MR. MOTO

 
Full Name: I. A. Moto
Nationality: Japanese
Organization: Japanese Intelligence
Occupation Agent

Creator: John P. Marquand
Time Span: 1935 - 2004
ABOUT THE SERIES

       Mr. Moto is an agent of Japanese Intelligence.
       It is interesting that a man who is so decidedly, unabashedly, proudly Japanese should call himself I. A. Moto since Moto is definitely not a Japanese name. He does not pretend that it is nor does he offer any explanation as to why he uses it for it is unlikely his real name. But he unhesitatingly does go by that name and everyone with whom he has dealings, at least anyone of non-Japanese nationality, thinks of him as Moto.
       It is as Mr. Moto that he is known. No one ever uses a first name for him or a nickname or any sort. They either call him Mr. Moto or just Moto but nothing more familiar. The lack of familiarity is, on the surface, interesting because to anyone listening to Mr. Moto talking to the various people with whom he deals in the six adventures, Mr. Moto is undoubtedly friendly. A smile usually adorns his face. His voice is seldom raised or excited or anything other than the calm exterior he ubiquitously presents.
       Once, however, a person starts to have serious dealings with Mr. Moto, the reason for the lack of closeness because fairly obvious. As agreeable and charming as he strives so hard to be seen, Mr. Moto is one incredibly tough man. Trifling with him is always a mistake.
       Mr. Moto is probably in his 40s although his age is seldom considered and never spoken. He is of very short stature and considerably tiny in dimension. He is described by several people as fragile or miniscule or petite, all of which meant to show that physically he does not command much notice or consideration. He is not much to look at in the beauty department either. His teeth protrude noticeably and several are gold capped. His hands are even more delicate than his torso and his feet are described as tiny as well. His dark hair is cut in an oldfashioned Prussian cut style.
       When he speaks, it is usually with a good deal of apology with an abundant use of the word "very". Mr. Moto is always "very, very sorry" or "very, very sad" or, when people agree to do what he wants, he is "very, very glad". It is interesting that he is seldom, if ever, verbally very, very angry. That might be, though, because people who made Mr. Moto angry usually would not live to tell about it.
       Mr. Moto is not a violent man. He could be if he needed to be since he is an expert in judo and/or ju-jitsu. He is also said to be a deadly shot and knowledgable about all sort of weapons. But he is not prone to violence. That would indicate his normal methods failed and failure is not something Mr. Moto is that familiar with.
       It is friendly diplomacy that Mr. Moto excels at. That and getting a very good idea of what the person with whom he is dealing wants or craves or needs. Then Mr. Moto can often show how doing him this one small favor or making just a tiny change in plans or waiting just a little while or acting with a bit more haste, all might make those desires come true. And it would also get Mr. Moto what his mission needs. Which makes him very, very happy.
       The era in which most of the stories take place is the years half a decade before Japan would attack Pearl Harbor. Japan is in full swing in their expansionist goals with northern China, Korea, and Mongolia largely under its domination and sights are turning towards the south. The military build-up is intense and war seems a frightful possibility to a few but a horrific certainty to most.
       It is the job of Mr. Moto to be a covert warrior in those plans and though he expresses a time or two a bit of worry about the militarism that is growing, he nevertheless is totally loyal to his Emperor and his doubts could easily be for the benefit of the listener rather than his true feelings. For that is another aspect of Mr. Moto that is quite fascinating. One learns a modest amount about him in conversation but when the talking is over, it is hard to determine how much is true.
       He attended two different universities in America. He studied in Europe. He worked as an archaeologist. He was a valet for two different men. These are but a few of the tidbits that he mentions to various people and they may all be quite true. They could also be complete fabrications used as artifice.
       That is the beauty of Mr. Moto.

BOOKS

Number of Books:6
First Appearance:1935
Last Appearance:1957

       The creator of Mr. Moto, John P. Marquand, had already made a name for himself when he brought out the Japanese spy series. He had been producing stories and articles for magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, a publication that would take many of his pieces. Most of the early ones had to do with historical periods but as the 30s reached their middle, he moved from those to stories of modern people dealing with class issues. Several of these would do quite well, especially The Late George Apley which would earn him the prestigious Pulitzer in 1938.
       It was while he was making the transition that he came up with the Moto tales. I read in more than one place that it was likely in response to the death in 1933 of Charlie Chan creator, Earl Derr Biggers, that prompted him to craft these stories. That may be true but I lean away from that theory, based only on the idea that if he were looking for a successor to the incredible Inspector Chan, he would more likely have made his character involved in detective work. There is virtually none of that in the Moto books. They are about international events being ever so carefully manipulated by a small, modest man who preferred to stay in the background as much as possible.
       Whatever the genesis, the stories were well received from the moment they hit the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, all of them serialized over time before being repackaged as novels.
       The six adventures he produced were said to be highly formulaic and to a good degree they are but wonderfully so and with enough difference as to keep them interesting. Invariably a man and a woman, usually ignorant of each other at the beginning, are thrust by circumstances into situations they are not familiar with and from which they need help extracating themselves. That help comes from Mr. Moto who often looks like a saviour unless one dig deeper and sees it was he who helped with the shoving in the first place. Without a doubt, Mr. Moto is a manipulative rascal.
       Five of the six Moto stories were written and published prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was hardly surprising that the author discontinued stories with a Japanese spy as the hero for no matter how good they were, no one would go for them. Even if Mr. Moto often disagreed with the attitudes of his militaristic countries, there would have been no audience for more tales.
       With that in mind, it is surprising that the author decided, over a decade after the end of the War, to bring him back for one final adventure. It was bought by the magazine that had taken his others and serialized like them and then made into a book so it must have been received well enough. It is interesting that he stopped there, though. The author would have been in his early 60s which may have played a role. Whatever the reason, three years after he brought Moto back, he died and thus the series ended.

Note: it has been pointed out to me, rightly so, that since the sixth adventure was originally published as a serial under the name Rendezvous In Tokyo, that is its correct name. I've kept the name Right You Are, Mr. Moto because the books were named that.

1 Your Turn, Mr. Moto Your Turn, Mr. Moto
aka No Hero, aka Mr. Moto Takes A Hand
Written by John P. Marquand
Copyright: 1935

Casey is an American pilot down on his luck who arrives in Japan expecting to fly a plane to the States as part of an advertisin stunt. Instead, he gets involved by the urging of the mysterious Mr. Moto in finding a document that could help Japan to the detriment of the US and USSR.

2 Thank You, Mr. Moto Thank You, Mr. Moto
Written by John P. Marquand
Copyright: 1936

As an American expatriate living in Peking, Tom Nelson was showing a decided lack of ambition when an unfortunate event throws him into company with the lovely Eleanor Joyce, a woman with a fair number of secrets, and the powerful force of Japan's expansion into the mainland. Mr. Moto is in the background, moving pieces as needed.

3 Think Fast, Mr. Moto Think Fast, Mr. Moto
Written by John P. Marquand
Copyright: 1936

Young Wilson Hitchings, member of a prominent Boston banking family, is sent to Hawaii to look into the affairs of a casino owned by a distant female relative. The casino is actually being controlled by gangsters using the establishment to launder money to fund rebels fighting Japanese control of Manchuria. Mr. Moto is there to stop the funneling of money and uses Hitchings as his foil.

4 Mr. Moto Is So Sorry Mr. Moto Is So Sorry
Written by John P. Marquand
Copyright: 1938

The lovely Miss Dillaway is on her way to an archeology dig in Mongolia. Her Russian guide asks her to deliver a silver cigarette case to someone there. Others want their hands on it and an American, Calvin Gates, finds himself coming to her rescue. Mr. Moto is quietly helping both survive so the case can arrive safely.

5 Last Laugh, Mr. Moto Last Laugh, Mr. Moto
Written by John P. Marquand
Copyright: 1941

Bob Bolles is an ex-Navy pilot who lives for drinking and lounging onboard his sailboat in the Caribbean. In need of cash, he allows himself to be talked into paying passengers, an American couple wanting to go to Mercator Island. The two are actually Vichy agents on a mission to obtain a device there and plan to kill Bolles as soon as they do not need him. When the woman falls in love with Bolles, she seeks the aid of Mr. Moto to make their escape. Mr. Moto, wanting the device as well, agrees to help.

6 Right You Are, Mr. Moto Right You Are, Mr. Moto
aka Rendezvous In Tokyo, aka Stopover Tokyo, aka The Last of Mr. Moto
Written by John P. Marquand
Copyright: 1957

Jack Rhyce and Ruth Bogart are American agents sent to Tokyo to stop the assassination of an up-and-coming Japanese politician by Soviet agents who seek an international incident. Mr. Moto meets them at the airport acting as their guide to help them succeed. [See note above about the title.]

MOVIES

Number of Movies:9
First Appearance:1937
Last Appearance:1965

       Nine years and ten or so movies after the first Charlie Chan presentation hit the big screen, the fictional character of Mr. Moto came along. It seems inevitable that no matter how good or bad the series was, someone would figure that if one Oriental detective was popular, two would be as well. The rights to Mr. Moto were snatched up and production started.
       The first couple of Charlie Chan (pre-talkies) had oriental actors but the rest starred an Occidental actor as Chan. For that reason, I guess, it was decided that another Caucasian could play the Japanese hero. Slovakian actor Peter Lorre, relatively unknown at the time, got the job.
       There were some interesting challenges to be overcome in bringing the book character to celluloid life, other than having a non-Japanese actor play a Japanese man. Three main ones occur to me.
       The first was that Mr. Moto often played a much smaller part in each adventure than could be allowed on film. Since this was a Mr. Moto movie, he had to be in nearly every scene. That meant much of the books could not be used. That was solved by using virtually none of them.
       The second is that Mr. Moto is sometimes not such a nice guy. In the books he is not really actually bad but he does do things that are highly manipulative and often appearing not very friendly. This would not do for a hero but since the books were not being used anyways, the character could be changed to be nicer.
       The third is the most interesting. Charlie Chan was a police detective. Mr. Moto is a spy. Even more different, he was a spy for a foreign government which was increasingly involved in expansion and not friendly expansion at that. Once again, the creative minds in Hollywood were not stymied. Mr. Moto was suddenly a detective as well.
       Do not get me wrong. The movies are enjoyable, just as Charlie Chan movies were great fun for me. But to read a Mr. Moto book and then see a Mr. Moto movie can make one scratch a head.

1 Think Fast, Mr. Moto Think Fast, Mr. Moto
Director: Norman Foster
Writer: Howard Ellis Smith
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1937

On a ship to Shanghai, Mr. Moto recognizes his steward is a man wanted for murder in San Francisco. His investigation leads to even more devious affairs.

2 Thank You, Mr. Moto Thank You, Mr. Moto
Director: Norman Foster
Writer: Wyllis Cooper
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1937

Mr. Moto is in possession of one of seven scrolls holding the location to Genghis Khan's tomb. Treasure hunters who will stop at nothing want it and the other scrolls.

3 Mr. Moto's Gamble Mr. Moto's Gamble
Also known as Mr. Moto's Diary
Director: James Tinling
Writers: Charles Belden, Jerome Cady
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1938

The death of a heavyweight boxer after a bout turns out to be murder and Mr. Moto is the man who solve the mystery. [It was to have been a Charlie Chan case originally.]

4 Mr. Moto Takes A Chance Mr. Moto Takes A Chance
Director: Norman Foster
Writers: Lou Breslow, John Patrick
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1938

The ruler of a small kingdom in Southeast Asia is being besieged by a high priest. Mr. Moto and a female flier names Victoria try to save him.

5 Mysterious Mr. Moto Mysterious Mr. Moto
Director: Norman Foster
Writer: Philip MacDonald
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1938

To catch a band of international killers, Mr. Moto needs the unwitting help of a convict on Devil's Island. To get him free, Mr. Moto becomes a prisoner there.

6 Mr. Moto's Last Warning Mr. Moto's Last Warning
Director: Norman Foster
Writer: Philip MacDonald
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1939

Mr. Moto goes up against a band of saboteurs determined to blow up the Suez Canal and lay the blame on the British.

7 Mr. Moto In Danger Island Mr. Moto In Danger Island
Director: Herbert Leeds
Writer: Philip MacDonald
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1939

When their previous agent is murdered, the US government asks Mr. Moto to head to Puerto Rico to investigate diamond smugglers.

8 Mr. Moto Takes A Vacation Mr. Moto Takes A Vacation
Director: Norman Foster
Writer: Philip MacDonald
Actor: Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto
Released: 1939

Going undercover as an archaeologist, Mr. Moto is present when the crown of the Queen of Sheba is uncovered. Now he is determined to not let it be stolen.

8.5 Stopover Tokyo Stopover Tokyo
Director: Richard L. Breen
Writers: Richard L. Breen, Walter Reisch
Actors: Robert Wagner as Mark Fannon, Joan Collins as Tina Llewellyn, Edmund O'Brien as George Underwood, Larry Keating as High Commissioner
Released: 1957

An American agent is sent to Tokyo to help root out Communist spies. - The plot is taken from the last Mr. Moto books but Mr. Moto is nowhere in the film.

9 The Return Of Mr. Moto The Return Of Mr. Moto
Director: Ernest Morris
Writer: Fred Eggers
Actor: Henry Silva as Mr. Moto
Released: 1965

Mr. Moto investigates who in a Middle Eastern kingdom is destroying the oil wells, and why.

RADIO

Number of Episodes:23
First Appearance:1951
Last Appearance:1951
Network:NBC

REGULAR CAST
James MonkMr. Moto [ 1 ]

       In 1951, NBC Radio presented a short series, lasting 23 episodes, of Mr. Moto. In this incarnation, Mr. Moto is very much a secret agent but he is international in scope and pretty much a freelancer. It is US Intelligence that uses him the most. The tales has him going up against Communists more than anything else but once or twice he is called upon to solve a murder or uncover a bad guy. Also on occasion the stories slip into the realm of high-tech, science-fiction.
       The shows lasted 30 minutes. Just over half of them are available online. 10 episodes are said to have been lost forever. [Let me know if that is wrong as I would love to hear them, too.]

1 A Force Called X07
Episode 1-1, first aired 05/20/1951
Director: unknown
Writer: unknown

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2 Smoke Screen
Episode 1-2, first aired 05/27/1951

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3 Blackmail
Episode 1-3, first aired 06/03/1951

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4 The Dead Land
Episode 1-4, first aired 06/10/1951

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5 The Brazaloff Papers (aka The Kurlioff Papers)
Episode 1-5, first aired 06/17/1951

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6 The Victim
Episode 1-6, first aired 06/24/1951

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7 Project 77
Episode 1-7, first aired 07/01/1951

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8 Sabotage
Episode 1-8, first aired 07/08/1951

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9 Escape
Episode 1-9, first aired 07/15/1951

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10 The Wheel of Life
Episode 1-10, first aired 07/22/1951

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11 The Yellow Robe (aka The Lama's Amah)
Episode 1-11, first aired 07/29/1951

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12 The Voronzoff Necklass
Episode 1-12, first aired 08/05/1951

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13 Waltzing Matilda
Episode 1-13, first aired 08/12/1951

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14 The Beauty and the Avenger
Episode 1-14, first aired 08/19/1951

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15 The Shen Tsung Fan
Episode 1-15, first aired 08/26/1951

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16 The Three Numbers
Episode 1-16, first aired 09/02/1951

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17 The Unhappy Firebug
Episode 1-17, first aired 09/09/1951

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18 The Blue Cigarettes
Episode 1-18, first aired 09/16/1951

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19 The Kants of Kailuaneohe
Episode 1-19, first aired 09/23/1951

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20 The Schraum Method
Episode 1-20, first aired 10/01/1951

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21 The Crooked Log
Episode 1-21, first aired 10/07/1951

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22 The Strange Elopement of Professor Sloan
Episode 1-22, first aired 10/13/1951

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23 The Dry Martini
Episode 1-23, first aired 10/20/1951

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COMIC BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Number of Stories:3
First Appearance:2004
Last Appearance:2004

       In 2004, Moonstone Comics brought out a three-part story about Mr. Moto. The company had made a business out of resurrecting fictional characters from the past and revitalizing them and that is just what was done with the Moto persona. In this iteration, Moto is an American agent of Japanese descent with quite some experience in the cloak and dagger business. While his nationality and background were thus changed considerably from the books, the fact that the story is about a young, embittered Japanese man just released from the detention center at the end of WWII and manipulated ever so carefully by Moto is definitely in keeping with the kind of character he was.
       The three comics were later repackaged into one graphic novel.

1 Welcome Back, Mr. Moto Welcome Back, Mr. Moto
Published by Moonstone
Contributors: Rafael Nieves (writer), Tim Hamilton (artist)
Copyright: 2004

A young Japanese-American man, Ken Takashi, is angry and at a loss what to do with himself as WWII ends and he is released from an internment camp. Mr. Moto is there to guide him. As the story progresses, Takashi is pushed into working for the US Intelligence community to go undercover in Chicago to infiltrate a Japanese spy ring. This gives him the opportunity to learn more about his father's murder.

MY COMMENTS

       Like many others, I believe, whose exposure, limited as it would be nowadays, to Mr. Moto came from the handful of movies starring Peter Lorre, the character is a detective. He is a Japanese version of Chinese-American Charlie Chan. I never considered him for entry in a site dedicated to spy series. He solved mysteries. He was not a spy.
       A year or so ago I saw Mr. Moto included in a list of spies. I looked at it oddly for a moment and wondered what could have possessed the author to consider Moto a spy. I owned the books, bought years before at a garage sale, but had not read them. "One of these days" was what I thought but none of those days had come yet. Still, I did not look at the books because, well, I knew he was a detective. Then a few months ago, I saw it listed again as a spy. This time, I checked Wikipedia and was stunned. I grabbed my books and was more stunned.
       Then I read the first couple of books and was flabbergasted.
       Mr. Moto is a spy!

       And what a spy he is. To go further, what an incredible series his is. I was mesmerized by it. Being just shy of 80 years old (as of this writing), it does not have a lot of what we would expect in a modern drama, such as tons of action and non-stop excitement, but it does have its share. And it has something far too many books these days do not - it has content that makes you think.
       This series was written just a half decade before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The attitude of the Americans depicted in the series towards the Japanese in general and their expansionism in specific is fascinating. The different characters come from the mind of the same author but he does a very good job of presenting several varying opinions. The Japanese are justified. The Japanese are opportunistic. The Japanese are war-mongerers.
       And Mr. Moto is always "so very, very sorry" he is forced to do some of the things he does. But he does them with impressive efficiency. He is not always successful but he is never lackluster.
       
       This series, or at least one book out of the batch, should be required reading for all serious spy fans. It is not only that good, it is that informative.
       And Mr. Moto is very, very great.

GRADE

My Grade: A

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