I’ve been watching the Mr. Moto film series that was made at 20th Century Fox. They have all been digitally restored and released in a 2 volume dvd boxed set. Great Job by all involved, I really enjoy the special features, a short film about a person involved with the series. The films are very well made, low budget productions shot on the left over sets from the high budget films. Because less money was at stake, and owing to the genre, the filmmakers were able to let their imaginations run wild and pull off some amazing content.
First of all you have Peter Lorre, arguably one of the greatest Cinema actors of all time, just watch Friz Lang’s M or Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Lorre had to flee Nazi Germany, he wound up in Hollywood. It’s tough to re-establish yourself in a new culture, many emigre’s didn’t make the switch but Lorre did. Mr. Moto is an interesting character, he’s kind of like Batman, rich, super intelligent, tough as nails, Moto is a Jiu Jitsu expert, and ruthless. He routinely kills his adversaries ( usually ones deserving such a fate) He is also a combination of Good and Evil. During Think Fast Mr. Moto you are not sure what side he’s on for a lot of the picture. This adds a lot of dimension to the character and with an actor like Lorre you are assured of a great ride at the Cinema.
The stunts and fights are top notch, there is an interview with veteran stunt man Harvey Parry on one of the discs that is wonderful. Parry was a diving champion and national boxing champion who doubled for Lorre or as he called him Pete. A superb athelete he flings himself on his adversaries with such abandon it exhilarates the heck out of you. There is an amusing anecdote told by Louise Brooks about William Wellman’s Wild Boys Of The Road that I think involves Parry, (I’ll have to find it again and make sure I’m right before I include it.)
Finally we come to the amazing Norman Foster, an unsung hero of Hollywood. The Moto films that he co-wrote as well as directed (6 of the 8 ) are models of atmosphere, action, intrigue and efficiency. Usually starting with documentary footage from far off lands then plunging into action with Moto in one of his many disguises, they take off and don’t let up, the only dull spots are usually the romance angle between the two white leads. Moto doesn’t get to have a romance although their are some Asian women that work as his accomplices.
Foster directed Journey Into Fear for Orson Welles during Welles tenure at RKO, Welles loved what Foster did with the Moto films.
Sloan, Cotten, Welles, Mercurey Players
He also directed the My Friend Bonito, segment of Welles aborted It’s All True project. Later Foster wrote and directed the TV series Zorro for Walt Disney, The opening of Zorro is a tour de force of filmmaking. I heard Foster even wrote the Zorro theme song, which is memorable and features a great section with the word Zorro echoing at you from all angles, as if to say you never know where Zorro will strike next.
Foster, Disney, Zorro
He directed Davy Crockett for Disney as well and that series created a phenomenal cultural effect, selling coonskin caps to all the kids. Foster also directed episodes of the Batman series, another work of cultural iconographic significance. And another story of an underdog, a loner fighting for Justice, a theme Foster excelled at. Interestingly enough Orson Welles spoke of his interest in making a Batman film back in the 40’s when the character first appeared. Strange that Foster would work on it .
There should be a book written about this great artist. I get the feeling he was not a big self promoter, that he put all his efforts into creating excellent films that blasted their way into our consciousness through sheer power of image making and storytelling. A critical study of this man is long overdue, let’s hope it happens soon.