Mr. Moto Collection, Vol. 2

 

Mr. Moto's Gamble (1938)      Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939)
Mr. Moto in Danger Island (1939)     Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939)
 

 

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.

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

 

 


 

Mr. Moto's Gamble
Stars Peter Lorre, Keye Luke, Dick Baldwin, Lynn Bari, Douglas Fowley
Directors: James Tinling
Theatrical Release Date: April 7, 1938
Synopsis - Mr. Moto must discover who poisoned a fighter in the boxing ring. This movie began as "Charlie Chan at the Ringside," but Warner Oland died during the filming so it was switched to a Mr. Moto.

Mr. Moto's Last Warning
Stars Peter Lorre, Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Field, John Carradine, George Sanders
Directors: Norman Foster
Theatrical Release Date: January 20, 1939
Synopsis - A Japanese man claiming to be Mr Moto, of the International Police, is abducted and murdered soon after disembarking from a ship at Port Said in Egypt. The real Mr Moto is already in Port Said, investigating a conspiracy against the British and French governments. The dead man was his colleague, impersonating him to throw the conspirators off his scent. Mr Moto recognises one of the conspirators as a British Secret Service agent, and together they discover that the gang have mined the harbour in preparation for the arrival of the French fleet. Their aim is to throw the blame onto the British, which may start a second World War.

Mr. Moto in Danger Island
Stars Peter Lorre, Warren Hymer, Amanda Duff, Charles D. Brown, Robert Lowery
Directors: Herbert I. Leeds
Theatrical Release Date: April 7, 1939
Plot - Outline the U.S. government asks Mr. Moto to go to Puerto Rico to investigate diamond smuggling after an earlier investigator is murdered.

Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation
Stars Peter Lorre, Joseph Schildkraut, Lionel Atwill, Virginia Field, John 'Dusty' King
Directors: Norman Foster
Theatrical Release Date: July 7, 1939
Synopsis - A young and handsome archaeologist discovers the crown of the Queen of Sheba, and returns with it to a New York museum where it is put on display. Its safety is in doubt as many criminals want the crown - a New York gangster and his cohorts, and a super criminal known as Metaxa. Mr. Moto is forced to postpone his vacation while he deals with the threat.

Posters

Theatrical Releases: April 1938 - July 1939

  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 60-75 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:

  •  Mr. Moto's Gamble
    Mr. Moto Meets Mr. Chan - The Making of Mr. Moto's Gamble
    Restoration Comparison
    Theatrical Trailers
    • Mr. Moto's Last Warning
    Mr. Moto's Creator - the Late John P. Marquand
    Restoration Comparison
    Theatrical Trailers
    • Mr. Moto in Danger Island
    Meet Mr. Moto
    Restoration Comparison

  • Theatrical Trailers
    Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation
    The Return of Mr. Moto

  • Moto Is Missing
    Restoration Comparison

  • Theatrical Trailers


DVD Release Date: February 13th, 2007

4 Keep Cases inside a cardboard box
Chapters: 20 X 4 = 80

 

 

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 2.

All DVDs are single-layered except Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation, which is dual, as it includes the hour+ long "The Return of Mr. Moto".

This sure was an interesting time in Hollywood - a successfully transformed Hungarian actor adequately portraying a Japanese detective. This DVD collection represents the third, sixth, seventh and eighth (final) entries, along with Volume 1 completing Mr. Moto film series. 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 Vol 1 ones and look about as good as I was anticipating. Mr. Moto's Last Warning may look the best but all are pretty consistent - progressive with fairly good contrast. There is visible digital noise/faux grain, minimal dirt, but neither are excessive - especially considering these films are bordering on being 70 years old. My favorite this time around was Mr. Moto in Danger Island - with its great atmosphere.

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. Like in Volume 1 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 acceptable with an informative featurette offered for each individual disc. Although it can't touch the originals I still enjoyed the 1965 The Return of Mr. Moto (with Henry Silva as Moto) and its optional commentary by the lead actor, although it is not exemplary as far as commentaries go. There are also restoration demonstrations (split screen) and trailers.

Overall I find these Moto films are just as enjoyable as his more famous counterpart - the wonderful Charlie Chan offerings. I appreciate Fox bringing this entire series out digitally. This is highly entertaining vintage cinema, beautifully packaged and reasonably priced (about $10/film) - If I get in the right mood and  I could watch them all day - I often feel Lorre was underrated - we recommend! 
 

Gary W. Tooze




DVD Menus


Special Features :


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

Mr. Moto's Gamble

Stars Peter Lorre, Keye Luke, Dick Baldwin, Lynn Bari, Douglas Fowley

Directors: James Tinling
 

 


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Mr. Moto's Last Warning


Stars Peter Lorre, Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Field, John Carradine, George Sanders


Directors: Norman Foster

 

 


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Mr. Moto in Danger Island


Stars Peter Lorre, Warren Hymer, Amanda Duff, Charles D. Brown, Robert Lowery


Directors: Herbert I. Leeds

 

 


Keep Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation


Stars Peter Lorre, Joseph Schildkraut, Lionel Atwill, Virginia Field, John 'Dusty' King


Directors: Norman Foster

 

 


 

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution 20th Century Fox - Region 1 - NTSC




 

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