Although 20th Century Fox is not exactly shouting it from the housetops, The Mr. Moto Collection, Vol. 1 is now available on DVD. In the series of Mr. Moto films from the late 1930s, Peter Lorre played the title character, a Japanese secret agent who solves crime mysteries. Lorre was absolutely brilliant in the role of the small, slight, unobtrusive, exceedingly polite master of jiujitsu and deductive logic. The films were made on B-level budgets, but the directors definitely got the most out of the investment. The stories were more action-oriented and hard-edged than most detection series of the time, such as the Charlie Chan films, and they hold up surprisingly well.
Peter Lorre deserves admiration for his performance as Mr. Moto. Although he was very ill and fighting off the overuse of morphine to combat gall bladder pain, Lorre brought great charm to the character, which was lacking in the Moto novels of J. P. Marquand, on which the series was based. In the books, Moto is something of a mystery himself, as Marquand tells us little about him other than his doings as an agent, and he is always seen from other characters’ point of view. Lorre’s provision of greater charm and personality to the character worked well with the tone of the series, which was lighter than that of the books and was even sometimes rather tongue-in-cheek.
As is surely understandable, the series ended in 1939, and Lorre went on to give impressive, memorable performances in films such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and Arsenic and Old Lace.
The Mr. Moto films are well worth watching and an essential addition to the collection of any fan of classic action mysteries.