Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Last Vacation

Jadin Wong died recently, March 30, 2010 at age 96. In the 30s and 40s, she was famous as a dancer in the Forbidden City, a nightclub in San Francisco's Chinatown. She was a beautiful woman and a fine dancer, and she appears in Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation.

If you aren't familiar with Mr. Moto, this series is something of a Charlie Chan rip off, with Peter Lorre playing the Japanese detective Mr. Moto. The character comes from a series of novels by John Marquand, known for the more serious work The Late George Appley. The movie series is more light-hearted and adventurous than Charlie Chan. Action and intrigue is more important than detection, and comic relief is always close at hand. Lorre's Moto is oh-so polite, suave and a master of jiu-jitsu and disguise. Of course, the Austro-Hungarian Lorre isn't very Japanese, but he's more Japanese than Warner Oland/Sidney Toler were Chinese.

When asked how he got through the Mr. Moto series, Lorre reportedly answered "Morphine." Sorry, Peter, we like them. Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation was the last of the series (of 7), so he could relax a little.

This one involves some nonsense with the Queen of Sheba's jewels in a San Francisco museum. We get no detectable SF locations, some silly backlot Chinatown, archeologists and curators, socialites, a comic relief Englishman, and Willie Best, in a Stepin-Fetchit-type cameo. Yes, there's a touch of racism, including blackface on top of Lorre's yellowface. One must make allowances.

We also get to see Jadin Wong dancing in a Chinese restaurant. She appears in about 3 shots in one scene, mostly obscured behind a waiter. So watching Vacation to see her is a waste of time. But not if you like Mr. Moto.

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