Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Mr. Moto meets Lee Chan, Charlie Chan's son
MR. MOTO'S GAMBLE (1938). Director: James Tinling.

Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) is teaching a course in criminology and his students include the punch-drunk "Knock-Out" Wellington (Maxie Rosenbloom of Mr. Universe) and Charlie Chan's son, Lee (Keye Luke) -- temporarily moving from one mystery series to another -- who wants to follow in his father's footsteps. These last two serve as comedy relief -- Rosenbloom instead of Mantan Moreland -- in a tiresome tale of a boxer, Frankie Stanton (Russ Clark), who is murdered in the ring during a battle. The surviving boxer, Bill Steele (Dick Baldwin), has two women fighting over him: the plucky sports reporter Penny (Lynn Bari of City in Darkness); and spoiled society gal, Linda Benton (Jayne Regan), who is sort of a groupie for boxers, dumping them whenever they lose. Suspects include not only those already mentioned, but also Clipper McCoy (Bernard Nedell); Nick Crowder (Douglas Fowley); Connors (George E. Stone, on vacation from playing the Runt in the Boston Blackie movies); nasty boxer Biff Moran (Ward Bond of Blowing Wild); and Linda's father (John Hamilton), whose racket is the fight game. Lon Chaney Jr. has a small role; Pierre Watkin plays another of his seemingly endless bland authority figures; Harold Huber is Lt. Riggs; and Irving Bacon almost runs off with the movie in his funny portrayal of Sheriff Tuttle. The comedy relief in this is quite stupid for the most part, and the script is mediocre, but at least it has a fast pace and a slightly surprising ending. With this third entry the Mr. Moto series took a real dip in quality, adding Lee Chan and the moronic Rosenbloom to make it more resemble the Chan series, but even the weakest Chan entry had a more interesting screenplay. Lorre is as terrific as ever. Mr. Moto apparently knows Charlie Chan, at least by reputation, but the two characters, I believe, never appeared together -- too bad.

Verdict: A vehicle unworthy of both Peter Lorre and Mr. Moto. *1/2.


Gary R. said...

My understanding is that this was originally intended as a Charlie Chan entry, but was rewritten for the Moto series after Warner Oland's sudden death. Despite the movie's shortcomings, the abundant opportunity for character actor-spotting makes it a treat for buffs like me.

William said...

I agree that the chief joy of many of these movies is the interesting andf often very adept character actors that you find in them.

I have a feeling you're correct about this script being originally written for a (lesser) Charlie Chan movie. That certainly explains Keye Luke's presence in the film, among other things, such as the fact this is more of a Chan-type murder mystery than the typical Mr. Moto. Thanks for the heads-up!