Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thank You, Mr Moto

US, 1937, directed by Norman Foster
Rating: ***

Often lazily lumped together with his cinematic contemporary Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto has little in common with the affable Chinese detective save his Asian origins (and the fact that both were played by Caucasians). Although Moto has moments of great generosity towards those fortunate to be called his friends, for the most part he's a cynical operator, acting in his own interests (or those of his shadowy employers), and quick to kill if the need arises; the need arises a number of times in this swift-moving tale of ancient Chinese treasures and the many Westerners who'd like to obtain them. More than anything else, this kind of serial film was killed off by the advent of television, which is a shame given the craftsmanship of even these humble B-pictures (and this looks great in a cleaned-up DVD version). One wonders if the shows that function as abbreviated versions of the classical formula film (like Law & Order) will stand up as well 70 years after the fact.
For those who like to keep tabs on that kind of thing, this is old Hollywood at its casting best: Lorre, a Hungarian, plays the Japanese Mr. Moto, while the excellent Korean-American actor Philip Ahn is cast as a Chinese prince, and Pauline Frederick, a Bostonian, appears as his mother, in her last film role.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States