Cast & Crew
At a secluded California desert castle, owned by eccentric millionaire Paul Manderley, tragedy strikes when Professor Gleason, a guest, is poisoned. Others visiting the castle are Manderley's lawyer, Walter Hartford, Walter's wife Brenda, and Manderley's physician, Dr. Retling. Fearing that his wife Lucy will be implicated in the poisoning, because she is the former Princess Lucrezia della Borgia, Manderley bribes Retling and Hartford to take Gleason's body to a hotel in Mojave Wells, the closest town, and make it look as if he died there of a heart attack. Soon after, Honolulu detective Charlie Chan, who is vacationing in San Francisco with his son Jimmy during Jimmy's leave from the Army, receives a note from Lucy asking him to come to the castle. Chan makes the journey, but upon reaching the castle, finds that Lucy did not send the note. Suspecting that the sender wanted him to be a witness to an upcoming crime, Chan stays. Manderley explains that, because he is a medieval scholar studying Cesare Borgia, he wants to live in an atmosphere approximating the fifteenth century. Chan also learns from Retling that Manderley will lose control of his father's estate if he is involved in any scandal. Arriving at the same time as Chan is Watson King, a sculptor commissioned to do a bust of Lucy. Soon after, Jimmy also comes to the castle to pass along a threatening letter that came to the hotel after Chan left. Another visitor is Arthur Fletcher, a private detective representing Gleason's family. After Fletcher falls victim to poison, Retling tries to convince Manderley that Lucy is responsible and must be committed to an insane asylum, but Manderley states that he will turn over control of the estate to Hartford and leave quietly with his wife. Chan discusses the situation with Lucy, and she tells him about her stepbrother Cesare, who was acquitted on a charge of poisoning and then killed in the Spanish war. Chan then obtains a confession from Hartford, Brenda and Retling that they paid Gleason and Fletcher to pretend to be poisoned so that Manderley would be forced to relinquish the estate. Brenda also reveals that Cesare is not dead, and that he wrote to Hartford a month ago demanding money. Chan still believes that there is a killer lurking about, however, and his suspicions are proven correct when Hartford is stabbed to death. After explaining that the murderer needed to get rid of Hartford and then Manderley so that Lucy would inherit the estate, Chan reveals that Watson is the killer and is actually Cesare, having had a facial scar removed so that he would not be recognized. The mystery solved, Chan and Jimmy prepare to leave the castle.
Harry M. Leonard
George A. Wright
Although a August 15, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that John Larkin would write the screenplay for this film based on an original story by producer Ralph Dietrich, no other contemporary source confirms Dietrich's contribution to the picture as a writer. According to a studio press release and a Hollywood Reporter news item, Janis Carter was originally cast as "Brenda Hartford." The Variety review erroneously lists the film's running time as 51 minutes. Castle in the Desert was the last "Charlie Chan" film produced by Twentieth Century-Fox. After the studio helped actor Sidney Toler obtain the rights to the character from Earl Derr Biggers' widow, Toler made more Chan films at Monogram. For additional information about the "Charlie Chan" series, consult the Series Index and see the entry for Charlie Chan Carries On in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0663.