The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929) Poster

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Early talkie has atmosphere, doesn't hold interest.
Steve-17126 May 1999
Very early talkie featuring pre-Charlie Chan Oland as mad Doctor, primitive with slow stretches, but watchable. They couldn't stray far from the microphone, so some scenes are VERY static with nobody moving. Comic relief just plain stupid. Interesting trivia: William Austin (Sylvester) later played Batman's butler, Alfred, in serials, while Neil Hamilton (Jack Petrie) MUCH later played Commissioner Gordon in the 60s TV Series. O. P. Heggie, a very wooden Nayland Smith, gained immortality as the blind hermit who befriends the monster in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
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A very good thriller that's perfect for a dark and stormy night
dbborroughs2 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
First of the sound Fu Manchu films stars Warner Oland as the "evil" doctor. Here the plot begins in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. Fu is a good and loving doctor respected by all sides of the conflict. When the Boxers are routed by a western army several take refuge in Fu's garden. The soldiers pursue and in the resulting fighting the wife and child of the doctor are slain. He of course vows revenge and sets out to kill the men he feels are responsible. The film jumps ahead to the present (1929) where Fu, aided unwittingly by his Caucasian ward,a young Jean Arthur, stalks London on his path of revenge. Opulent and spectacular early sound film that mostly doesn't seem like most sound films of the period, its not static and frozen, there is movement around the sets. If there is any hint of its origin in the early days of sound its the lack of music cues. Otherwise this is a rip roaring thriller. It has more in common with the murder mysteries of the period rather then the much better known later versions of Sax Rohmer tales with Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee. Here we have shadowy streets in Chinatown and an English manner house perched high on a cliff. Its moody fun stuff. The cast is mostly excellent, with Warner Oland playing Fu as a darker version of his most famous role, Charlie Chan. The real hero here is not so much Nayland Smith, rather it Dr Petrie, son of of one of Fu's Targets. Petrie is played by Neil Hamilton, best known now as Commissioner Gordon on Batman, however this was back at the start of his career when he was an action leading man. It clear why he was a popular actor back in the day. The only weakness is Jean Arthur as Fu's ward. She seems ill at ease and actually quite awkward. One would be hard pressed to realize that she had been on screen in almost 50 movies by the time this film was made. I would like to think its because of the transition to sound, certainly she shows little sign of the wonderful performances she would give in films like You can't Take it With You or Mr Smith Goes to Washington. Over all this is a perfect film for a dark and stormy night.
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Focus on Warner Oland's performance and the atmosphere...
calvinnme20 September 2009
...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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Restored Version Available?
orionview1 January 2013
Restored Version Available? Or better yet a colorized version? The original book is free on Gutenburg. The film that is shown now is practically unwatchable but the story and the actors are engaging in the film and would make it worthwhile watching in an HD or colorized version. Oland, Hamilton, and Arthur were all engaged in the silent film era and this is their plunge into the talkies. So you have skilled actors with a good story, but the display is wanting. This is the first Fu Manchu film of the talkies era and it was good. However 83 years later the film itself is in tatters. Message me if you have a lead on an A+ quality version of the film and I (and many others) will snap it up quickly.
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An abundance of racism and other prejudices.
mark.waltz12 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
There is a definite anti-Asian sentiment in this sometimes unintentionally funny pre-code thriller that not only slams Chinese, but effeminate men as well. A slight attempt to give Warner Oland's character a justifiable motive (at least in his mind) for murder. He blames the Caucasian men who slaughtered his family during the Boxer Rebellion, and sets his American ward Jean Arthur up to destroy the families of his enemies. Of course, she has the gall to fall in love with one of them, a very young Neil Hamilton. Desperate causes require desperate measures, and Fu Manchu sets up a vile torture to keep Arthur in line.

Subtle at first, this turns out to be almost as offensive as the 1932 Boris Karloff cult classic. Oland would go on to play the heroic Charlie Chan in a series of B mysteries but here he is the epitome of pure evil. Melodrama!, he screeches in one particularly odd moment, just before sharing his evil goals with the doomed lovers. An effeminate butler adds on unfunny stereotypes as he claims he doesn't wear glasses because it would make him look effeminate, and later cries about not living to the next day to have marmalade one last time. Arthur, in one of her early talkies, comes off a far cry from her later skilled actress and is almost embarrassing to watch. Creaky to watch, offensive to listen to, and eye-rolling in every other element, yet such a curiosity of bad taste.
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