Think Fast, Mr. Moto

Think Fast, Mr. Moto is a 1937 film directed by Norman Foster and featuring a mysterious Japanese detective named Mr. Moto. It is the first of eight films in the Mr. Moto series, all based on the character Mr. Moto created by John P. Marquand. The film stars Peter Lorre as the title character, Virginia Field, Thomas Beck and Sig Ruman. Mr. Moto works to stop a secret smuggling operation.[2]

Think Fast, Mr. Moto
Directed byNorman Foster
Produced bySol M. Wurtzel
Screenplay byNorman Foster
Philip MacDonald
Based onbased on novel Think Fast, Mr Moto by John P. Marquand
StarringPeter Lorre
Thomas Beck
Virginia Field
Sig Ruman
Music byR.H. Bassett
Samuel Kaylin
CinematographyHarry Jackson
Edited byAlex Troffey
Distributed by20th Century Fox Film Corporation
Release date
August 1937[1]
Running time
66 minutes
CountryUnited States


The film opens with Mr. Moto in disguise as a street salesmen and selling goods to passers-by. He sees a man leaving a shop with a tattoo of the British Flag on his arm. Moto enters the shop to sell a rare diamond to the owner. However, Moto sees a body stuffed into a wicker basket in the store, and using his mastery of judo takes down the shopkeeper. Later, he reserves a berth on a freighter headed for Shanghai. Also on the freighter is Bob Hitchings Jr., son of the owner of the freighter. Before leaving, Hitchings Sr. gives his son a confidential letter for the head of the Shanghai branch of the company. Hitchings and Moto become friends (Moto notices the letter), and Moto helps Hitchings cure a hangover. Hitchings complains to Moto that he has not met any beautiful women on board. After a stop in Honolulu, a beautiful woman named Gloria Danton boards the ship, and she and Hitchings fall in love. But Gloria is a spy for Nicolas Marloff, who runs a smuggling operation out of Shanghai. She periodically sends him notes and leaves without saying goodbye to Hitchings. Moto finds a steward looking for Hitchings’ letter and confronts him, knowing he was the person who killed the man in the wicker basket, as he wears the tattoo. Moto throws the man overboard and takes the letter.

At Shanghai, Hitchings meets with Joseph B. Wilkie and gives him the letter, but later learns that it is a blank sheet of paper. He calls his father, who tells him the letter said to watch out for smugglers. Hitchings is determined to find Gloria, and he learns from an unknown person that she is at the “international club”. Both he and Wilkie go there, as well as Moto and his date, Lela Liu. Hitchings finds Gloria performing at the club and goes to her dressing room. However, the club owner Marloff discovers them together and, knowing that Hitchings knows too much, locks them both up. Moto tells Lela to call the police, and seeks out Marloff. Posing as a fellow smuggler, he tricks Marloff into leading him to Gloria and Hitchings. Lela is shot while contacting the police, but manages to tell them where she is. Wilkie finds Marloff, and demands that Gloria and Hitchings be released. Marloff finds out that Moto is not a smuggler, then Moto apprehends him. Moto tells Wilkie to get Marloff’s gun, the gun explodes as Wilkie tries to grab it, killing Marloff. Police storm the building, and Moto tells them the Wilkie headed the smuggling operation. Wilkie replaced the letter and shot Lela. Moto gave Wilkie the opportunity to kill Marloff, who knew he was in on the plot, and he did. Wilkie is arrested, and things go back to normal.


Original Novel

Think Fast, Mr. Moto was the third novel in the Moto series. Film rights to the novel were bought in July 1936. It was originally a story That Girl and Mr Moto.[3][4]

The novel was not published until May 1937.[5]



Mr Moto had been introduced to readers in the 1935 novel No Hero.[6] It was popular and was followed by Thank You, Mr Moto in 1936 and then Think Fast, Mr Moto in 1937.

Twentieth Century Fox had three film series at the time - Charlie Chan, the Jones Family, and the Jeeves movies - and thought Mr Moto would make an ideal hero of a film series along the lines of Charlie Chan.[7] In July 1936 Fox announce they had bought the film rights to Think Fast, Mr Moto and Kenneth MacGowan would produce.[8][9] Macgrown refused to produce and the film became a "B" movie.

In January 1937 Fox announced that Peter Lorre would play Moto and that Think Fast would co-star Virginia Field. Lorre had just signed with Fox and made two films, Crack-Up and Nancy Steele Is Missing![10] He said he accepted the role because it gave him a rare chance to play a hero.[11] In February Thomas Beck signed as the male romantic lead.

Norman Foster was assigned to direct. He was given a script by Howard Smith and rewrote it extensively. The film is very different from the novel although it uses some of the same names.[12] [13]


Filming started February 11, 1937.[14]


The film was well liked at Fox and in April 1937 (several months before the film had been released to the public) the studio announced they would make five more Moto movies.[15] The studio said they did not want to make the mistake of the Jeeves films with Arthur Treacher and vowed to provide good production values "to make them first string entertainment."[10]

In June 1937 Fox said the first three movies in the series would be Think Fast, Mr Moto, Thank You Mr Moto and Mr Moto's Gamble.[16]

In the end, Lorre played Moto eight times:

The novel Think Fast Mr Moto was not published until May 1937.[17]

In June 1937 Marquand reportedly sold four unwritten Moto stories to Fox at $8,000 each.[18] In July 1937 it was announced Lorre and Rochelle Hudson would be in Look Out Mr Moto.[19]


The film was released in August 1937. The New York Times called it a "horse anchor on that pony plodder of pictures" but thought Lorre was well cast.[20] The Chicago Tribune said "the action is snappy and unpredictable. Dialog's to the point and direction, staging and photography are commendable.""[21]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media

This film, along with Thank You, Mr. Moto, Mr. Moto Takes a Chance and Mysterious Mr. Moto, was released on DVD in 2006 by 20th Century Fox as part of The Mr. Moto Collection, Volume One.


  1. THE SCREEN CALENDAR New York Times 15 Aug 1937: 141.
  2. Think Fast, Mr. Moto Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 4, Iss. 37, (Jan 1, 1937): 149.
  3. "News Of The Screen: ' Anthony Adverse' Due at Strand Aug. 26 New Film On Russian Gypsies at Cameo Tonight". The New York Times. July 28, 1936. p. 23.
  4. Schallert, Edwin (July 25, 1936). "Earl Carroll of "Vanities" Fame Will Produce for Twentieth Century-Fox: Elaborate Musical Placed on Schedule Lionel Barrymore Replaces Brother John in Garbo's "Camille;" Robert Donat Will Do Robin Hood Role; Star Air-Conditioned". Los Angeles Times. p. 7.
  5. Latest Works of Fiction Mr. Moto's Return THINK FAST, MR. MOTO. By John P. Marquand. 278 pp. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. $2. New York Times 16 May 1937: 98.
  6. Orient Adventure: NO HERO. By J.P. Marquand. 281 pp. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. $2. Beckwith, E C. New York Times 1 Sep 1935: BR7.
  7. Schallert, Edwin (February 11, 1937). "Peter Lorre Will Play Mr. Moto, Japanese Sleuth, In Series: Studio Chooses Story to Star Fred Stone". Los Angeles Times. p. 10.
  8. Earl Carroll of "Vanities" Fame Will Produce for Twentieth Century-Fox: Elaborate Musical Placed on Schedule Lionel Barrymore Replaces Brother John in Garbo's "Camille;" Robert Donat Will Do Robin Hood Role; Star Air-Conditioned Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 25 July 1936: 7.
  9. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: ' Anthony Adverse' Due at Strand Aug. 26 New Film On Russian Gypsies at Cameo Tonight. New York Times 28 July 1936: 23.
  10. Churchill, Douglas W. (April 18, 1937). "Hollywood Picket Line: The Industry Watches the C. I. O.--Satisfaction--R. Halliburton Flynn". The New York Times. p. 169.
  11. Othman, Frederick C. (November 29, 1937). "Lorre Learns How to Emote From Rasslers: Film Player Gets Points From Groan-and-Grunt Bouts on Coast". The Washington Post. p. 14.
  12. Youngstein p 147
  13. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: George Jessel to Become Warner Executive--You and Me' Faces Delay Again-New Film Tonight Of Local Origin New York Times 6 Feb 1937: 14.
  14. "News Of The Screen: Universal Signs Leopold Stokowski for New Deanna Durbin Film--Phil Baker Joins 'Goldwyn Follies'". The New York Times. February 10, 1937. p. 18.
  15. HOLLYWOOD PICKET LINE: The Industry Watches the C. I. O.--Satisfaction--R. Halliburton Flynn By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]18 Apr 1937: 169.
  16. FOX LISTS FILMS FOR NEXT SEASON New York Times 2 June 1937: 20.
  17. Books and Authors New York Times 11 Apr 1937: A16.
  18. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Four Openings Today--Hays Names Committee to Study Use of Films for Schools--Rockettes to Paris News From Hollywood New York Times 11 June 1937: 26.
  19. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Anna Sten Returns Today in 'Two Who Dared'-Jean Harlow's 'Saratoga' to Open at Capitol July 22 News From Hollywood New York Times 9 July 1937: 18.
  20. THE SCREEN: 'Kliou, the Killer,' and 'Song of Ceylon' Open at the Camneo--'Think Fast, Mr. Moto' at the Central At the Central New York Times 16 Aug 1937: 15.
  21. Peter Lorre Is Introduced as a Mr. Moto Tinee, Mae. Chicago Daily Tribune 17 Oct 1937: d4.
  22. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.
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