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The Mask of Fu Manchu

USA 1932
produced by
Cosmopolitan Productions/MGM
directed by Charles Brabin, Charles Vidor
starring Boris Karloff, Lewis Stone, Karen Morley, Charles Starrett, Myrna Loy, Jean Hersholt, Lawrence Grant, David Torrence, C. Montague Shaw, Ferdinand Gottschalk, E. Alyn Warren, Lal Chand Mehra, Willie Fung, Edward Peil sr, Allen Jung, Steve Clemente, Tetsu Komai, Chris-Pin Martin, Clinton Rosemond, Everett Brown, James B.Leong
screenplay by Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, John Willard, based on a story by Sax Rohmer, music by William Axt, special effects by Warren Newcombe, electrical effects by Kenneth Strickfaden

Fu Manchu

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Oriental baddie Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) needs the mask and sword of Genghis Khan to subdue all Asians and lead them in an uprising against Europe. To this end, he kidnaps archeologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant), who is supposed to know where the mask and sword are hidden, and submits him to most terrible torture - but Barton won't talk. Meanwhile, at secret service operative Nayland Smith's (Lewis Stone) behest, Barton's assistants von Berg (Jean Hersholt) and McLeod (David Torrence) along with Barton's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) and her boyfriend Terry (Charles Starrett) to actually unearth mask and sword. Once they are in their hands though, Fu Manchu somehow manages to convince Sheila and Terry to exchange them for her father, but when Terry brings them to the villain, it turns out they are fakes, fabricated at Nayland Smith's request. Sheila's father is returned to her alright, dead, while it's now Terry who is subjected to the villain's torture before he's drugged and returned to Sheila to finally retrieve the objects of Fu Manchu's desire ... and this time, he brings the real sword and mask, too, along with all of Nayland Smith's associates including Sheila, whom Fu Manchu wants to make his humkan sacrifice to celebrate the impenjding invasion of Europe. Terry is awoken from his drug-induced confusion just in time though and together with Nayland Smith, he frees the others and puts an end to Fu Manchu and his army by electrocuting them with one of the baddie's more sophisticated machines of torture. In the end, the mask and sword are handed over to the sea, to keep any other Oriental conquerors from ever abusing them trying to cause another Asian uprising.

 

First of all I feel obliged to note that from today's point of view, this film can by no means be labelled policitally correct, I would even go so far as to call it slightly racist - but then again, it was of course made in the early 1930's, at a time before colonbialism had collapsed, and the general public's knowledge about Asia and its people was still sketchy at best. This is not to excuse the te3ndencies of this film, just to make them a little better understandable ...

 

Apart from its issues with political correctness though, Mask of Fu Manchu is pretty much a pulp masterpiece that presents its audience with wonderful tableaus of torture in which carefully created sets seem to bring the action to life just as much as the actors. Add to this a great cast, a wonderfully grotesque villain-makeup worn by the decidedly un-Oriental Boris Karloff, and an almost unhealthy predilection for sadism and torture, and you got a very much unique and timeless piece of genre cinema.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD