Thursday, September 8, 2011
Amira Moustafa (Dangerous Money)
Leave it to a Hollywood B-movie like Monogram's Dangerous Money (1946) to cast an Egyptian starlet as a Polynesian half-caste married to a part Swedish, part Polynesian character played by a Russian (Rich Vallin). Not to mention a Britisher (Sidney Toler) portraying a Hawaiian-Chinese detective – Charlie Chan of course. This mishmash of ethnicity was typical for the period and it was equally accepted that the only cast members playing their own nationality, Chinese Victor Sen Young and African-American Willie Best, were asked to provide comic relief only. But at least Amira Moustafa, as the Polynesian half-caste, got to perform a little belly-dancing while tripping the light fantastic with the star-billed Mr. Toler. Said belly-dancing, of course, meant to suggest Island exotica and not Middle Eastern culture. All in all, Dangerous Money is not one of the best Chan – in fact, Chan connoisseur Ken Hanke ranks it as the nadir of the long series – not so much because of the cross-eyed ethnic portrayals and generally uneven performances but more due the aforementioned “comedy relief” which is no relief at all and a plot that goes nowhere fast. Is Amira the culprit in the killing of a treasury agent (B-Western and serial regular Tristram Coffin, incidentally)? By the time of the unveiling you wouldn't really care.
Amira Moustafa did indeed hail from Cairo, Egypt and was in Hollywood courtesy of her husband, Walter E. Beck, a Douglas Aircrat executive formerly stationed in North Africa. And that, alas, is basically what we have managed to learn about this exotic presence in a few Hollywood potboilers of the 1940s that included the title role in Queen of the Amazons (1947).