Mysterious Mr. Moto (1938)

Approved  |   |  Crime, Drama, Mystery  |  14 October 1938 (USA)
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Reviews: 19 user | 2 critic

Mr. Moto has himself imprisoned on Devil's Island so he can help his cellmate (Ames) escape and thereby get the goods on a gang of international killers.



(original screenplay), (original screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Complete credited cast:
Mary Maguire ...
Ann Richman
Anton Darvak
Erik Rhodes ...
David Scott-Frensham
Harold Huber ...
Ernst Litmar
Paul Brissac
Forrester Harvey ...
George Higgins
Frederick Vogeding ...
Gottfried Brujo (as Fredrik Vogeding)
Lester Matthews ...
Sir Charles Murchison
John Rogers ...
Lotus Liu (as Karen Sorrell)
Mitchell Lewis ...


Mr. Moto has himself imprisoned on Devil's Island so he can help his cellmate (Ames) escape and thereby get the goods on a gang of international killers. Written by Ed Stephan <>

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Peter Lorre gives you your greatest thrill


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Release Date:

14 October 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Fuga de Mr. Moto  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The Japanese character, Mr. Moto, disguises himself as a German as part of the plot when in fact a Germanic (actually Austro-Hungarian) actor, Peter Lorre, is portraying a Japanese detective. See more »


Followed by Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) See more »

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User Reviews

MYSTERIOUS MR. MOTO (Norman Foster, 1938) ***
17 January 2014 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

With this, I begin a seven-movie tribute to the late British film critic Leslie Halliwell (the first one I came across and who instilled in me a love for the golden age of cinema) on the 25th anniversary of his untimely passing. He had compiled two books citing 219(!) of his all-time favourites, including titles he did not even praise all that much in his assessment on the official pioneering guide! Even if hardly constituting products of outstanding merit, but certainly proving great fun to watch, he showed a particular fondness for crime/mystery franchises (such as the Mr. Moto one here, Charlie Chan, Bulldog Drummond, Sherlock Holmes and "The Thin Man") – and also threw in a couple that could only be described as "guilty pleasures" i.e. NIGHT MONSTER (1942) and HOUSE OF Dracula (1945)!

This is actually the fifth entry in the character's original eight-movie run and, though I own all of them (as well as the 1965 one-off revival. THE RETURN OF MR. MOTO), only the second I have watched so far. Coincidentally, the other one (MR. MOTO'S LAST WARNING {1939}) was also singled out for praise by Halliwell in those volumes…and, indeed, "Mr. Moto" is the only series to receive more than a single nod: make of that what you will! While there are obvious intrinsic similarities between him and that other even more popular Asian sleuth, Charlie Chan (concurrently the subject of a parallel franchise that would last much longer at the same studio – Fox), so much so that one of the Moto films i.e. MR. MOTO'S GAMBLE (1938) was originally planned as a Chan entry(!), the two detectives' modus operandi was decidedly different – since the former adopted affability and camouflage to solve any given case, whereas the latter relied on wise sayings and a little help from his brood of sons to get at the truth.

Needless to say, the look of the films and some of their credentials were similarly interchangeable – but so was the entertainment value gleaned from them: the Motos' briefer stretch ensured that this (and the plot lines) did not risk running thin, as the Chans inevitably did – especially since it saw a couple of replacements to the central role along the way! To its credit, not all these various detective thriller series featured great actors in the lead – but this surely was the case with Mr. Moto, played for nearly two straight years by Austro-Hungarian Peter Lorre in the initial stages of his Hollywood career. Though his features could hardly pass for an Oriental, Lorre's diminutive stature and soft-spoken delivery made him an ideal choice regardless: still, he is not played up as a feeble and subservient stereotype (outside of a deliberate disguise on his part) – in fact, he can effortlessly outwit or physically overcome his antagonists and show authority figures for the pompous fools they are (as amply seen in the movie under review)!

At this juncture, I cannot say which is the better effort of the two Motos I have checked out: it has been some time since my sole viewing of LAST WARNING, the sixth in the saga, via an original DVD of Public-Domain "Mystery" films (generously donated to me by an American friend of long standing) – though I would probably give the edge to it in view of supporting actors George Sanders and John Carradine and the exotic setting involved. Incidentally, why MYSTERIOUS was so called is itself a puzzle – as this is all-too-generic (witness the almost identically-titled yet wholly unrelated efforts involving the Oriental figure of Mr. Wong incarnated by fellow horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff) and, basically, the kind of moniker by which a personage is normally introduced to audiences!

That said, it is obviously representative of the lot, with respect to narrative (already with an eye on the impending war in Europe), twists (Moto springs a hit-man - Leon Ames - out of jail to catch his gang leader!), suspense (the climax being set in a crowded art gallery, with Moto dressed up as a disgruntled Germanic artist!), characterization (for the best part of the film, Moto poses as the hit-man's meek butler, bullied by racist bar patrons, in order to expose his opponents!), romance (Moto's own relationship with an Asian colleague working undercover is interesting – countering the obligatory one between the second leads - including Henry Wilcoxon) and comedy relief (supplied by Erik Rhodes, formerly the "other man" of many an Astaire/Rogers musical). In fact, the whole atmosphere (even more so here in view of the London backdrop and looking particularly nice in this DVD-sourced transfer) is – delightfully – not too far off the early Hitchcock mark.

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