Bad blood exists between Bill Steele and Frankie Stanton, the leading contenders for the heavyweight title, and a grudge match is scheduled. Steele's knockout victory is tainted by his opponent's untimely death, ostensibly from a concussion caused by hitting the canvas. A post-mortem reveals that poison was somehow introduced into a cut above Stanton's eye although it is unclear how and why. Gambling might seem to be the motive as several of the principle suspects, gamblers Clipper McCoy and Nick Crowder, Stanton's shady manager Jerry Connors, and fight promoter Philip Benton, all seemed to have made wagers on the fight. Benton's spoiled daughter and female reporter Penny Kendall are vying for the affections of Steele, who is now slated to fight for the championship against pugnacious Biff Moran. Lt. Riggs of New York Homicide and Moto, who were spectators at the fight, go on the trail of the murderer following the autopsy results. Moto's prime suspect is a shadowy character named ... Written by
Gabe Taverney (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the first two Mr. Moto films, Moto was a complex and rather amoral man. If someone tried to kill him, often Moto killed that person instead. Additionally, you weren't always sure who Moto worked for or his motivations. I liked this, as it made his character a bit mysterious and quite a bit unlike the studio's other Asian crime fighter, Charlie Chan. However, with MR. MOTO'S GAMBLE the transition to a Charlie Chan clone has occurred. Why? Well the answer is that this film originally WAS a Charlie Chan film and shortly into shooting it was obvious that Warner Oland (Chan) was not emotionally fit enough to finish the film. So, instead of scrapping the film, they just altered it slightly to make it a Moto film.
So was this a successful move by the studio? Well, in some ways definitely not. The comic relief for the film was provided by Max 'Slapsie Maxie' Rosenbloom--playing a guy even more annoying and unrealistic than Mantan Moreland would play in the later Charlie Chan films. Frankly, I hated Rosenbloom in the film because he detracted from the mystery with his antics. Additionally, it seemed very strange for the Japanese detective to be teamed with Charlie's #1 Son, Lee Chan (Keye Luke). In fact, you will probably notice that Moto treats Lee pretty much the way Charlie did and it just feels odd. And, since Moto was essentially playing Chan, he had much less to do in this film than in previous ones. Like Chan, he was NOT the focal point of the film and aside from a couple judo flips, you'd barely notice him in the film. In essence, Mr. Moto was dead.
Despite this obviously being a Chan film (and second-rate due to the dominant presence of Rosenbloom), the film is still pretty good--provided you don't mind that it's not a Moto movie. The mystery itself isn't bad (though the squirt gun angle was pretty dumb) and the film worked pretty well. While the mechanical gun at the end was overly complex, how Moto used this was pretty neat. Overall, I give it a 6. It's interesting and fun but suffers a severe case of too much Rosenbloom and multiple personality disorder!
By the way, there are some famous faces buried within the film. Ward Bond (famous for his many appearances in support of John Wayne) plays the Champion, George E. Stone ('Runt' from the Boston Blackie films) and a young Lon Chaney, Jr. is in a bit role.
For more on how this film came to be, watch the DVD extra included along with MR. MOTO'S GAMBLE. MR. MOTO MEETS MR. CHAN is indispensable for die-hard fans like myself to understand the very troubled process through which this film was made.
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