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NORMAN FOSTER'S FIRST TWO PETER LORRE 'MR. MOTTO' FILMS

year: 1937 cast: Peter Lorre, Virginia Field, Thomas Beck rating: ***1/2
THINK FAST, MR. MOTO: Peter Lorre is Mr. Moto, a Japanese secret agent who's both underrated and unappreciated... But he'll surprise you with a karate kick sending non-believers flying across the room.

Here we begin with Moto in street peddler disguise, including a pointy beard and ragged clothing. He clumsily meanders into a store to sell a rug, and then a diamond, to an impatient proprietor who’s got a dead body semi-hidden in a wicker basket. This brings Moto on board a big ship where an important letter to a rich man’s son, Bob, has been stolen and replaced.
Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto in THINK FAST MR MOTO
There’s a plot hidden somewhere, having to do with smuggling diamonds to and from San Francisco. The best parts – when Moto’s not tailing and/or protecting the naïve square jawed Bob aboard the ocean liner – takes place in notorious Shanghai where our resilient hero turns tables at a fancy nightclub.

Peter Lorre is always fun to watch and this character is a real treat, hiding his Ace until each pivotal moment arises. But is this Motto guy a Charlie Chan rip-off? Perhaps so... yet there’s far more action in this series and, like many cinematic mysteries before and after, we’re never burdened with too many clues surrounding a convoluted maze directed by Norman Foster, an Orson Welles Mercury member who'd later helm the sea-faring JOURNEY INTO FEAR and here providing a suspenseful element at both land and sea, moving the camera around enough to make this more than a wordy melodrama but an adventure that continuously pays off.
year: 1937 cast: Peter Lorre, Sidney Blackmer, Thomas Beck rating: ***
THANK YOU, MR. MOTO: Now in the second adventure, to further understand our resilient Japanese hero, let us quote Thomas Beck’s returning milquetoast Mr. Tom, who, in a nightclub, when asked by a lady about that gentlemen who just strolled in, replies: “His name’s Moto: adventurer, explorer, soldier of fortune, one of the Orient's mysteries… Nobody knows very much about him except that whenever he shows up, something usually happens.”

Peter Lorre’s Mr. Moto takes us back overseas where a missing scroll is all that’s needed to make several other scrolls, when connected, provide the location of Genghis Khan’s tomb, bearing more than the famous conqueror's dusty old bones: there's an immense treasure buried within.
Peter Lorre as Mr. Motto in THANK YOU, MR MOTO
Moto sneaks around the city streets, eventually discovering the main scroll was stolen by a maverick antique collector played by John Carradine, who, like many of the characters… including Japanese royalty… are targets of nefarious fortune hunter Sidney Blackmer (who would later worship Satan and claim to have visited every city on earth in ROSEMARY'S BABY) and his conniving moll who want the scrolls and treasure for themselves.

The first half works the best: the mystery opens up onto several shootouts and a handing-off of clues, taking Moto from one dangerous situation to the next. Yet the pace slows at the 11th hour when the characters meet inside a ship within a fog shrouded port (resembling director/cowriter Norman Foster's JOURNEY INTO FEAR), where Moto plays mind games with the villainous couple, resulting in a somewhat anticlimactic showdown. But what makes THANK YOU, MR. MOTO unique and special to the series is his patriotism for Japan, shown in a seemingly illogical decision (in monetary terms) at the film's conclusion, providing the character a bit more depth than we've seen thus far.
Peter Lorre as Mr. Motto in THANK YOU, MR MOTO
Peter Lorre as Mr. Motto in THANK YOU, MR MOTO
Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto in THINK FAST MR MOTO
Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto in THINK FAST MR MOTO
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