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During the Boxer Rebellion in China during the early 20th century, in which a Chinese secret society attacked all westerners and anyone who associated with them, Dr. Fu Manchu's wife and child are killed by foreigners. Enraged, he vows to take his revenge on the British army officers he holds responsible for the killings. Written by
Focus on Warner Oland's performance and the atmosphere...
...and you'll feel like watching this film was time well spent. Perhaps it was the job Warner Oland did here as Fu Manchu that got him the role of Charlie Chan over at Fox, because he is sensational in the part. He transitions from humanitarian to a one-man killing machine on a quest for vengeance against those he holds responsible for the death of his wife and only child. Their deaths occur in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion when a troop of soldiers fire on Fu Manchu's house. The Europeans are after the boxers, and Fu Manchu's family is just collateral damage to them. At the time of the rebellion, Fu Manchu has a young two year old European female ward (Jean Arthur). He uses the power of hypnotism he holds over her to get her to help in his dirty work without her ever remembering anything that happened.
Twenty years later Fu Manchu has killed off all those he finds responsible except one man and his offspring, and this leads him to England. A detective from Scotland Yard figures out what is going on, and the surviving family members including Fu's ward are holed up in an old dark house trying to get the Chinese mastermind to show himself. The complicating factor is that one of Fu Manchu's targets (Neil Hamilton) and Fu Manchu's ward (Jean Arthur) have fallen in love.
This film is pretty static, but then it is one of the first talking films and the placement of the microphone and camera demanded this. Oland and Hamilton are great in their roles, and everybody else is OK except Jean Arthur. She is really playing this one over the top, like she thinks she is still in a silent picture and expecting the villain to tie her to a railroad track at any instance. She doesn't give a glimpse of the great performances that are to come.
Watch this one for Warner Oland, for the atmosphere, and for the general touch of class you find in all of the early Paramount talkies.
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