Another good entry in the series as Charlie solves murder at the circus. Keye Luke is number one son Lee who fancies himself a detective. He’s his usual hyper self but fans of the series are used to that.
Circus owner Joe Kinney gets free tickets to his show for Charlie, his wife and their twelve children including a new baby. Everyone is watching midgets Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny (George and Olive Brasno) do their act. After their show Kinney takes Charlie aside. He says he’s been getting threatening letters and wants Charlie to look into it.
No one likes Kinney. His partner John Gaines used to have his own circus but fell on hard times and Kinney lent him money and combined their shows. Gaines payments are due and it doesn’t look like he can make them. Kinney says he’ll take over the whole show.
Caesar the ape is acting up and Kinney abuses the animal until some of the circus workers make him stop. Kinney says everyone’s fired. Gaines changes that. Caesar’s handler Hal Blake is upset at everything and gets some TLC from Louise Norman. Her sister is trapeze artist Marie, Kinney’s fiancee. A panic is on as Caesar has escaped from his cage.
Lee is enamored with contortionist Su Toy. She keeps trying to avoid him. He locks her in an empty cage to keep her safe from the ape. Later she’ll return the favor and locks him up. This is a running gag throughout the movie as Lee keeps after her.
Charlie goes to the office trailer to talk to Kinney about the letters. The door is bolted from the inside. Tim climbs into the trailer and discovers Kinney’s body. He’s been strangled and it looks like the ape did it. Lee thinks he has it all figured out and gets some help from local police Lieutenant Macy.
Macy decides to take everybody to the police station. Charlie and the family are packing up to head for the Grand Canyon. Lady Tiny goes to his hotel room and convinces him to stay. That makes Lee happy since he can continue to play detective.
On the train to the next stop someone drops a snake into Charlie’s room. A coincidence and help from Lee takes care of that. Snake handler Tom Holt (J.Carrol Naish) doesn’t know how the snake got loose. The next day the circus is setting up and it’s discovered the business office safe has been broken into. Macy finds an insurance policy with Marie as the beneficiary. There’s also a marriage certificate stating that Kinney and wardrobe mistress Nellie Farrell were married some months ago in Mexico. That means she gets half the circus.
Lee finds an important clue and that leads towards a solution. If you’re looking for one of the better Chan movies check this one out.
Interesting to note that J.Carrol Naish played Charlie Chan in the TV series, “The New Adventures Of Charlie Chan” (1957-58).