Avalanche is a horse running in Australia’s Melbourne Cup race. The horse belongs to George Chester (Alan Dinehart) and his new bride Catherine (Gloria Roy). The horse was a gift from Catherine’s father, Major Gordon Kent (George Irving). When the jockey of Avalanche fouls another horse Avalanche is disqualified. Major Kent believes that the jockey did it on purpose so that Avalanche will lose the race. Kent also believes a gambling syndicate is behind the maneuver. Kent is determined to find out the truth.
Avalanche is scheduled to compete in a race in Los Angles. The horse and his entourage will be sailing to America. Their first stop is Honolulu. Kent wires his friend, Charlie Chan to meet the boat in Honolulu to see if he will investigate.
During the voyage Kent is killed. It appears that he was stomped on by Avalanche when the Major went into the horse’s stall. Charlie investigates Kent’s death and determines that the Major was in fact murdered. The ship’s Captain (Sam Flint) doesn’t want a murder investigation to keep the ship stuck in port, so he suggests that Charlie stay aboard the ship for its last leg to Los Angeles and investigate the murder on the way.
During the trip Charlie employs some unusual methods to get reactions from the different suspects. Notes are left for anyone associated with the racehorse threatening the horse’s wellbeing. Then a fire breaks out near where Avalanche and other horses are being kept. Everyone things that an attempt was made to kill Avalanche, but Charlie thinks it was a diversion. He believes that Avalanche and another horse called Gallant Lad, owned by Warren Fenton (Jonathan Hale), have been switched. Charlie lets the ruse play out under his own terms to catch not only a killer but a gang of illegal gamblers as well.
“Charlie Chan at the Race Track” was released in 1936 and was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. It is the twelfth of sixteen Charlie Chan films that featured Warner Oland as Chan. The film is based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers and was produced by 20th Century Fox.
The ship’s name, in the movie, is the Oceanic. The stock footage used to represent her is of the R.M.S. Empress of Japan. The ocean liner was built in 1890-1891 and was the first of two ships that had that name. It was also known as the “Queen of the Pacific”. During WWI she served as an armed merchant cruiser. The racetrack used in the film was of Santa Anita although in the film it was called Santa Juanita.
Near the beginning of the film Charlie is instructing a group of officers on blood analysis and demonstrates how different types of blood stains are created. He uses this information later in the film in determining that Major Kent was the victim of murder and not an accident.
In the film one of the racehorses, Gallant Lad, has a monkey as a companion. This is standard as horses, especially racehorses, can be high strung, and are herd animals, so a companion can keep them calm. Most companions are donkeys, ponies or goats but it is not unusual for a monkey to be a companion animal.
Director H. Bruce Humberstone has a small part as one of the gamblers.