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.
When Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation was finally released, it marked the end of the Lorre series. Profits were way down, Lorre was increasingly unhappy with the films and anti-Japanese sentiment in America sealed its fate long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sadly it's hard to argue with the critics and preview audiences whose bad response led to this being shelved for nine months until the subsequently shot Mr Moto In Danger Island [DVD] [1939
] (which reuses a couple of minor elements from the plot and also briefly featured an unbilled Willie Best) was released: while Norman Foster's direction is often atmospheric and the production values are impressive, even at 63 minutes this gets to be a chore with its emphasis on the comic relief over the plot and nominal main character. Moto doesn't get to do a great deal this time out, with far too much of the screen time being given instead to the exponentially tiresome George P. Huntley Jr. as a silly ass Englishman. First introduced in fancy dress blackface sitting next to a Hungarian actor playing a Japanese detective in an image that will have the politically correct spitting their coffee across the room, he's clearly intended to be a likeable idiot along the lines of Robert Coote in Mr. Moto's Last Warning but simply comes across as a deeply irritating little tit you keep on hoping forlornly will get killed. Unfortunately, though so many of those innocents who crossed Moto's path did just that in earlier films, he leads a depressingly charmed life. Even a better actor would have had trouble making a character this idiotic play, but Huntley is just hopeless.
The plot itself is serviceable, with Moto hired to protect the newly discovered crown of the Queen of Sheba in the hope of finally catching a presumed dead master criminal and master of disguise who wants to steal it (somewhat bizarrely, Moto is actually hired before anyone discovers anything to protect!). Complicating matters is the fact that several other competing gangs of crooks are after it too, and most of them want Moto dead. Among the suspects are Lionel Atwill's museum director with a thing for snappy ties and hep talk in the delusion they make him look younger ("What a great big zany I am!"), Joseph Schildkraut's cantankerous donor who looks uncannily like Harold Gould and the usual thinly developed romantic leads and red herrings. On the plus side Charles Clarke's cinematography is excellent as is Bernard Herzbrun and Haldane Douglas' design and there's a rather neat bit of stuntwork in an escape over several rooftops, but you can't help feeling they're wasted, in no small part due to Huntley's unwelcome and persistant presence.