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THINK FAST, MR. MOTO (director/writer: Norman Foster; screenwriter: from the story by J.P. Marquand/Howard Ellis Smith; cinematographer: Harry Jackson; editor: Alex Troffer; music: Sam Kaylin; cast: Peter Lorre (Mr. Moto), Virginia Field (Gloria Danton), Thomas Beck (Bob Hitchings), Sig Ruman (Nicolas Marloff), Murray Kinnell (Wilkie), John Rogers (Carson), George Cooper (Muggs), Lotus Long (Leta Liu), J. Carrol Naish (Adram), Frederick Vogeding (Curio Dealer), George Hassell (Robert Hitchings Sr.), Richard Alexander (Ivan, doorman), William Law (Shanghai Police Chief; Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol M. Wurtzel; 20th Century-Fox; 1937)
It’s irresistible as enjoyable hokum.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The always wonderful Peter Lorre is the studio’s first Mr. Moto, in the initial film of the eight picture series. Wearing buck-teeth and heavy make-up Lorre plays the mild-mannered Japanese educated merchant and bespectacled master of disguises private detective, and gives him a kind of Charlie Chan verve. Actor-turned-director Norman Foster(“Sombrero”/”Blood on my Hands”/”Journey into Fear”) co-writes the fast-moving screenplay with Howard Ellis Smith. It’s based on the story by J.P. Marquand, and it’s irresistible as enjoyable hokum.

After import/export businessman Mr. Moto, disguised as a peddler during a Chinese New Year celebration at San Francisco’s Chinatown, discovers the body of a curio shop owner (Frederick Vogeding) stuffed in a wicker basket in his shop, the amateur detective takes a voyage on a luxury liner to Shanghai, China, to track down a smuggling ring. On the ship Moto befriends Bob Hitchings (Thomas Beck), the playboy son of the owner of the shipping line. When the beautiful Gloria Danton (Virginia Field) boards at a Honolulu stopover, Bob chases after her. When Moto discovers that the steward Carson (John Rogers) stole a letter Hitchings Sr. (George Hassell) left in his son’s room to deliver to their trusted branch manager Wilkie (Murray Kinnell), Moto uses his judo expertise to disperse of the villainous Carson. In Shanghai, the love sick puppy Bob locates Gloria, who disappeared after the ship docked. She’s a club singer in a seedy gambling house owned by the white Russian Marloff (Sig Ruman). Meanwhile Moto is on the trail of diamond smugglers, connected to the gambling house, who are hiding their smuggled gems in his merchandise and using the shipping line to transport the goods back and forth from China to America. Moto puts his life in danger to reveal who are the bad guys in this international smuggling ring. The result is a fun who-dun-it crime drama and comedy.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”