Sunday, 25 April 2010

Moto Roller

Think Fast Mr. Moto 1937 US
Directed by Norman Foster
20th Century Fox DVD Region 1

Ok. My first Mr. Moto movie. Presumably looking for the lightning bolt of success to strike twice after the popularity of Charlie Chan, Fox unleashed another “oriental detective” on the unsuspecting public beginning with this first entry in 1937.

The film is great and a surefire hit with anyone into any of the big Hollywood crime smashers of the 30s and 40s - Sherlock Holmes, Mike Shayne, The Saint, The Shadow, The Falcon etc. However, there’s actually not much similarity with Charlie Chan at all. The dialogue in this first entry, it has to be said, isn’t as sparkling as it is in the Chan films but what this does have in it is a lead character who’s not afraid to get in on the action. While Chan always has either number one son, number two son or some other keen sidekick to handle all the more energetic duties that the traditional panoply of treachery on show in these kinds of movies requires, Moto goes it alone as far as action goes (although he does have some slight assistance from a female “agent” in this one).

Thirdly, Peter Lorre’s character is not, as Chan, of Chinese descent. Moto is very much a Japanese character and there’s a lot of judo moves thrown by Lorre and his stunt double in this film. In fact, there’s a whole mess of action on show here which would look a touch out of place in a Chan movie and which, in some ways, resembles the enthusiastic fist fights on show in a standard Republic chapter play than in a Fox movie... although to be fair to Fox, all the furniture stayed on the floor in this one. In a Republic serial every piece of furniture would have been tossed around the room or thrown through the windows.

It goes without saying that Peter Lorre, consummate actor that he was, breathes life into the character of Moto who, I was surpised to learn at the end of the film, is not an official investigator and goes in for “private detecting” as a hobby. That would explain the lack of legal recourse the character uses to get his man... bumping off henchmen without reporting them and generally absconding with clues without telling anyone. Allowing the main villain to kill another so he can prove his theories that this man, is indeed, the main ringleader... otherwise he wouldn’t have taken that opportunity to kill that other villain over there. A methodology of which Chan would never have approved. It has to be said that, in the pursuit of justice over legality, Moto has more in common with Hammett’s Sam Spade than Earl Der Bigger’s Charlie Chan. At least in his movie.

There's also a plethora of 1930s/40s B movie character actors in this movie. I recognised almost everyone in this film but have no idea who any of them are or where I've seen them. Apart from J. Carrol Naish... I remembered him from such Universal horrors as House of Frankenstein and as the lead villain in the first of the two Columbia Batman serials from 1943.

Looking forward to watching a few more of these movies soon.

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