These are the other four films featuring Peter Lorre as the mysterious detective Mr. Moto. All but the first are from 1939.
1938’s Mr. Moto’s Gamble began life as a Charlie Chan film, but difficulties with that franchise’s star (Warner Oland) led to Fox putting the Chan films on hiatus. Keye Luke, Chan’s Number One Son, is here anyway, as is plenty of footage shot for the Chan film. Luke and comic relief ex-boxer Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom do their best to help Moto solve a case of murder in a boxing ring.
Mr. Moto in Danger Island is the most rambunctious of the bunch, with plenty of fight scenes and derring-do worthy of Indiana Jones. Moto travels to the island of San Juan to investigate a diamond smuggling operation, and someone highly placed in the government is the ringleader. Red herrings about (not all of which are explained away at the conclusion), and at 80 minutes, this is the longest of the Moto films, though the pace remains relentless.
1939 was, how shall we say, a rather taut year of world politics, and some hint of the storm about to break make their way into Mr. Moto’s Last Warning. The French and British Navies are about to conduct joint exercises, and Moto is tracking a plot to blow up the French ships and have blame fall on the British, thus shattering the alliance between the two nations at a crucial moment (the film is still hanging on to the possibility that war might be averted).
Finally, Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation is the last in the series. Here Moto accompanies a recently unearthed Egyptian relic, which is targeted by a master criminal smart enough to give Moto a run for his money.
There is a definite formula to all the films: Moto picks up some comical bumblers as would-be aides, opens up his judo on various minions, and stays one step ahead of the bad guys. The films are culturally fascinating for having a Japanese protagonist at this particular point in history. They are also enormous fun, tight little programmers that are efficient little models of entertainment.
Then usual choices are available here: the original mono and 2.0 stereo. The mono is crisp and clean, almost completely free of distortion. There is a little bit of hiss present, as there is in the stereo. This mix adds a little bit of depth to the sound, but the separation feels a bit forced. Both tracks do the job, but overall, the mono provides the most satisfying, flaw-free experience.
The prints are all in very nice shape. Grain is minimal, and there is no damage to speak of. There’s an odd digital blip of some kind in Mr. Moto’s Gamble, but otherwise the images are sharp, and the picture quality is really just about as good (or better) than could be expected for films almost seventy years old.
As with the first Moto set, each disc has a short featurette looking at one aspect or the other (history, personalities, etc) of the series. Taken all together (and in combination with the other set), they provide quite a decent bit of background. “Mr. Moto Meets Mr. Chan – The Making of Mr. Moto’s Gamble” tracks the film’s unusual production history. “Meet Mr. Moto” (on Danger Island) looks at the character’s origins in print and his move to film. Last Warning has a piece on John P. Marguand, Moto’s creator, and Takes a Vacation offers “Mr. Moto is Missing,” which focuses on what was going on in the world, and in Japan in particular, at the time of the series. This disc has a special bonus: another complete film, 1965’s The Return of Mr. Moto. Henry Silva takes on the title role here, and also provides a commentary track. Such a track would have been even more welcome on one or more of the Lorre features, but hey, an extra is an extra is an extra. Each disc also has a restoration comparison and trailers for the its companions.
It’s wonderful to have the complete set of Moto films now available. The two sets are essential purchases for fans of classic detective movies.
Special Features List
- The Return of Mr. Moto
- Commentary on The Return of Mr. Moto
- Restoration Comparisons