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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kentaro Moto versus Joanie Weston...a tough choice, but I'll bet on Joanie
By now the Mr. Moto series has settled for the most part into the standard low budget conventions of minimal investment by the studio in the hope of maximum return. Kentaro Moto is still interesting, a combination of politeness, a clever mind and violence. Peter Lorre makes him worth watching, but Lorre, who resented being stuck in these programmers and not making much...
Published on 9 Jun. 2008 by C. O. DeRiemer

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I'm not afraid of a little Japanese dick!"
Created by author John P. Marquand as a replacement for Charlie Chan in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post after the death of author Earl Derr Biggers, Mr. Moto's screen incarnations have suffered a similar fate to that of his honorable predecessor. Rarely revived on television because of worries over political correctness - though as with Chan, Moto is always way...
Published on 27 Nov. 2011 by Trevor Willsmer


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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kentaro Moto versus Joanie Weston...a tough choice, but I'll bet on Joanie, 9 Jun. 2008
By 
C. O. DeRiemer (San Antonio, Texas, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Mr Moto Collection 2 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
By now the Mr. Moto series has settled for the most part into the standard low budget conventions of minimal investment by the studio in the hope of maximum return. Kentaro Moto is still interesting, a combination of politeness, a clever mind and violence. Peter Lorre makes him worth watching, but Lorre, who resented being stuck in these programmers and not making much money out of them, is just doing what he has to do. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing in a programmer if the plots were complicated, the dialogue displayed writing skill and the acting went beyond moustache twirling. That's not the case with some of these four.

Mr. Moto in Danger Island:
Moto is in Puerto Rico to crack a case of diamond smuggling. Cheap South American diamonds are flowing through Puerto Rica and flooding the world market. To catch the bad guys Moto will have to deal with a well-meaning governor, his blustery commissioner, assorted suspicious planters and shippers, and a swamp full of mud and quicksand. Mr. Moto in Danger Island is a B movie with a lazy plot, filled with flaccid clues and regularly punctuated by close-ups of one leading player looking suspiciously at another.

For a few old timers, however, Mr. Moto in Danger Island brings up memories of hard action, brutal tactics and a final score so closely fought only screaming can release the tension. If you can remember Dick Lane, who plays Commissioner Gordon in this movie, you'll know what I'm talking about. Lane played small parts in innumerable low-budget movies during the Thirties and Forties. He was always a big mouth, energetic blusterer. But in the Fifties he made his reputation as the voice of Roller Derby. For fans of Roller Derby's classic age, may his name be spoken with respect. He could do full justice describing the feats of such Roller Derby megastars as Ann "Banana Nose" Calvello, Midge "Toughie" Brasuhn, Charlie O'Connell and the great Blonde Bomber herself, Joanie Weston. Weston was something to see as she flew around the banked track, laying waste to anyone in her way. Said Frank Deford once, "She is not only the best skater, but she clearly looks the part as well. With her bleach-blonde pigtails flowing out from beneath her shiny black pivot helmet, Joanie appears like a brave Viking queen in full battle regalia."

Mr. Moto's Gamble:
"To reveal a snake, one must overturn a rock" is a bit of eastern zoological wisdom Mr. Moto shares with us in Mr. Moto's Gamble. Is this flabby philosopher the Kentaro Moto who works for a secret international organization devoted to bringing down the worst of crooks? Is this the man who spins and flattens bad guys with precision judo? Is this the man who kills criminals while smiling? No. He's Charlie Chan in disguise, and the new make-up doesn't do much for either of them.

When Warner Oland walked off the set a week into the production of Charlie Chan at the Fights with clearly no plans to return, the studio took the Chan script and simply substituted Kentaro Moto's name every time Chan was mentioned. Peter Lorre was under contract and was told to show up as Moto. The movie was made with scarcely a pause. The result was a corny programmer where a boxer dies in the ring because the deadly poison known as amarone was somehow sprayed onto his opponent's gloves. Peter Lorre may not seem exactly bored, but he doesn't seem especially involved, either.

Mr. Moto's Last Warning:
By now the Mr. Moto series was no more than the Saturday matinee filler Peter Lorre knew it would become. We're in Egypt and an unknown country is plotting to create an incident involving the Suez Canal that will have France and Britain at each other's throats. However, Kentaro Moto of the International Police has been working to expose this plot for weeks. Even so, Moto quickly finds he is alone. Every time he thinks he can call for assistance, death gets in the way. Finally, with only a foolish Englishman to help, Moto prevails and world peace is insured.

Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation:
The stars of Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation include Peter Lorre, of course, but also Norman Foster and Philip Macdonald. Foster returned to the Moto series to direct this last one. He also co-wrote the script in collaboration MacDonald, with whom he'd worked on several of the others. The difference, compared to the last couple of Moto movies, is striking. There's a faster-pace that even includes some irony. The photography is better, with artfully lit back alleys and threatening streets. Best of all, we're out of all that soggy quicksand and jungle temples from some of the other Moto movies. We're in San Francisco, where the sets look substantial and where even Chinatown restaurants can seem sinister.

Kentaro Moto is in San Francisco to protect the newly discovered Crown of Balkis, worn by the Queen of Sheba. It's on display in the Fremont Museum and Moto knows that the mysterious arch criminal, Metaxa, will be compelled to steal it. Moto is determined to catch the man. It all adds up to an effective, well-crafted, low budget programmer. Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation was the last in the series and probably few series programmers left on better terms with the audience.

The DVD transfers are just fine for the four films that make up The Mr. Moto Collection-Volume Two.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I'm not afraid of a little Japanese dick!", 27 Nov. 2011
By 
Trevor Willsmer (London, England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Mr Moto Collection 2 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
Created by author John P. Marquand as a replacement for Charlie Chan in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post after the death of author Earl Derr Biggers, Mr. Moto's screen incarnations have suffered a similar fate to that of his honorable predecessor. Rarely revived on television because of worries over political correctness - though as with Chan, Moto is always way ahead of the white characters - and long consigned to poor quality public domain video and DVD releases, Fox's lovingly restored second Region 1 NTSC boxed set finally allows a new generation the chance to see him in focus again. As with Volume One, the set follows neither production or release order exactly, though it does complete the series with four more Lorre films that saw the series moving closer to Charlie Chan territory and the much-disliked one-off attempt to revive the series in 1965 with Henry Silva. Overall it's a blander, less mysterious and much less ruthless Moto than the earlier films, but there's still a lot of entertainment to be had even if two of the five films here are distinctly below par.

The third film in the series to be released but the fourth to be produced, Mr. Moto's Gamble stars Peter Lorre as Charlie Chan - well, more or less. Originally intended as a Charlie Chan film with only minimal rewrites to accommodate the change of main character, who loses almost all of his original characteristics and darker edges to become a benign and bemused figure rather than a mysterious and deadly one. It even teams him up with Chan's Number One son Keye Luke, who is given a comic sidekick of his own in Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom's punch-drunk kleptomaniac would-be detective. (Furthering the connections, Harold Huber returns as the same character he played in Charlie Chan On Broadway.) Warner Oland may have disliked it, walking out on the picture twice in its original incarnation due to his mounting personal problems, but it's a pretty good yarn revolving around a death in the boxing ring, poisoned gloves and dubious big bets on long shots that remains very much a Chan film: where in the earlier films, Moto disguised himself, here you get the impression that Moto himself is just a disguise for Chan. There's virtually no action, plenty of aphorisms and none of the atmosphere of mystery and moral uncertainty, let along the distinctive look that director Norman Foster established with the earlier films, with Chan director James Tinling delivering a blander kind of studio professionalism. Ward Bond and Lon Chaney Jr. turn up among the supporting players, as do not one but two Perry Whites for the price of one - John Hamilton from the 50s Superman TV series and Pierre Watkin from the Columbia movie serials.

The DVD includes a featurette on the picture's progress from Charlie Chan at the Ringside to Mr. Moto's Gamble, dispelling a few myths along the way.

Mr. Moto's Last Warning is more of a spy story than a thriller, seeing him in Cairo trying to find out just how ventriloquist Ricardo Cortez and his gang, George Sanders and and a dapper John Carradine among them, plan to set Britain and France against each other during forthcoming naval manoeuvres in the Suez Canal. It's another handsomely produced entry in the series - a Fox B-movie could look better than a Universal A-movie - with our hero indulging his penchant for disguises, playing down to western prejudices to throw white characters off their balance and, when that fails, the odd bit of judo, though the stunt doubling is a lot more noticeable this time round. He also manages to get a couple of associates and allies needlessly killed (Moto actively preventing one from removing incriminating evidence that leads to his murder owes more to particularly clumsy writing than logic), though he seems a bit more bothered by this than he would have been at the series' start. Robert Coote's silly ass travel writer is also along for comic relief, spending much of the film looking like Harold Lloyd in a sailor suit, though he's often a welcome presence rather than a distraction even if his role is largely unnecessary beyond fulfilling the need to give our hero someone to rescue that's usually reserved for a damsel in distress. The film is rather let down by its weak and rather cheap looking ending but there's a nice little tribute to the then-recently departed Charlie Chan star Warner Oland on the playbill at the local cinema.

The DVD also includes a featurette on Mr. Moto's creator John P. Marquand, as well as the original trailer for this and several of the other films in the series.

Danger Island was the last of the Fox Mr. Moto's to be filmed, although not the last to be released, and it's clear that Fox were losing confidence in the series. The seventh film, Mr. Moto takes a Vacation, had been pushed back after previewing badly and it's obvious that the studio downgraded the budget on this entry accordingly - this is the first film in the series to really look like a B-movie. It's also very clear that, like Mr. Moto's Gamble, this was originally intended as a Charlie Chan film. This time the discarded script, Charlie Chan in Trinidad, has been given much more of a rewrite to play to some of Moto's strengths and incorporate more physical action that you could never imagine Warner Oland or Sidney Toler indulging in, but while it allows Lorre some impish black humor it makes him a much more benign and less mysterious figure - no hidden agenda or ruthless killing here, nor any disguises for that matter. It also follows on from Gamble's lead by giving him a comic sidekick, with Warren Hymer's amiable luggish wrestler, who tags along because he thinks being a `defective' will `break the monopoly,' clearly modelled on Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom's punchdrunk boxer in the earlier film.

Yet if it's more Chan than Moto, it's still a rather enjoyable if undemanding yarn, with Moto in Puerto Rico on the trail of diamond smugglers and faced with no shortage of sinister types with their own agendas, from the obviously devious Douglas Dumbrille to the more suspiciously benign Jean Hersholt via the officiously professional Leon Ames, as well as the odd attempt on his life by machinegun and bathtub. Lorre may have tired of the constraints of the series offscreen, but onscreen he seems to be genuinely enjoying himself while Hymer is a surprisingly endearing foil (in a part filled with the much of the same kind of wordplay that would later be given to Mantan Moreland in the later Sidney Toler Charlie Chan films and used as evidence of that series' alleged racism). Looking at the easy onscreen chemistry between them it's hard to believe that at the time Lorre was battling morphine addiction and Hymer's drinking problems would soon bring his career and, indeed his life to an early end. In many ways it's almost as if Hymer and Ward Bond, who appears unbilled as another wrestler in the opening scene, swapped careers, with Hymer disappearing into unbilled bit parts and Bond graduating to character roles.

The DVD includes a good featurette on the character of Moto and his evolution and journey from page to screen as well original trailers for several of the other films in the series.

When Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation was finally released, it marked the end of the Lorre series. Profits were way down, Lorre was increasingly unhappy with the films and anti-Japanese sentiment in America sealed its fate long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sadly it's hard to argue with the critics and preview audiences whose bad response led to this being shelved for nine months until Danger Island (which reuses a couple of minor elements from the plot and also briefly featured an unbilled Willie Best) was released: while Norman Foster's direction is often atmospheric and the production values are impressive, even at 63 minutes this gets to be a chore with its emphasis on the comic relief over the plot and nominal main character. Moto doesn't get to do a great deal this time out, with far too much of the screen time being given instead to the exponentially tiresome George P. Huntley Jr. as a silly ass Englishman. First introduced in fancy dress blackface sitting next to a Hungarian actor playing a Japanese detective in an image that will have the politically correct spitting their coffee across the room, he's clearly intended to be a likeable idiot along the lines of Robert Coote in Mr. Moto's Last Warning but simply comes across as a deeply irritating little tit you keep on hoping forlornly will get killed. Unfortunately, though so many of those innocents who crossed Moto's path did just that in earlier films, he leads a depressingly charmed life. Even a better actor would have had trouble making a character this idiotic play, but Huntley is just hopeless.

The plot itself is serviceable, with Moto hired to protect the newly discovered crown of the Queen of Sheba in the hope of finally catching a presumed dead master criminal and master of disguise who wants to steal it (somewhat bizarrely, Moto is actually hired before anyone discovers anything to protect!). Complicating matters is the fact that several other competing gangs of crooks are after it too, and most of them want Moto dead. Among the suspects are Lionel Atwill's museum director with a thing for snappy ties and hep talk in the delusion they make him look younger ("What a great big zany I am!"), Joseph Schildkraut's cantankerous donor who looks uncannily like Harold Gould and the usual thinly developed romantic leads and red herrings. On the plus side Charles Clarke's cinematography is excellent as is Bernard Herzbrun and Haldane Douglas' design and there's a rather neat bit of stuntwork in an escape over several rooftops, but you can't help feeling they're wasted, in no small part due to Huntley's unwelcome and persistant presence.

The DVD includes an interesting and enlightening featurette on America's and Japan's troubled relationship from the time American gunboats forcibly opened it for trade and set in motion the events that would lead to an increasingly militaristic Japan seeking an empire of its own, with writer Bruce C. McKenna giving a good overview of how this affected the portrayal of Mr. Moto. While it skirts over the contradiction of both the cinematic and literary Moto meeting their demise because they were seen as pro-Japanese only for the series to be later accused of anti-Japanese racial stereotyping, it does touch on the reasons than Moto was completely written out of Fox's 1957 adaptation of the Moto novel Stopover Tokyo (not included in this set but available separately) and the way his race became irrelevant in the 1965 quickie The Return of Mr. Moto. The latter is included as an extra, complete with commentary by star Henry Silva, and it's not surprising that it didn't spawn a new series.

The character can be seen as a kind of proto-James Bond, so it's not altogether surprising that that's the approach this quickie took - even the trailer emphasised the double `O's in his name. It also refers to him as `The swinging Chinese cat with nine hundred lives," although the film is much vaguer about his origins: referred to a couple of times as an `Oriental,' he has to disguise himself to pass as Japanese. But far from seeing the return of Marquand or Lorre's detective, this is just a guy called Moto going mechanically through the motions of the kind of low budget plot where most of the action takes place offscreen because it's so much cheaper to film people talking instead. After one rooftop action scene and a half-hearted attempt to run him over, when he's tied up in a weighted sack and thrown in the Thames the film doesn't even bother to show his escape, simply cutting to him sitting in his office in a dripping wet suit.

Like many British quota quickies made fast and cheap to play on the second half of double bills to fulfil UK cinemas then legal requirement to show a certain number of British films a year, it simply uses a once popular but now affordable screen character's name (here changed from Kentaro Moto to I.A. Moto for some reason) and an equally affordable American supporting player to get enough bookings to make a return on the evidently very modest investment. Yet the money is far less of a problem that the uninspired plotting and flat filmmaking: there's just enough mileage in the premise for a talented writer or director to have made something a bit more atmospheric and entertaining. Here Moto is an Interpol agent assigned to find out who is sabotaging oil wells in the Middle East just as an American oil company's leases are coming up for renewal, which, naturally, he does in a snowy London, or more specifically a handful of standing sets from other pictures - an office, an apartment, a country house and a belly dancing club on the Thames waterfront. The supporting cast is distinctly low wattage - a few familiar faces from the ranks of better films like Terence Longden and Marne Maitland (who gets the what passes for film's best line when he tells his cohorts "I suggest that we sit down and stop behaving like a United Nations Assembly"), professional Scouse git and future Prime Minister Tony Blair's father-in-law Tony Booth as a nervous hitman-cum-cabby, Suzanne Lloyd as the obligatory girl caught up in it all and Martin Wyldeck chewing the scenery as a former Nazi concentration camp guard ("In ze old days I heard the screams, like music of a happy, gay polka. Perhaps with you I make polka music."). Moto's not much good at his job here - no sooner has he been assigned to protect someone than they get killed - and neither is Silva, only briefly showing signs of life in a bemused scene in the aforementioned belly dancing club but generally phoning it in. But it's hard to blame him in a film this weak: as he notes in his audio commentary, it's the kind of thing people made just to make a living, and it shows.

It's a poor footnote to a series that never really reached its full potential, and an all too understandably forgotten one, but it's nice that Fox went to the trouble of including a decent widescreen transfer with the original trailer for completism's sake.
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