DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
THANK YOU, MR. MOTO (director/writer: Norman Foster; screenwriter: from the novel by John P. Marquand/Willis Cooper; cinematographer: Virgil Miller; editors: Nick DeMaggio/Irene Morra; cast: Peter Lorre (Mr. Kentaro Moto), Thomas Beck (Tom Nelson), Pauline Frederick (Madame Chung), Jayne Regan (Eleanor Joyce), Sidney Blackmer (Herr Koerger), Sig Ruman (Colonel Tchernov), John Carradine (Periera), Wilhelm Von Brincken (Schneider), Nedda Harrigan (Madame Tchernov), Philip Ahn (Prince Chung), John Bleifer (Ivan), Charles Stevens (Ning), Chester Gan (Wing, Moto's Servant); Runtime: 67; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol M. Wurtzel; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1937)

 
"What it has going for it in jade, is the sly and quirky performance by Peter Lorre."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the second of eight 1930s films based on J. P. Marquand's refined and worldly Japanese detective. Mr. Moto began when serialized by Marquand in the Saturday Evening Post. It's crudely written for the film by Willis Cooper and actor-turned writer/director Norman Foster ("Think Fast, Mr. Moto"/"Journey into Fear "/"Fair Warning"), the ex-husband of Claudette Colbert. It was a distant rival to the more popular Charlie Chan series. What it has going for it in jade, is the sly and quirky performance by Peter Lorre who appeared in all the episodes. Lorre, born in Austria-Hungary, makes this hokum entertaining by playing an Oriental with such verve as he dons a yellow face and wears steel-rimmed glasses. The series ended in the late 1930s when anti-Japanese feelings vibrated across America because of their growing aggression and Lorre opted out of his contract because he was not satisfied any more with this stagnant B-film role. Mr. Moto is a soldier of fortune, posing as an importer and working as a hobby as a member of the international police. The sophisticated soft spoken detective doesn't mind killing, acting physical, showing off his prowess in the martial arts or talking in many of the languages he's fluent in. As an odd quirk, he prefers milk over booze.

While Moto is disguised in the Great Gobi Desert as a peasant in a camel caravan, a Mongolian named Ning tries to kill him to obtain the ancient treasured scroll he's trying to smuggle into Peiping. Moto escapes from the assassin and the police at the border crossing to go to his room in the Grand Hotel and change back to his civilian clothes. Next Moto attends a garden party given by the unscrupulous Colonel Tchernov (Sig Ruman) in honor of the American Eleanor Joyce (Jayne Regan), the attractive daughter of a famous importer visiting China to write about its ancient art. There Moto learns that the last remaining members of a traditional Chinese clan, the imperious Madame Chung (Pauline Frederick) and her obedient son Prince Chung (Philip Ahn), have in their possession six of seven scrolls, which when put together reveal the secret hiding place of Genghis Khan's treasure. When Prince Chung refuses to sell to Colonel Tchernov his scrolls, a gun is pulled on him and Moto kills the colonel with a knife before he can kill Chung and then makes it look like a suicide. In gratitude to Moto for saving his life, the prince shows Moto the scrolls he keeps hidden in his house that reveal the map to the great treasure in the hidden tomb of Ghengis Khan. A sixth scroll is hidden in the Gobi desert, the one that Moto smuggled into the country, and the seventh was stolen from a museum exhibition lent to them by the Chungs. Madame Chung gives Moto the boot, telling him that it is their family duty to see that the tomb is not despoiled.

Moto soon tracks down that slimy antique dealer, Pieriera (John Carradine), who stole the seventh scroll from the museum, but he's shot before he can tell Moto who hired him for the job. Moto tricks an assassin (Wilhelm Von Brincken) sent to kill him into believing he killed Moto and stole from him the missing sixth scroll, and then follows him to Madame Tchernov's (Nedda Harrigan) house, and there the villainous butler (John Bleifer) knocks Moto unconscious and kidnaps Eleanor. With the help of Eleanor's American diplomat boyfriend Tom Nelson (Thomas Beck), Moto recovers and returns to Chung's house to find Madame Chung killed by the villains (later Prince Chung kills himself for dishonoring his relatives) and the scrolls gone. But Moto races to the river spot where the thieves, led by Madame Tchernov's boyfriend Herr Koerger (Sidney Blackmer), board a junk and he captures them after a brief struggle. Moto also burns all seven scrolls as a precaution so that they won't again fall into the hands of criminals. We never learn who Moto is working for, but are satisfied that he's on the side of good despite the murders he commits.

Of note, the heavily morphine addicted Lorre, suffering from great health problems, could hardly move and therefore his stunt double Harvey Parry did all his stunts.

REVIEWED ON 6/11/2008        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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