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This was a bit different with Boris Karloff playing an Asian "bad guy."
He plays "Fu Manchu," and man who sets out to get Genghis Khan's mask
and sword which supposedly will give him the power to rule over
millions of people.
Despite the classic film casting of white people to play Asians, I found Karloff to be "cool" looking as was his evil daughter, a young Myrna Loy. I like Karen Morely, usually, but not in here where she plays an almost-hysterical daughter of one of the good guys.
"Fu Manchu" shows some of his unique methods of torture, nothing graphic, thankfully - not like today's blood and guts.
Some of this is amateurishly-done but overall it still a legitimate amount of real horror and terror and the cast certainly is entertaining. ("Andy Hardy" star Lewis Stone also is in here along with Jean Hersholt and Charles Starret.)
Summary: a decent and almost-mystical adventure story that doesn't overstay its welcome, either, at a tidy 68 minutes. Pretty good stuff.
The Mask of Fu Manchu easily could have served as inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Archaeologists dashing to retrieve relic to save Western Civilization. Feats of derring-do. Scenes of despicable torture and heroic bravery. What makes this movie even better is in Raiders you know Dr. Jones will win. The Nazis are mere obstacles in his path to run over. But in this movie, Boris Karloff's performance as the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu makes the Nazis seem like mere shadows of a threat compared to his evil genius. His Fu Manchu is a villain you not only fear, but respect. Myrna Loy as his daughter is wickedly good. While the sparks put off by Fu Manchu's diabolical invention are impressive special effects, they are nothing in comparison to the sparks emitted by the young, scantily clad Myrna Loy.
Dr. Fu Manchu(Boris Karloff) is a ruthless oriental who desires to obtain the ceremonial mask and sword of Genghis Khan. He believes if he secures these two sacred items, his leadership over the hordes of Asia will exterminate the white race so that he will rule the world. Professor Von Berg (Jean Hersholt, radio veteran of "Poems That Touch the Heart") and Nayland Smith(Lewis Stone) of Scotland Yard try to prevent Fu Manchu from getting these important relics. These members are subject to murder and torture and are even sentenced to death in the crocodile pit. Fah Lo See(Myrna Loy,wife of Wm. Powell in the "Thin Man Series")is a very sexual daughter of Fu Manchu who wants to make a young expedition member Terry Granville(Charles Starrett) to be her slave for life. Boris Karloff spoke for the first time in his second career in this film after " Frankenstein". Sax Rohmer who wrote the novel wanted Karloff because of his natural lisp to make it sound like a snake-like hissing in his hateful role as Fu Manchu. It is a must see film and a great film classic for all generations.
THE MASK OF FU MANCHU has recently had several minutes of missing material restored to it, footage that has not been seen in decades. This longer cut of the film is currently enjoying a limited theatrical release, and it would be nice to see that followed by a DVD release. Probably one of the best of the films to be based on author Sax Rohmer's stories (along with FACE OF FU MANCHU and DRUMS OF FU MANCHU), it would be nice to see a potential DVD release possibly include commentary by Boris Karloff's daughter, Sara, or a look at the making of the film. Karloff commented in interviews that MASK was a troubled production, with constant changes to the script throughout the filming. In spite of that, the final film manages to capture the feel of the pulp tales that inspired it.
No self-respecting fan of the great Boris Karloff should miss his juicy
performance in this raunchy and very unconventional film. As the evil
and maniacal Asian mastermind Dr. Fu Manchu, Karloff plans to kill off
"the white race" as he hunts down the highly desirable mask and sword
of Genghis Khan, which winds up in the possession of a group of British
treasure seekers. Boris seems to really relish his part as he tortures
his captives with a grinning sadistic glee. Myrna Loy plays his
self-described "ugly and insignificant daughter", who harbors a
sado-masochistic appetite and nymphomania.
The sets are glorious, some sequences are disturbing for the time they were made, and there is newly restored controversial dialogue in the recent editions of the film, with "politically incorrect" slang being used on both sides of the line. There is sometimes a criticism toward the movie for its usage of this type of speech, but the time in which the feature was produced should be historically considered, as well as fairly noting that no race is spared during the length of the film. While Fu Manchu is referred to as a "yellow devil" by his victims, for instance, he is also denouncing Christianity and roaring with contempt to his eastern followers with his authoritative command for them to "kill the white men and take their women!"
There are also some unintentional laughs to be found on occasion, and many of them come courtesy of Karen Morley as "Shelia", who is just atrocious with her comedic overacting. Running a scant 68 minutes, this is a wild and wacky good time for fans of old movies, serials, and Boris Karloff in particular. Enjoy!
Wonderfully inventive exotic horror movie from the early days of
An expedition from the British Museum sets out to find the long searched for tomb of legendary warlord Genghis Khan and get to the fabled sword and mask before it is found and usurped by Dr. Fu Manchu, evil contemporary warlord with an unquenchable ambition to extinguish the white race in his lust for power.
'Mask of Fu Manchu' is well worth a watch for its stunning look alone. The sets by Cedric Gibbons are gorgeous to look at, a uniquely Hollywoodian blend of art-deco and tasteful Orientalism, photographed to fantastic effect by Tony Gaudio and evocatively lit. The acting is top-notch with Karloff an exquisitely seductive Fu Manchu and the young Loy a delight as his sadistic daughter. This film could not have been made just a couple of years later, it is decidedly pre-Code in its sexual frankness and the lusty demeanor of the characters. Ex-football star Starrett is more than sufficiently hunky stripped down to a loincloth in a torture scene! But then, the torture of this movie is always a naughty delight, it has so many things in store for us.
Obviously, the question with 'Mask of Fu Manchu' as with others of its time is, Are you able to forgive its naive racism? "You hideous yellow monster!", our heroine hisses contemptuously, but then again, the Brits aren't exactly angels either, the barbaric way these so-called scientists go about breaking open Genghis Khan's tomb, desecrating everything on their way, only barely concealing their avarice ...
A really good film, highly recommended.
Created by British author Sax Rohmer, the evil Dr. Fu Manchu appeared
for the first time in 1912, in a story serialized in one of the many
pulp magazines of those years. While originally a personification of
the racism present during the time of its creation (the infamous
"Yellow Peril"), Fu Manchu has become one of the most famous characters
in science fiction, serving as model to other villainous character as
one of the earliest examples of the Supervillain archetype. The
fascinating evil genius (and his nemesis, Sir Denis Nayland Smith)
appeared in so many successful novels that of course, film adaptations
became the next step, resulting in many different versions of the
stories made since the first British film serial in 1923. Many talented
actors like Harry Agar Lyons, Warner Oland and Christopher Lee have
played the famous criminal, but the most famous interpretation of Fu
Manchu is definitely the one done by horror legend Boris Karloff in the
1932 film, "The Mask of Fu Manchu".
Based on Rohmer's story of the same name, "The Mask of Fu Manchu" is the story of the discovery of Ghengis Khan's tomb, where his legendary Mask and Sword are supposed to be hidden. British archaeologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) has discovered the exact location, but he is kidnapped by Dr. Fu Manchu's (Boris Karloff) criminal gang, in order to proclaim himself Kahn's heir and lead the Asian nations to a war against the British empire. Knowing this, Sir Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) takes his own group of archaeologists and, along with Barton's only daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) and her fiancée Terry (Charles Starrett), attempt to find Kahn's tomb before Fu Manchu, hoping to rescue Sir Lionel Barton in the process. However, Dr. Fu Manchu and his daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy) will prove to be terrible enemies for the British agent and his team.
Written by the prolific writer Edgar Allan Woolf (with Irene Kuhn and John Willard as collaborators), the film is as faithful as possible to its pulp novel origins, keeping the essence of the Rohmer's series of books in both style and substance. As in the novels, the story flows at a fast pace, mixing horror and science fiction as the adventurers must face the criminal mastermind, who here is presented as a fascinating and very powerful adversary of Smith and his team. In fact, it could be said that the writers seemed more interested in the villains than in the heroes, as Fu Manchu and his daughter are easily the most developed characters. The treatment of Fah Lo See is really interesting, as the script (written in the years before the Hays Code) allows her to be a very sexual predator, and as wicked as her father.
"The Mask of Fu Manchu" was directed by Charles Brabin, a very experienced director of silents who after the introduction of sound, directed several "talkies" before retiring. Brabin's experience in Silent films may be the reason behind the very visual flare of the movie, as he gives an amazing use to Tony Gaudio's cinematography to create one of the most stunningly looking pieces of science fiction of the 30s, truly capturing the "feeling" of the pulp novels where the story had its origins. As the writers, Brabin seems to fall in love with his villains, and injects them the haunting mix of sadistic eroticism that previous incarnations of Fu Manchu lacked. Interestingly, this movie, Brabin's 8th film with sound, was also the first "talkie" directed by Charles Vidor, who here received his first chance as an assistant in a big studio movie.
As written above, it's the villains what make "The Mask of Fu Manchu" special, and fortunately, the cast portraying them was the most perfect one for the job. Myrna Loy is simply gorgeous as Fah Lo See, and while her role doesn't have too much screen time, she makes every scene memorable as Manchu's daughter. Legendary horror icon Boris Karloff makes wonders in the role of Fu Manchu, as he takes the character of the evil genius to higher levels of monstrosity. While the make-up (by Cecil Holland) is not as effective as the ones by Jack Pierce at Universal, Karloff manages to be a very convincing Fu Manchu in probably the best representation of the character. As Fu Machu's nemesis, Lewis Stone shows the necessary dignity and wit of the British gentleman he is portraying, but sadly his screen time is very limited and instead we get more of the mediocre performances by Karen Morley and Charles Starrett, who look very weak as the romantic couple.
It seems like time hasn't been nice to this film when compared to other films inspired by pulp novels, and not only because of it's constant racism towards the Asians (like with the novels, the "Yellow Peril" stereotype is quite notorious), but mainly because it uses devises so typical of adventure films today, that it make the film look dated and clichéd; however, taking into account the times when this movie was made, one can see it as the possible source of those clichés. On a different subject matter, the movie indeed suffers from the bad performances of those put on the main spotlight, as like many directors that started in silent films, Brabin struggles with the most dialog-based scenes. Still, Karloff, Loy and Stone shine despite Brabin's own problems and the lack of talent of the two lead actors.
True, "The Mask of Fu Manchu" looks campy and terribly dated by today standards, but it certainly has many characteristics that make it worthy of the title of "classic". It's horror elements are few, but it's an enormously influential film for the action and adventure genres (an influence that can be traced even to the "Indiana Jones" series). While not exactly a perfect movie, "The Mask of Fu Manchu" delivers a nice pack of thrills and fun, and one of Karloff's finest performances. 7/10
It didn't surprise me in the least that The Mask Of Fu Manchu was
produced by Cosmopolitan Pictures. Even though the title is a bit of a
misnomer. It isn't about The Mask Of Fu Manchu, it's about the mask and
sword of Ghenghis Khan which Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu wants to
discover and appropriate for himself so he can become a kind of Far
Cosmopolitan Pictures was the production outfit of William Randolph Hearst and while it's main reason for existence was to produce films for Marion Davies, it did produce other films. The Hearst press, especially on the West Coast was very big in stirring up anti-Chinese and anti- Japanese feelings among the white people constantly using the phrase The Yellow Peril to describe how if they're allowed to emigrate her they'll be taking over in a few generations. The fictional Fu Manchu fit the Hearst agenda quite nicely.
In the Fu Manchu stories it's like Professor Moriarty was the main protagonist. Fu Manchu's particular Holmes is Commissioner Nayland Smith played by Lewis Stone as stout a representative of the United Kingdom and their imperial pretensions as ever went out in the noon day sun.
As I said Fu Manchu is after the warrior symbols of Ghengis Khan so he can lead the Oriental people to their rightful place. Interestingly this Oriental messiah seems to have a number of black slaves doing his bidding in the film. The British government as personified by Nayland Smith wants archaeologists Jean Hersholt, David Torrance and Lawrence Grant to find the tomb and get this so the British can display it at the British Museum in London as a symbol of their superiority. Grant is kidnapped and tortured by Karloff, but Grant's daughter Karen Morley and her boyfriend, future Durango Kid Charles Starrett takes her father's place on the expedition.
Though I think that The Mask Of Fu Manchu is every bit as racist in its attitudes as The Birth Of A Nation, like The Birth Of A Nation it has some great performances. Led of course by that master of horror, Boris Karloff. Karloff played so many different and varied types in his long career, being Chinese was no big deal for him to play. Later on Karloff kind of made it up to the Chinese people by playing the educated detective Mr. Wong who unlike Charlie Chan never spoke in fortune cookie aphorisms.
Myrna Loy is Fu Manchu's 'unworthy' daughter and this is at the height of the phase in her career where she played Oriental temptresses. She conceives a real liking for Starrett to turn him into her Occidental boy toy. She's a willing and eager accomplice in her father's dirty deeds, perhaps to show herself as worthy.
The Mask Of Fu Manchu is as racist a film as you can get, but it's also holding up quite well as entertainment. And who was ever more sinister on the screen than Boris Karloff playing anything?
Many, many times a movie can be worthwhile when it does no more than
create and display a strange world. Almost always that's the case where
the world is new and/or synthesized from previous abstract sources.
"Metropolis" of five years earlier is often celebrated as a film. Its only value is in the art design, but that's miraculous in a way. Unfortunately the story is as thuggishly stupid as the notions it criticizes. And that mars a movie for me.
This one is even more clever in the visual world it creates. And yes the story is dumb, and also racist. But it is not hypocritical: all the people involved are dishonorable, worthy of a Tod Browning script.
The visual notions are astonishingly varied. Nominally this is a mystical Chinese (Northern Chinese, more deeply mystical) environment added to a 30's German-influenced visual depiction of science. There are lots of "electrical" visuals, zaps and blinkers. Abstractions of reality dominate: staircases that stand alone: monumental pedestals and other features in internal spaces; statues and icons that become characters from props.
The styles aren't Chinese at all but borrowed from any place or era with an association with the mystical.
Deep, deep shadows. Many ceremonial movements in everyday tasks (as well as ceremonies). Vast ambitions, though this was commonplace by then. Direct precode references to sex and the implication that somehow rape on a national scale had something to do with mystical/ scientific power.
(Remember, this is BEFORE Hitler's ascendancy.)
The story and most characters are irrelevant and that underscores the effect of the tone.
Watch Indiana Jones if you must, if you need movement. Watch this if you want to be saturated with cinematic color.
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
"The Mask of Fu Manchu" was MGMs attempt to cash in on the horror craze
of the day. They even went so far as to secure the services of the
biggest horror star, Boris Karloff from Universal. Evendently, Irving
Thalberg the head of production at MGM thought the studio could make
them "bigger and better". MGM had released "Freaks" earlier the same
year, about a group of circus freaks, but it didn't do well at the box
office. So this time they decided to go with a major horror star.
Dr. Fu Manchu (Karloff) a half mad and sadistic oriental leader hopes to become the new Genghis Khan by recovering Khan's mask and sword from his tomb. He then plans to unite all orientals and eliminate the white race. Also after the treasure are Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) and his expedition which includes his daughter Sheila (Karen Morley), Professor Von Berg (Jean Hersholt), Terrence Granville (Charles Starrett), McLeod (David Torrence) and Scotland Yard detective Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) along to protect the treasure from falling into the hands of Fu Manchu.
Fu Manchu abducts Barton and tries to get him to reveal the location of Genghis Khan's sword and mask. When he refuses, Fu Manchu subjects him to the "bell torture". To free Barton, the party agrees to send Terrence to Fu Manchu with fake artifacts. Fu Manchu's equally evil daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy) sets her sights on Terrence.
After subjecting him to a lashing, Fu Manchu injects Terrence with a serum that will compel him to do Fu Manchu's bidding. Terrance returns to Sheila and under Fu Manchu's influence tricks the others into coming back to Fu Manchu with the real treasure.
When the tyrant finally gets his hands on the the sword and mask, he has no further use with the explorers. First he plans to offer Sheila up as a sacrifice to the gods, subject Smith to a slow descent into an alligator pit, Professor Von Berg to impalement by a two sided wall of spikes while retaining Terrence "for the amusement" of his daughter.
This film benefited greatly from MGMs excellent production values. The set pieces including the various instruments of torture, are excellent. Being filmed before The Production Code was implemented in Hollywood in 1934, this film contains several racial remarks and sexual innuendos. Its no secret what the seductive Foh Lo See is up to.
As was usual in Hollywood, the lead oriental parts were cast with Caucasians, and the so-called Britishers with Americans using phony accents, if in fact they used them at all.
Karloff seems to relish his part being as mean and evil as he ever was. Watch the "bell torture" sequence as an example. Loy was never sexier and probably never got the chance to play such a role again. Stone, an MGM mainstay, is also good as Fu Manchu's main adversary.
Charles Starrett would go on to be Columbia's main "B" western hero in a contract that ran from 1935 to 1952. For the latter years he was better known as "The Durango Kid".
One of MGM's better forays into the horror genre.
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