International Man of Mystery
In one of the documentaries that is a bonus feature to the Mr. Moto collections, the core difference between the two famous oriental detectives, Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto, is set out plainly. Charlie Chan, a member of the Honolulu police department, is one of us. His speech patterns and aphorisms aside, he is an American who fights for the American ideals. Mr. Moto, on the other hand, is not. The Japanese detective works for an ill-defined “International Police” agency, and is a dangerous figure representing interests and ideals that are truly foreign. He is “the other”, who does not work in the best interest of America, but only in the interests of justice.
To me, this is what makes Mr. Moto more compelling than Charlie Chan. Mr. Moto is not kind or sweet, and his intelligence is as deadly a weapon in his arsenal as his judo prowess. Unassuming and seemingly harmless, no matter what happens you can be assured that Mr. Moto has something up his sleeve and will always come out on top, even if he has to traipse over bodies to get there.
This “Mr. Moto Collection, vol 1”, contains four of the eight Peter Lorre Mr. Moto films, released between 1937 and 1939. They are not in order, and this set has the first, second, fourth and fifth films. The remainder can be found on Mr. Moto Collection vol 2.
Think Fast Mr. Moto – The first film, directed by Norman Foster, sets the tone of the series, and is one of the best. Mr. Moto is a truly weird and dangerous character, who flings a man off a ship to his death without batting an eye. He battles an international smuggling operation out of Shanghai.
Thank You Mr. Moto – The second film, also by Foster, takes Mr. Moto to China in pursuit of a scroll painting that holds a secret map to the lost grave of Genghis Khan.
Mr. Moto Takes A Chance– The fourth film, again Foster, is a bit sillier as Mr. Moto goes on a jungle adventure in kingdom of Tong Moi in French Indochina. This one is pure pulp action of the kind that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was based on.
Mysterious Mr. Moto – The fifth film, and another Foster, gets Mr. Moto back into a familiar groove as he heads to London to confront an international League of Assassins.
The Mr. Moto film series are all b-movies, meaning that they were filmed using available sets from other movies in production at the time, and where cranked out at a steady pace. Like the James Bond film series, some are based on the original novels by John P. Marquand and some are stories created just for the film series. They catapulted Hungarian actor Peter Lorre from bit player to stardom. Although he feared the typecasting faced by Chan actor Warner Oland, this never happened and today Lorre is much better known for his roles in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon than his humble roots as Japanese detective Kentaro Moto.
This is a fantastic collection of these almost-forgotten films. My only complaint is that, as each Mr. Moto film is quite short and rarely runs longer than an hour, there is no real need for four individual DVDs. They could have saved space by packaging them on two DVDs, in a double-disk container. It is nice having the original poster art for each disk, but the collection takes up way to much space on my shelf for the contents.