Created by author John P. Marquand as a replacement for Charlie Chan in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post after the death of author Earl Derr Biggers, Mr. Moto's screen incarnations have suffered a similar fate to that of his honorable predecessor, rarely revived on television because of worries over political correctness - though as with Chan, Moto is always way ahead of the white characters.
Danger Island was the last of the Fox Mr. Moto's to be filmed, although not the last to be released, and it's clear that Fox were losing confidence in the series. The seventh film, Mr Moto Takes A Vacation [DVD] [1939
], had been pushed back after previewing badly and it's obvious that the studio downgraded the budget on this entry accordingly - this is the first film in the series to really look like a B-movie. It's also very clear that, like Mr. Moto's Gamble, this was originally intended as a Charlie Chan film. This time the discarded script, Charlie Chan in Trinidad, has been given much more of a rewrite to play to some of Moto's strengths and incorporate more physical action that you could never imagine Warner Oland or Sidney Toler indulging in, but while it allows Lorre some impish black humor it makes him a much more benign and less mysterious figure - no hidden agenda or ruthless killing here, nor any disguises for that matter. It also follows on from Gamble's lead by giving him a comic sidekick, with Warren Hymer's amiable luggish wrestler, who tags along because he thinks being a `defective' will `break the monopoly,' clearly modelled on Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom's punchdrunk boxer in the earlier film.
Yet if it's more Chan than Moto, it's still a rather enjoyable if undemanding yarn, with Moto in Puerto Rico on the trail of diamond smugglers and faced with no shortage of sinister types with their own agendas, from the obviously devious Douglas Dumbrille to the more suspiciously benign Jean Hersholt via the officiously professional Leon Ames, as well as the odd attempt on his life by machinegun and bathtub. Lorre may have tired of the constraints of the series offscreen, but onscreen he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself while Hymer is a surprisingly endearing foil (in a part filled with the much of the same kind of wordplay that would later be given to Mantan Moreland in the later Sidney Toler Charlie Chan films and used as evidence of that series' alleged racism). Looking at the easy onscreen chemistry between them it's hard to believe that at the time Lorre was battling morphine addiction and Hymer's drinking problems would soon bring his career and, indeed his life to an early end. In many ways it's almost as if Hymer and Ward Bond, who appears unbilled as another wrestler in the opening scene, swapped careers, with Hymer disappearing into unbilled bit parts and Bond graduating to character roles.