One Hour Moto

The solution!

Gotta love the way, in MYSTERIOUS MR MOTO, co-writer and director demonstrates the Japanese detective’s mastery of disguise by having him impersonate a German. The fact that Moto is PLAYED by a German actor (strictly speaking, Austro-Hungarian, and from a birthplace now in Slovakia) maybe had something to do with that.

Throughout the series, one thing they can’t really pull off is surprises involving Moto in disguise, since Peter Lorre had the most unique voice and delivery in cinema, plus a pretty extraordinary face and distinctive build.

So this disguise, appearing as it does late in the story, does not attempt to deceive us and just rejoices in the shared joke of a kraut playing a Jap playing another kraut. And the fact that the particular German he’s playing seems to be modelled on Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari is even more enjoyable.

I also exult in Moto’s tendency to commit cold-blooded murder, which I find refreshing in a heroic character. Admittedly, chucking a steward off an ocean liner isn’t particularly harsh (“That egg was undercooked!”) but conspiring to drop a chandelier on poor Erik Rhodes is… unusual.

Note — those legs don’t belong to that body.

Radio 4 here recently broadcast Peter Lorre Vs Peter Lorre, written by Michael Butt, a play which examined the real-life lawsuit brought by Lorre against a fellow actor who had changed his name to Peter Lorre Jnr. Stephen Greif as the original Lorre did a great job of capturing the distinctly slurred vocalisations of the aging actor, and the piece was a fascinating meditation on identity and a study of an obscure corner of cinema and jurisprudence.

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7 Responses to “One Hour Moto”

  1. For me chandeliers invarably bring to mind Lola Montes the new, improved restored version of which I saw last night. Stunning beyond words. The colors are better than the best acid. The print is scratch-free and runs about 115 minutes. No “new” additonla scenes but little bits and pieces of scenes that in the print we’ve known up to now were truncated have been restored (eg. when Lola walks out on the prow of the ship to stare at the stars otehr peole pass by in conversation, the last shot is shown in full.)

    I fell in love with this movie when I first saw it in 1963 and I love it even more now. Ustinov is incredible, Oskar Werner delightful, Walbrook elegant as always, and Martine Carol isn’t bad.

  2. Martine Carol’s presence gives the film another flavour. Since it’s about celebrity culture, the casting of a “star” who is neither a great actress nor any kind of a dancer brings out the point of the film. Meanwhile the great actors around her carry the story forward.
    Ustinov’s autobiography has some nice stuff on this film, which I should quote.

  3. Oh please do. When they screened it for the second time at the 1968 New York Film Festival (it premiered at the first in 1963) Ustinov was there. He spoke warmly of Ophuls and entire experienced and was both astonished and greatly appreciative of the extended standing ovation he got when the film was over.

  4. Ironically Lorre had terrible troublle playing this scene. Probably hampered by his morphine addiction and disdain for the part, he was constantly forgetting his lines and ruining takes prompting a flustered Foster to ask “Do you even know who you are?” an offended Lorre shouted back “‘I know who I am! I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude!!

    Lifetime Lorre fan Robert Downey Jnr fan has since made it his life’s mission to get this iconic phrase into as many of his movies as possible
    He has so far managed one

  5. That’s beautiful!

    Sounds like you know the one about the B-movie director who asked Lorre for a retake, only to be told “I only do this shit once.”

    “Then how did you manage on all those goddamn Mr Moto films,” asked the director, scornfully.

    “Easy, I was on drugs.”

  6. I’ve got to see some Mr. Moto films, pronto. Does Erik Rhodes play an offensive stereotype like he does in the Astaire and Rogers films? God I hope so, there’s nothing I’d like better than to see Peter Lorre, playing a Japanese detective disguised as a German, dropping a chandelier on the man who caused two lighthearted musicals to be banned in Italy.

  7. Heh.

    He plays an Englishman, extremely humorously. Although there’s room for doubt, since everybody calls him Mr. Scot-Frenchman. Then in the end titles I realised it was “Mr Scott-Frensham.” That sublimely fatuous smile he does works just as well for an English silly arse as for an Italian imbecile. And then he turns out to be the arch-villain, leading to the scene above.

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