Wednesday, June 11, 2008
The Yellow Peril
So, after watching the Lakers/Celtics game earlier tonight -- a contest in which the laws of physics were somehow suspended, since the ball had to have kept shifting in weight, from basket- to bowling- to beachball, given what was getting launched were bricks, airballs, and over-the-backboard shots, and nobody could buy a jam, those were bouncing to the roof at Staples ...
Never mind. Leave it. L.A. won -- ugly, but it counts.
After that, I was casting around for something more exciting to watch, being too lazy to get up and go fetch a book.
Came across TNT's running of Thank You, Mr. Moto, from 1937.
This was the second installment of what turned to be five or six of these things, I think, starring Peter Lorre as the wily Japanese detective, Mr. Moto. Wearing false and somewhat buck, teeth, and made up to look like what Hollywood thought was Japanese.
This was probably the best of the lot -- not saying much -- and undoubtedly the series was made to compete with the more-popular Charlie Chan films, starring Warner Oland (and Sidney Toler) -- another pair of fine Asian fellows, like Lorre. (In the credits for the Moto movie, you have to go down to the bottom of the list to find a Chinese name, and it's the only one on the page, Philip Ahn. Everybody else with credits is a white boy or girl. Half the Chinese extras are played by Japanese, too ...)
The plot, such that it was, concerned ancient scrolls supposedly offering a map to the tomb of Genghis Khan, a name half the actors kept pronouncing "Jengus." A great treasure was buried there, ten million or so, real money back then. These days, that would hardly fill up your SUV ...
Needless to say, bad guys want the scrolls, as does Mr. Moto.
Set in China -- they are in Peking -- Mr. Moto and Prince Chung, the owner of most of the scrolls, are buddies, which is amusing, given the relations between China and Japan at the time, The Rape of Nanking and all.
John Carradine has a turn as a Spanish? Portuguese? Italian? antique dealer, Periera, with an accent that was stunning in its awfulness. Had he chewed any more scenery, the set would have collapsed and killed them all, and it would have to have been considered a mercy killing ...
There is a Pretty Girl and a Handsome Dimwit American. Some Russians.
As the story went, Prince Chung lost face, his mother was killed, and -- being Chinese -- he had to commit ritual suicide, "Hairy Kerry." Moto then avowed to avenge him, and by the movie's end, there were dead bodies hither and yon, a couple of them taken out by Moto himself in as cavalierly a manner as James Bond would have done it. Burned the scrolls, too.
Harikiri? Seppuku? The Chinese? Hollywood writers apparently couldn't tell the difference between one Oriental and another -- they all look alike, you know -- and nobody seemed to care.
Apparently, the third offering in the Moto series had been written as a Charlie Chan movie, but when Warner Oland died, they changed the names and gave it to Mr. Moto. Chan's #1 son shows up in it, and I'm sure anybody who was Japanese or Chinese wondered what was up with that.
With the approach of WWII, wily Japanese detectives went out of fashion in a hurry. Peter Lorre was happy with that, wanting to move on. Casablanca. The Maltese Falcon. Arsenic and Old Lace. Muscle Beach Party ...
Several of the actors in these Moto/Chan things eventually wound up on Kung-fu on the tube, including one of the #1 sons, Keye Luke, as well Philip Ahn. Even old John Carradine guested on a couple of those.
Mr. Moto. Ah, they don't make 'em like that any more.