Hungarian born and Austrian educated, Peter Lorre was cast for eight films (1937-1939) as Mr. Moto, a smart and able Japanese man who foils villains in a variety of ways.
If you read many reviews of the Mr. Moto chronology, you’ll find a number of reviewers who want to invoke a racial element in reviewing these movies. A number of them are “offended” by watching these movies, because, as we all know, Peter Lorre was not Japanese. At this site, your reviewer takes movies for what they are – nothing more, nothing less. In these movies, Peter Lorre plays a character that is Japanese. If that bothers you, move on to the next movie.
This is the first of the series of eight movies. It is 70 minutes long and from the original title image, you know this is going to be a good movie.
This review will contain some spoilers.
We begin in San Francisco during a Chinese New Year celebration. The streets are full of people.
A man who appears to be Chinese enters a shop. As he does he runs into a man in costume at the doorway. He notices a tattoo on the man’s wrist.
Inside the shop, the operator of the store tries to get rid of him. But, the man produces some precious stones and offers to sell them to the shopkeeper.
This ends in a dispute which turns physical. Shots are fired but the man gets away.
But, while in the shop, he notices something curious – a basket with an arm hanging out of the top.
The man whom we’ve been watching retreats to his room where he removes a disguise and we see that he is Mr. Moto.
A ship is scheduled to sail for China at midnight and Mr. Moto makes a telephone call to book passage.
The action shifts to the ship.
Mr. Moto boards the ship and is shown to his cabin by a ship’s steward named Carson (John Rogers). Moto notices that Carson has a tattoo on his arm. It is the same tattoo that he saw earlier on the masked man exiting the shop during the Chinese New Year celebration.
Just across the hall, a young man is accompanied to his cabin by a group of friends who are there to see him off. They have all had plenty to drink and when they see Mr. Moto, they find him amusing and insist that he join their little party.
Mr. Moto declines, but they insist.
Mr. Moto soon learns that the young man is Bob Hitchings (Thomas Beck) and that his father is the owner of the ship line. Bob is being sent to Shanghai to participate in the family’s import/export business.
Soon, Mr. Hitchings (George Hassell) comes to see his son off. The two of them speak in private and the elder Mr. Hitchings gives Bob a letter to give to Joseph Wilkie (Murray Kinnell), the head man of their operation in Shanghai.
While they are on the ship, word is received about a body being discovered. It’s the body that Mr. Moto saw in San Francisco.
During the journey Bob Hitchings and Mr. Moto become friends and spend a considerable amount of time together.
When the ship arrives in Honolulu, Moto and Bob witness an attractive girl boarding the ship. Bob is taken with her at once. Her name is Gloria Danton (Virginia Field) and she’s apparently on the way to visit her uncle in Shanghai.
When Gloria and Bob meet, she is not the least bit interested in him. But, eventually the two of them become friends and their relationship starts to take a romantic turn.
While on the ship, Gloria sends a telegraph to Shanghai.
We quickly find out that the words on the telegram do not convey its true meaning.
Before the ship arrives in Shanghai, Mr. Moto finds the steward, Carson, searching Bob’s room. He’s looking for the letter that Bob is supposed to deliver to Wilkie upon arrival.
Mr. Moto confronts him and accuses him of killing the man in San Francisco. The two of them fight. Mr. Moto is the winner of the fight as determined when Moto tosses Carson overboard – ending not only the fight, but Carson’s existence.
By the time the ship arrives in Shanghai, Bob is in love with Gloria and says he wants to marry her. She says it’s not possible and that they will never see each other again.
Bob refuses to accept this as an answer.
When the boat arrives in Shanghai, Bob goes to Gloria’s cabin. She’s already gone.
Within minutes, Bob is met by Mr. Wilkie on board the ship. Mr. Moto is also present and Bob introduces him to Wilkie.
Then Bob recalls that he has a letter for Mr. Wilkie so he presents it to him.
When Mr. Wilkie opens the envelope, the letter is nothing but blank paper.
Mr. Moto and Bob part company with the promise that they will see each other again in Shanghai.
Bob and Wilkie set off so Bob can begin his career with the family firm. All Bob can think about is Gloria. He tells Wilkie that he wants to find her and marry her.
Wilkie does everything he can to steer Bob away from looking for Gloria, telling him that there are plenty of other girls in Shanghai and to just forget her.
A telephone call comes in. It’s the senior Mr. Hitchings calling his son. Mr. Moto has connections with the switchboard operator and before the telephone call is connected, the operator rings Moto’s room so that he may listen to the conversation.
When Bob tells his father that the letter he was to give Wilkie was blank, they know that foul play has occurred.
Mr. Hitchings relates that the letter was about the smuggling of diamonds in their shipments. He says that the day before customs found a load of narcotics smuggled in a shipment from China and as a result, they have to pay a $200,000 fine.
Mr. Moto, meanwhile, visits a curio shop and runs into some trouble. He also calls on the police in regard to the identity of a certain young lady involved in a shipboard romance.
Back in his room, Bob is the recipient of a letter slipped under his door. When he reads it, he is given a clue about Gloria.
Bob wants Wilkie to accompany him to the International Club. Wilkie protests that it is a place where he would not go, but eventually he gives in and the two of them depart for the club.
On the way, Mr. Moto is involved in an accident when the rickshaw in which he is riding collides with the car carrying Bob.
No one is hurt in the accident and when Bob sees his old friend Mr. Moto, he invites him and his companion to ride with them.
Just by chance, it seems that Mr. Moto is also destined to the International Club.
They all arrive at the club and now it’s time for trouble.
When they get there, all see that the female entertainer is Gloria. When she sees Bob the two of them talk and she reveals her true identity; her name is really Tanya Boriv and she was sent to Honolulu with a forged passport to find out why Bob was coming to Shanghai.
It is now apparent that some smugglers felt that Bob’s presence in the city could have a negative impact on their lucrative smuggling business.
When Bob goes into the back of the club where the dressing rooms are, the club operators take both he and Gloria/Tanya captive and tie them up in the basement.
Meanwhile, Mr. Moto leaves his date and Mr. Wilkie at the table and tells the club owner, Nicolas Marloff (Sig Ruman aka Sig “Rumann”), that he wants to gamble.
The club has a private gambling area, also in the basement, and Mr. Moto is taken there. No gambling is occurring though.
Before he leaves the table, he gives his date a note.
She follows his instructions and contacts the police.
Once downstairs, Mr. Moto demonstrates some precious stones to Marloff and offers an opportunity for them to go into business together. Marloff accepts.
Marloff shows Moto that he has Bob and Gloria/Tanya securely under control. They are locked up in a safe.
Now, we have real trouble.
The Mr. Moto series is quality entertainment. All of the movies are a good way to spend just over an hour.