Sunday, December 17, 2017
Mr Moto’s Gamble (1938)
Mr Moto’s Gamble started life as an entry in Fox’s hugely successful Charlie Chan series. It was going to be a boxing mystery entitled Charlie Chan at the Ringside. Unfortunately by this time the star of the Chan series, Warner Oland, was beginning to have a few problems. He was drinking and his marriage was breaking up. He was forgetting his lines and he was becoming temperamental. On the first day of shooting in January 1938 he walked off the set. Having been persuaded to continue the film, he walked off the set again. He insisted that production be moved to a different sound stage. Finally he walked off the set for a third time, never to return. This was, sadly, to be the end of his career (in August of that year he passed away).
Oland’s departure left Fox with a problem. They had a script that everybody was happy with. They had the sets ready to go. Some footage had already been shot. The studio was reluctant simply to scrap the film. The solution they came up with was to turn Charlie Chan at the Ringside into a Mr Moto film. They had already made two Mr Moto movies which had been extremely successful. It all seemed like a good idea.
The problem here is that Mr Moto’s Gamble has a plot that is very much a Charlie Chan sort of plot. The whole movie still feels like a Chan movie. And Mr Moto just doesn’t quite fit in. Peter Lorre as Moto tries hard but he’s just not given enough Mr Moto type things to do and his performance falls just a little bit flat.
The plot involves a boxing match that may or may not have been rigged but that results in the death of one of the fighters. Moto immediately realises the death was no accident. It was murder. There were some huge and very suspicious bets placed on the fight, by a variety of crooked gamblers all of whom seem to be trying to double-cross each other. It’s not a bad story and would have made an excellent Chan film.
The supporting cast is quite strong and includes (in a very minor role) Lon Chaney Jr. Bernard Nedell impresses as a very smooth but sinister gambler.
Lynn Bari is probably the standout performer here. She’s lively and vivacious and she manages the feisty girl reporter thing without being irritating.
The first two Mr Moto films were directed by Norman Foster. James Tinling directed Mr Moto’s Gamble and it lacks the style and pace of Foster’s efforts.
Fox’s DVD presentation is more than satisfactory. The transfer is extremely good. There’s a brief but fascinating featurette detailing the movie’s troubled production history.
Mr Moto’s Gamble is reasonably entertaining but it does not have the feel of a Moto film and hardcore Moto fans are likely to be a little disappointed. So this one is recommended, but with reservations.