Mask of Fu Manchu, The

Tagged: Film

Film (1932). Cosmopolitan/MGM. Directed by Charles Brabin, Charles Vidor. Written by Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allen Woolf, John Willard, based on The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) by Sax Rohmer. Cast includes Jean Hersholt, Boris Karloff, Myrna Loy, Karen Morley and Lewis Stone. 72 minutes, cut to 67 minutes. Black and white.

Rohmer's Oriental supervillain has since been brought to the screen many times (see Fu Manchu) but this first, visually lavish version, produced by Irving Thalberg, is the most memorable. It is based on the sixth book in Sax Rohmer's intensely popular, racy and racist Dr Fu-Manchu series. Malign scientific genius, Torturer and murderer Fu Manchu (Karloff), pitted against his old nemesis Nayland Smith (Stone), lisps his way poisonously through the film with the assistance of his sadistic daughter (Loy), who has a wonderfully fetishistic scene (assisted by Nubians) where she whips and then caresses one of their heroic enemies. Fu Manchu seeks Genghis Khan's death-mask and sword, which he intends to use as symbols to arouse the Oriental races in a war against the White nations; tarantulas and a Zombie serum play roles in an eclectic plot which mixes sf and occult devices. In a spectacular climax Fu's electrical Death-Ray machine is turned against Fu's generals by Nayland Smith. The bizarrely stylized sets were by Cedric Gibbons and the electrical effects were by Ken Strickfaden. This is the sort of pulp adventure classic later imitated enjoyably by Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) (see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). [PN/JB]

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