Forgotten even in its day, 1938's "Gambling Ship" is said to be a Universal Crime Club production, but there is no symbol accompanying the opening credits (producer Irving Starr is aboard, however, and screenwriter Alex Gottlieb also scripted 1939's "Mystery of the White Room"). Steve Riley (Selmer Jackson) runs the gambling ship Casino Del Mar, famous for guaranteeing honesty, which he needs to help the debt-ridden orphanage founded by his late wife. The Professor (Irving Pichel) really is a former college mathematician, who seeks to buy Riley's floating casino to add to his menagerie of crooked gambling dens, his main henchman, Innocent (Edward S. Brophy), the brunt of many humorous barbs. Refusing to sell out, Riley gets blown up in a mysterious explosion, leaving his daughter Mollie (Helen Mack) to carry on in his stead on behalf of the orphanage. Enter Larry Mitchell (Robert Wilcox), a smooth talking cad working for the Professor, who helps set Mollie up for a rough fall, using her own gambling tables against her. Based on a story called "Lady Luck," things are never quite what they seem to be, making this long unseen programmer more interesting than usual, though in the end unremarkable. Beautiful and underrated Helen Mack ("The Son of Kong") soon played another spunky lead in 1939's "Mystery of the White Room" (retiring prematurely in 1945), and Irving Pichel, part time actor/director, does well with the soft-spoken, yet quite ruthless Professor. Robert Wilcox didn't have much of a career, with only a half dozen titles after 1940, but he did appear with Boris Karloff in 1939's "The Man They Could Not Hang," and with Peter Lorre in 1940's "Island of Doomed Men," remaining best known for his five year marriage to Diana Barrymore, which ended with his untimely death in 1955.
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