The Chinese Cat (1944): a nod to The Maltese Falcon (1941)?

Cats are famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) for chasing birds. With stealth-like prowess the cat remains still as a statue until the unsuspecting bird, detecting no movement, feels safe. Then…they pounce!

So is the case we have here with the Charlie Chan film The Chinese Cat (1944), Monogram Pictures Corporation. Here is an excerpt from The Charlie Chan Family Home site, on The Film Link for ‘Cat:

NOTES: This was Monogram’s second entry in the Charlie Chan series.  The onscreen title is listed as Charlie Chan in The Chinese Cat.  The working title of the film was Murder in the FunhouseThe film’s title, The Chinese Cat, is doubtless a “nod” to the 1941 Humphrey Bogart movie, The Maltese Falcon.  

Adapted from: AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE CATALOG – Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960

Really though, are the two films similar enough to warrant that association in their titles? Perhaps. Cat came along three years after Falcon, and both films do take place in San Francisco in the 1940s (the Falcon novel–first serialized in Black Mask Magazine–actually took place in the 1920s-30s, while there was no Cat novel, just a film.) Also both take place over a relatively short period of time; two or three days for Falcon and 48 hours for Cat.

A few other similarities can be noted. For example just like Sam Spade, Charlie Chan is captured and takes a beating (a rare occurrence in a Chan film.) And like Spade, who was chasing a valuable bird statue, Chan is chasing something–diamonds being smuggled inside of statues (in this case the titled Cat and more so lion-dog statues.)

Also, ironically in both films it seems the murder victims aren’t worth giving two shakes of a lambs tail:

  • In Falcon, Sam Spades murdered partner is only briefly portrayed: a solid sleuth, but married and cavorting around with any dame who shakes her hips. A Mr. Thursby (who we never see) is also murdered that same night, but he’s in deep chasing the bird. And ship Captain Jacobi, a dupe for the film’s femme fatale is shot several time, but manages to bring the bird to Sam Spade’s office. Both Thursby and Capt. Jacobi were killed by Wilmer, “the hired gun”, who Spade constantly beats up and is given over to the police.

  • In Cat the husband of a wealthy socialite named Mrs. Manning is murdered in his study. But it turns out he’s misusing his wife’s fortune and is part of a diamond smuggling operation. Then one of two twin brothers, Kurt Karzos, is strangled after contacting Chan with info about the Manning murder. But both he and his twin are jewelers for the diamond smuggling operation; so too bad, so sad.

Both films also contain an unusually high amount of fist-fighting, kidnapping and other tropes one finds in classic film noir. Spade is drugged and kicked in the head while unconscious, and Chan and son both get beaten up pretty good. While Son No. 3 is tied up and being choked by bad guys, Charlie Chan (also tied up, but stone faced) states, “You can’t make a Chan talk.”

POSTSCRIPT: Thought I’d mention this is my very first poll! Upon voting the current poll results will (should) display and when revisiting the poll updated results should be visible. The poll will close after one month, June 30th. “Thank you so much” for participating in the poll and resolving this dilemma that has plagued mankind since…(OK, well at least since June 1st, 2022!)

“The fool questions others, the wise man questions himself”

Charlie Chan, Behind That Curtain (1928), Chapter 6

4 thoughts on “The Chinese Cat (1944): a nod to The Maltese Falcon (1941)?

  1. Good article, Lou! I have always suspected that the TITLE of the Chan movie was the “nod” to “The Maltese Falcon,” as the film itself bears no resemblance to the Bogart film. I would suggest that Monogram Pictures was maybe hoping that the possible association with the well-known picture, however small that association, could spur some extra ticket sales.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rush, “so you’ve penetrated my little disguise Watson!” Yes, the key is “The TITLE” as a nod. Still it was fun to pick out some similarities. T.Y.S.M.


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