The Mr. Moto Collection, Vol. 1

With this new box set, 20th Century Fox presents four films featuring one of their exotic oriental investigators one favoured in pre-war movie houses. This masterfully constructed piece of early detective cinema took its hero and some storylines from the serialised novels of John P. Marquand. Protagonist Mr. Moto is an importer-exporter and member of an International Policing Agency who often takes advantage of Westerners’ ignorant assumptions about the Japanese to get privileged information and lure his enemies into traps. Always accompanied by a young love (in the form of youthful Americans), Moto manipulates dangerous situations to amicable conclusions, punishing those who would seek to undermine trade practices. The strongest film featured in the collection is Thank You, Mr. Moto, which finds the importer-investigator in China racing against a gang of thieves to plunder the tomb of Genghis Khan. The taunting neutrality of Marquand’s serials became less apparent with each adaptation. Thank You begins with Moto as an antihero — charming but suspect — killing the host of a dinner party in the opening minutes and making it look like suicide. In its final act, Moto succumbs to honour and sheds the antihero image, becoming virtuous in the interest of vengeance. Other entries, notably The Mysterious Mr. Moto‚ elaborate little as to the importer’s involvement (aside from the predictable "smuggler” label that each enemy ultimately bears, thanks to Moto’s practice of import-export ethics). Peter Lorre played Moto for the course of eight films. The series was discontinued after American-Japanese relations fell apart. The supporting players, like Lorre, are familiar Fox faces — both Thomas Beck and Sig Ruman play multiple characters in the first two Moto films. An unsuccessful 1965 revival found the sharp-featured Henry Silva as Moto, and since then, there have been no efforts to produce Moto films. This is perhaps due to contemporary misapprehensions that the source material is racist propaganda — bear in mind that the Moto Universe is progressive in its punishment of stateside bigots. The internationality of these productions may best be exemplified by the premiere appearance of Lorre’s Moto: in front of a mirror, a Manchurian Lorre peels off his face, becoming the German Lorre, who then applies makeup to become the Japanese Lorre. The four-disc features a restoration comparison (the care put into cleaning up these films is exceptional), featurettes on Lorre, director Norman Foster, producer Sol Wetzel and Lorre’s stuntman, Harvey Parry. (Fox)