, a most interesting place, will visit here again tomorrow.

    Brett returns to an office, his name plate sign hanging above the door, he enters with his key, locks door behind him, makes a phone call, asks for the manager. Brett says on the phone, Rausch was contacted, he was scared, ready to blab, said the police were after him, and Charlie Chan was after him, too. Rausch can't talk now, he is dead. Brett speaks into phone about borrowing Diane's car last night, to meet Rausch. Western Union teletype message back to Brett questions why Chan came to see Diane Hall? Next line message states use of a car from your own building, use your head, before you lose it. The phoned party hangs up. Brett reads the messages. Brett calls a number, saying he is inspector Grady. He says office 211, Algarn Building. He takes off his right shoe, inspects and removes putting it in a drawer; he has an identical right shoe he puts on his foot.

    The three and Flynn are in Flynn's office, where Charlie wants the next name on the list Flynn has. Miss Bayne, a small-time radio actress until she made a hit on Mrs. Marsh's program, a gold digger and a hard worker. Diane Hall, legitimate stage actress from New York, here two months, lives with Gloria Bayne. Chan thanks Flynn for his report on the list of suspects. Charlie is convinced the murderer is one of the ensemble he met in the studio, including everyone present, not limited to actors and actresses.

    Birmingham meets Ben Brown in the hallway, their conversation is the incomplete banter between two friends. Tommy looks confused listening to the two friends. Charlie says follow him to watch studio rehearsal. They walk into the studio to watch the actors perform the radio play. Charlie tells the group he wishes to speak to all of them regarding a murder; a Mr. Rausch was murdered using a borrowed car. Charlie takes the two up to Hamilton Laboratory, in the building. Entering, he greets Mr. Hamilton, who recognizes him, introducing his son Tommy and Birmingham. He asks if Hamilton received his instructions. Hamilton says all of the radar equipment has been taken away by the government. The original paper documents are in the hands of the government, copies of same are in the safe. No need to hire extra guards, contents of safe will be used as bait, says Chan. Hamilton said attempts have been made to break in to the office. Charlie comments, the bait will be used to catch an enemy rat. Chan eyes the experimental tunnel for use in testing extreme heat and cold of the radar and television. There are two compartments, one for heat and one for cold; the light will flash if either tunnel has a foreign body contained in it.

    Gloria Bayne knocks, enters Brett's office, she says she there on business, thus being so formal calling him Mr. Brett. She demands more and better parts than those she has, Brett cautions her, you might lose those you have. Remember these, holding a book of self-labeled matches. She says she gave him her last book yesterday morning in this building. She found the last pack on the seat of Diane's car, this morning. Brett says this is blackmail. He says he will see she gets better jobs. She thanks him and exits. Brett calls for the manager again, explaining Gloria is blackmailing him. His answer comes on the Western Union printer; stop worrying about her.

    Mrs. Marsh admonishes the group of actors, she will be considering a change in personnel, after she listens to the program from her office. Charlie watches the group from the hallway, telling Tommy, what detective needs is great patience. The group runs through their lines, Gloria has a problem with her final lines, they all step into hallway, Mrs. Marsh critiques the performance, not bad, but criticizes Gloria, who asks for a cigarette. She gets a light from Brett, when after a puff, she faints, falls to her feet. Chan orders, get young lady to dressing room, quick. Charlie says young lady already dead, no use to call a doctor. The cleaning lady Hulda picks up Bayne's dropped cigarette, and Tommy snatches the cigarette from her pocket, thinking it is a clue. The police chemist determines Bayne was poisoned, a toxic reaction proved it, but he says he never had run into the type of poison. Charlie thanks the doctor for the analysis.

    Brett visits the Algarn building, #211, meets Cooper at the door, enters, Tommy and Birmingham are tailing Brett, see him enter the room. The two listen at the door, while the two inside realize they have worked together before, and Cooper is the manager on the phone he calls before he receives a wire. The room is empty, except for a table, chair and phone. Cooper explains someone listens in, if the caller is okay, the call is switched away from the line. Cooper says they have worked before, without knowing who their boss is. Brett tells Cooper there has been two murders on this job already. Cooper says we should know the name of their boss to protect themselves. The phone rings, Cooper answers, the voice asks for the manager, it goes through. Brett tells Cooper, if he learns anything, let him know.

    Back in Flynn's office, the three confab with Flynn. Cooper called Brett, Mr. Braught. Chan says British intelligence are seeking an espionage agent named Ralph Braught. Flynn says the radio station manager calls himself Ralph Brett. The two assistants agree there are only the two pieces of furniture and a phone in the room. Charlie tells the assistants we make Mr. Brett a surprise visit. The three enter Brett's office with Charlie's passkeys. Charlie finds the bloodied right shoe, but Brett hears them at the door. Brett leaves, before the three enter the hall. Charlie has the shoe in hand, states they must locate Brett at once. The three get on the elevator, while Brett returns to his office. Brett calls the manager number, states Charlie Chan knows all about the Rausch murder, he is after me, you have to protect me, what should I do? Western Union instructions are to use service elevator to seventh floor, if he is not present, then to tenth floor. Brett comments, the manager is right here in this building. Brett takes the service elevator to the seventh floor, the door opens, then closes, while someone wearing gloves, flips a control, opening a trap door in the elevator, with Brett falling through the opening. Brett's body is shown falling to certain death to the bottom of the shaft. The gloved person came from room 702. Charlie tells assistants, the doorman says Brett is still in the building, has not been seen leaving. Willie Rand steps off of the elevator, admits to seeing Brett outside his own door, eavesdropping. The two assistants inform Rand that Brett is the murderer.

    Chan tells Flynn, we will check every floor. Hulda opens Hamilton Laboratories door, then runs to the elevator, gets on, as the two assistants exit the same car. She says she is going to change the water for her mop bucket. Tommy says everywhere we go, we bump into that woman. Birmingham runs into Ben again, in the tenth floor hallway; they converse in their usual manner. Tommy notices the Hamilton Lab door is open, they enter, look around, enter the experimental room, flip a switch, sending steam into the room, and moving to the cold room, they experience snow on the floor. Charlie and Flynn enter the Hamilton office, note the safe has been robbed, move to the experimental tunnels, Charlie shuts off the steam, finds two assistants in cold tunnel. They move in the cold tunnel, find Brett's body covered in snow. Flynn says the coroner concluded Brett was not poisoned, instead he died from a fall from a great height. Police detectives and Chan confront Cooper, Chan quotes his aliases, recounting arresting him six years ago. Chan tells Cooper that Brett has been murdered. Cooper admits he doesn't know the leader, saying he merely answers the phone.

    Charlie, Tommy, Flynn and the police radio expert are in Brett's office. Charlie plans on an experiment, as he dials Brett's phone, it rings Cooper's phone, the voice used is from the expert. The teletype message is the same as before, instructing to use service elevator to seventh floor, if no one is there, go to tenth floor. All know the leader gives the wire instructions on the teletype machine, they go to the seventh floor, Tommy and Charlie take stairs to ten, Birmingham luckily misses from falling to shaft bottom, surviving, he explains what happened to Chan. The four inspect the bottom of elevator shaft where Brett died, Charlie notices blood on shaft floor, i.e. the scarlet clue.

    Charlie has meeting of the remaining radio acting ensemble, while Mrs. Marsh is rude, Charlie states he wishes to find the killer of Bayne and Brett. He finds out Gloria asked Brett for more parts, Chan knows Brett could grant that request. Charlie admits to Flynn, there is much confusion among remaining cast members and crew. The three and Flynn watch Willie Rand's performance, he sniffs some flowers, asks for a cigarette, takes one puff, drops dead, letting go of the cig. Chan leads Wilbur Chester back to his office, where he says his office is never locked, people from radio and television are in and out of there all hours. Wilbur Chester's office, number 702, is checked, Chan discovers behind a picture a switch to open trap door in service elevator. Wilbur says he has never seen that switch, before now. Charlie orders Wilbur Chester to accompany them to police headquarters. Chan has the Gloria and Willie cigs tested; nothing in the cigarettes that could kill. Chester gave Bayne and Rand each a cigarette at their request. Chan tells Flynn to release Mr. Chester. Person who send Brett the messages must have similar machine, there is no such machine in Chester's office. There has to be a similar teletype machine like the one in Brett's office. That is what they are looking for now, Wilbur is not held as suspect.

    They are in Flynn's office, listening to a record player with the recording of the last performance by Miss Bayne. Flynn comments the program is slush. Charlie informs Flynn he only wishes to hear end of program. There are similar popping noises on the recordings of both Gloria and Willie. Charlie knows how the two were killed, telling Flynn he will need the assistance of the radio technician to prove it. The technician extracts bits of glass or gelatin used in making capsules taken from the microphones. Flynn adds a radio beam was sent from another part of the building used to explode the capsules. The police chemist notices there is some sort of colorless gas in the capsules as he swirls the liquid in a flask. The gas is not poisonous he adds. Chan asks the chemist to light a cigarette. At Charlie's request, he inhales a cigarette, blows smoke into the flask with the solution from the capsule. Alone the gas of either is harmless, but the combination of the colorless gas from the capsule, which is not poisonous, were to be inhaled with the nicotine from the cigarette smoke, it would have produced instant death, as was the case with Gloria and Willie; the combination of gas and nicotine becomes a poison, killing instantly.

    Flynn assures Chan the building is secure. Chan states Mrs. Marsh, Mr. Sinclair and Miss Hall are in the building. Tommy confirms Chester Nelson and Karlos are in the building, and that wacky janitress. Charlie says good, all suspects are on hand. They take the elevator to the seventh floor, where Charlie announces he believes leader of enemy agents and killer of Rausch have an office on this floor, containing teletype machine. The first office Tommy walks into has a teletype machine. Charlie also notices a shortwave radio set is there, used to explode death capsules.

    Charlie opens an interior door, a gunshot is heard, startling the men, a disguised intruder comes to the office, sees the men, shuts off the light and leaves. Charlie opens the office door, more gun shots ring out, he closes the door, leaving the lights off. Flynn takes the lead into the hallway, gun drawn, they are exiting office 703. Tommy says the shooter was going up the stairs.

    They go Hamilton Labs, the light is flashing for tunnel occupation. Charlie says will go to end of tunnel to meet intruder, while Tommy enters there. Tommy encounters the disguised person, who escapes, after firing a shot. The disguised person is seen flipping the switch in 702, exiting down the hallway. The three get on the seventh floor elevator, another gunshot, opening elevator door. Flynn fired the shot in the stairwell, sending the man up to 702. The men enter 702, Charlie points to the switch exposed, stating we just escaped by elevator. Tommy sees 703 is open, they enter, the disguise is left on desk, murderer is now travelling without disguise. The elevator doors close, Chan enters 702, staring at the trapdoor switch, says killer caught in own trap. Charlie says we find murderer in basement.

    Miss Janet Carter, government investigator, was disguised as the janitress, she is on the basement floor with Flynn and the police. Charlie ordered Miss Carter there to help watch those people coming and going from radar laboratory. Carter says no one expected the janitor being a government operative. Chan complements Janet for her work. They find Mrs. Marsh dead at bottom of the shaft. The stolen papers from the safe are worthless, the real papers were removed some time ago, at Chan's suggestion. Case closed after they locate Birmingham, who is trying on the disguise in the lobby.

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