Mr. Moto Collection, Vol. 1

 

Think Fast, Mr. Moto        Thank You, Mr. Moto    

Mr. Moto Takes a Chance      Mysterious Mr. Moto

 

In the realm of filmdom, Mr. Moto is no ordinary detective. He is short, relatively unattractive, and has a personal interest in the business of importing rare goods. His drink of choice is far removed from James Bond’s preference for martinis--Moto frequently chooses to imbibe a tall glass of milk. Still, behind the quiet demeanor and gentlemanly manners lies a quick-thinking spy with ninja-like agility and a flair for hand-to-hand combat. Even the guilt of murder has very little weight in his mind. Moto is a master of disguise and can cleverly manipulate even the most intelligent persons.

Writer J.P. Marquand, a columnist at The Saturday Evening Post, is responsible for creating Mr. Moto. Marquand, who was under orders to write mystery stories with an Asian hero, rather forcibly conceived the character. In light of the recent death of Charlie Chan author, Earl Biggers, Marquand was sent to Asia to gather background to form a series of stories. While in Asia, he encountered a short Japanese detective who would later become the inspiration for Moto. Marquand translated his original idea into several novels and their popularity quickly inspired the film adaptations. It’s widely considered that the books are superior to the films, but when the films first went into production, they were hardly one of Fox studio’s priorities and were assigned to a B-movie producer, Sol Wurtzel, to handle. The films may have much higher production values than the B-movie label suggests, but the series never fails to follow the formulaic structure that Wurtzel utilized regularly. Although Wurtzel is easily one of the lesser-known film moguls--largely because he stood in the shadows of William Fox and Fox’s predecessor, Darryl F. Zanuck--his B-movie unit consistently made a profit for Twentieth Century Fox, and the Moto films were amongst his finest achievements.

Wurtzel wisely recruited Norman Foster to direct the first film in the series, “Think Fast, Mr. Moto” (1937). Foster, an actor turned aspiring director, knew he had to pay his dues on lesser films before he could take on the responsibility of more substantial projects. In an effort to impress his superiors, Foster eagerly offered to share writing duties, which can be a particularly beneficial experience for an unproven director. Foster naively accepted the offer to direct the film without considering the possibility that the first film’s success might encourage the eventual formation of a series. Had he known that eight films would be eventually produced (five of which would have him in the director’s chair), Foster might have been less likely to sign up for such a project.

Of all the decisions Wurtzel made, assigning Peter Lorre to the role of Mr. Moto was likely his most informed. Originally, Foster wanted to abandon typical Hollywood procedures and hire a Japanese actor for the role of Moto, but once he was offered the chance to work with Lorre, he immediately accepted. Wurtzel and his superiors were also satisfied with the decision; Lorre had been signed to a contract but was underutilized because casting directors were rarely aware of Lorre’s range and versatility. In the years leading up to his first Moto film, Lorre was searching for a change of pace, which was his original reasoning for signing with Twentieth Century Fox.

Lorre’ mesmerizing performance in Fritz Lang’s masterful “M” (1931) was one of the many reasons for the film’s tremendous critical success. Unfortunately, instead of amassing a legion of fans, the public hated Lorre solely because of the character he portrayed onscreen. In a situation where an actor suddenly withdraws from his profession, one would usually question the actor’s talent. However, in Lorre’s case, his performance was so in tune with his character that the public had difficulty distinguishing between the two. Lorre didn’t just provide an impressive performance; it was his physical appearance that allowed him to fully realize his role. Lorre had an innocent and younger looking facial structure in his 20s, but simultaneously, he could appear dark and suspicious. These qualities were particularly important in playing a child murderer, and they’re specifically what attracted Lang to Lorre. Since Lorre and his character, Hans Beckert, had merged as one in the public’s eye, he was ridiculed in the streets and occasionally assaulted for the actions of his character. Lorre would tough it out for a few more years, but eventually Alfred Hitchcock gave him his ticket out of Europe by casting him as the villain in “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934). Still, it was evident that Lorre was dangerously typecast, and he became adamant in attempting to re-define his acting ability. The last thing Lorre needed was his name to become synonymous with another new character, but that’s precisely what happened over the course of eight Mr. Moto films.

In one of my favorite moments in the series, the character of Marty (Robert Kent) in “Mr. Moto Takes a Chance” remarks [after seeing Mr. Moto], “If I were making a horror movie, I’d cast him as the murderer.” I’m possibly reading into the expression far more than one should, but the dual meaning of the dialogue provokes a resounding feeling of finality in reference to Lorre’s career. Obviously, Joe is referring to the suspicious nature of Mr. Moto, but I have a hunch that the screenwriters were also commenting on Lorre’s inability to escape typecast roles and particularly referring to his part in “M.” It’s quite ironic that the character Lorre notoriously resented had perhaps the most similarities to his own life. From what I’ve heard, Lorre was an intelligent and mannerly person and clearly, his profession exhibited violent and corrupt alter-egos--the two sides to Moto.

Although neither director nor star were particularly fond of the Moto films, it’s rather difficult to deny that the series was quite popular during the time of the original releases. Once the series was terminated, important opportunities lay ahead for both Foster and Lorre, but whether the Moto films were responsible is debatable. Lorre dreaded the association he had with the character but went on to provide Hollywood with some of the most legendary supporting performances. Amongst his finest are those of Joel Cairo in the landmark noir, “The Maltese Falcon,” and Ugarte in Michael Curtiz’s classic “Casablanca” (1941). Foster eventually had the good fortune of directing more illustrious projects including three additions to the Charlie Chan series--Moto’s better-known counterpart. Perhaps the two talented men hardly recognized it at the time, but they’re largely responsible for the establishing the benchmark for the present spy/detective genre (i.e. James Bond and Indiana Jones)--a reasonably impressive achievement.

Kurtis J. Beard
 


Titles

 

 


 

Synopses:

 

Think Fast, Mr. Moto
Mr Moto encounters mysterious goings-on on a ship bound for Shanghai. He recognises his steward as the murderer of a man in San Francisco, and catches him trying to steal an important letter from the stateroom of another passenger, Robert Hitchings. Hitchings, son of the owner of the shipping line, falls in love with Gloria, who refuses to tell him anything about her life and disappears when they arrive in Shanghai. In Shanghai, Mr Moto uncovers the secret which links the murder in San Francisco, the mysterious letter, and Gloria.

Thank You, Mr. Moto
Mr Moto competes with a gang of ruthless treasure-hunters for possession of seven scrolls which, when brought together, form a map which reveals the location of the tomb of Genghis Khan, reputed to contain fabulous treasure. Moto already has one scroll, but the rest are owned by Prince Chung and his mother, who consider it a sacred duty to their ancestors to protect the scrolls and the secret of the Khan's tomb.

Mr. Moto Takes a Chance
Beautiful aviatrix Victoria Mason teams up with Mr. Moto in South East Asia to uncover a murderous village high priest who is trying to overthrow the ruling Rajah Ali.

Mysterious Mr. Moto
Mr. Moto has himself imprisoned on Devil's Island so he can help his cellmate (Ames) escape and thereby get the goods on a gang of international killers..

Posters

Theatrical Releases: July 1937 - October 1938

  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: 20th Century Fox (4-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

   

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Distribution 20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC
Time: Films are between 60-70 minutes each. Extras add more.
Audio English (original mono) English (2.0 stereo)
Subtitles English, Spanish, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Aspect Ratio:
All Original Aspect Ratios - 1.33 

Edition Details:

  • • Think Fast, Mr. Moto
    The Dean of Hollywood - A Conversation With Harvey Parry
    Restoration Comparison
    Theatrical Trailers
    • Thank You, Mr. Moto
    Sol Wertzel - the Forgotten Mogul
    Restoration Comparison
    Theatrical Trailers
    • Mr. Moto Takes a Chance
    The Mysterious Mr. Lorre
    Restoration Comparison
    Mysterious Mr. Moto
    Directed by Norman Foster
    Restoration Comparison


DVD Release Date: August 1st, 2006

4 Keep Cases inside a cardboard box
Chapters: 16 X 4 = 64

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: Although the 4 main features of this boxset are housed in individual vintage art keep cases (see images below) they are not sold separately at this time and can only be obtained in the Fox Mr. Moto Collection, Volume 1.

This sure was a unique time in Hollywood - a successfully transformed Hungarian actor adequately portraying a Japanese detective. This DVD collection represents the first, second, fourth and fifth entries of the eight Mr. Moto film series. We can assume that Volume 2 will contain the omissions. Fox spent over $2 million restoring all of their Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto films. These prints were not in as bad a shape as the Chan ones and look quite good. Mr. Moto Takes a Chance is the best looking of the lot but none are excessively poor and overall they share some decent consistency. There is visible digital noise/faux grain, minimal dirt, but neither are excessive - especially considering these films are bordering on being 70 years old.

The sound is obviously not state of the art but dialogue is clear and quite audible. An option for original mono or 2.0 channel stereo is offered. The stereo did sound marginally superior to my ear.

I'm not a fan or the color yellow for the optional subtitles which are offered for both English and Spanish.

Supplements are adequate with a featurette offered for each individual film. I was keen on the Harvey Parry and Sol Wertzel information. There are also restoration demonstrations (split screen) and trailers.

Overall these Moto films are just as enjoyable as his more famous counterpart - the wonderful
Charlie Chan offerings - just in better condition. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long for the second box-set. This is highly enjoyable vintage cinema, beautifully packaged and reasonably priced - we recommend!   

Gary W. Tooze

 





DVD Menus


Special Features :


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Think Fast, Mr. Moto USA 1937


Starring Peter Lorre, Lee Phelps, Virginia Field and Thomas Beck

 

 


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Thank You. Mr. Moto USA 1937


Starring Peter Lorre, Thomas Beck, Pauline Frederick and Jayne Regan

 

 

 


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Mr. Moto Takes a Chance USA 1938


Starring Peter Lorre, Rochelle Hudson, Robert Kent, J. Edward Bromberg and Chick Chandler

 

 


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Mysterious Mr. Moto  USA 1938


Starring Peter Lorre, Mary Maguire, Henry Wilcoxon, Erik Rhodes, Harold Huber and Leon Ames

 

 


 

DVD Box Cover

   

CLICK to order from:

Distribution 20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC




 

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Gary Tooze

Mississauga, Ontario,

   CANADA

Thank You!