Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938)
Through a rather strange set of circumstances, Peter Lorre finds himself solving a murder centered around the fight game where Ward Bond takes on Dick Baldwin for the Heavyweight Championship.
I say strange due to the fact that the original script had the title Charlie Chan at The Ringside and was to feature the popular Warner Oland returning to his most famous role.
Our revised feature begins with Lorre teaching a class on criminology. Two students stand out prominently. Maxie Rosenbloom and Keye Luke still cast here as Lee Chan, Charlie’s number one son. It’s at this point that Keye mentions to Lorre, “Pop sends his best.” A line inserted into the script to help explain the appearance of Keye crossing over into Lorre’s series of mysteries.
The trio find themselves at a fight featuring up and comer Baldwin. Baldwin wins the fight by KO but his opponent dies shortly after being stopped. It seems he was poisoned and Baldwin is implicated. Could it be possible that there was a poisonous substance on his gloves? Lorre as Moto looks appropriately suspicious and begins to investigate the numerous bookies, gamblers and underworld figures attending the fight.
While Lorre arranges for the fight between Baldwin and Bond to take place, Keye and Maxie team up to solve the mysterious crime. As is usual in the Chan films, Keye is the comedy relief and makes for a great pairing with Maxie as they bungle their way towards the climax of the film only to find the proceedings will be long solved by the time they arrive there.
This outing in the Chan/Moto world once again is treated with a top flight production for a series thanks to home studio 20th Century Fox. A parcel full of familiar faces filling out the cast adds to the fun from our vantage point looking back. Mixed in are Harold Huber as a Police Inspector. Huber had played the same type of role in an earlier Chan film and implies as much to Keye in the film, thus continuing to combine the two film series. Lynn Bari, Douglas Fowley and John Hamilton (Superman’s Perry White) also turn up.
Noticeably in the background is Lon Chaney Jr. as a henchman with few lines but an imposing figure. Lon as well had previously apeared in a bit role in Charlie Chan on Broadway and would also turn up in the Sidney Toler Chan title, City In Darkness before Universal Studios made him a staple of the horror genre giving him everlasting fame.
John Ford regular Ward Bond who here is playing the imaginary Heavyweight Champion of the world would actually play the real life John L. Sullivan in a magnificent performance opposite Errol Flynn’s Gentleman Jim in 1942.
Gamble wound up as a Moto series entry due to the health of Warner Oland. Shortly after the Chan film commenced, Oland begged off due to ongoing personal demons and issues. When it became apparent that the studio only had about half of a completed film and Oland’s reappearance seemed doomed, the studio had the writers doctor the script and we wound up with the third Moto film of eight that Peter would star in. Gamble would be released to the public in March of 1938.
Warner Oland died in August of 1938 bringing to an end his reign as the famed sleuth. Sadly it spelled the end of Keye as Lee Chan as well. Though he would make a couple of films ten years later with eventual Chan, Roland Winters, the magic was gone. When Sidney Toler moved in to the role and made it his own, Victor Sen Yung was brought successfully in as Number 2 son, Jimmy Chan.
Easily the most intriguing Moto film for what happened off screen this Gamble proved successful in that it joined the fun of both series into one film thanks largely to Lorre and Keye. I never tire of revisiting the sleuth films of the studio era and if forced to pick just one detective to take to a desert isle for repeated viewings, it would have to be Chan.
The wonderful banter between Oland and Luke play a large part in that decision.