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Following their success with Tell It to the Marines (1927), MGM wanted Lon Chaney's next film to showcase his versatility as an actor and to demonstrate why he was truly "the Man of a Thousand Faces." Mr. Wu, based on a popular New York stage play, was certainly a challenge. It not only required Chaney to play the dual roles of Mandarin Wu and his grandfather but to appear as these characters at different stages in their life. As Mandarin Wu, Chaney had to play him as a young man and at middle age. For Grandfather Wu, he had to age from his eighties to the ripe old age of one hundred.
Structured like a tragic opera, Mr. Wu is a grand, theatrical melodrama. It tells the story of Mandarin Wu, a wealthy mandarin who is educated in the ways of Western civilization and culture by his wise grandfather. The grandson eventually marries a woman who dies giving birth to their only child, a daughter named Nang Ping. As the years pass, the father develops an incredibly close bond with his daughter which is severely tested by the arrival of a young Englishman, Basil Gregory, who falls in love with her. Since this is a Lon Chaney film, the outcome of this relationship is less than idyllic.
The most striking aspect of Mr. Wu is the makeup, particularly in the case of the one-hundred-year-old grandfather. Cheekbones and lips were build up with cotton and collodion, the ends of cigar holders were inserted into his nostrils, and the long fingernails were constructed from stripes of painted film stock. Chaney used fishskin to fashion an Oriental cast to his eyes and grey crepe hair was used to create the distinctive Fu-Manchu moustache and goatee. And these were only a few of the makeup procedures that took anywhere from four to six hours to apply!
Director: William Nigh
Producer: Harry Rapf
Screenplay: Lorna Moon (based on the play by Maurice Vernon & Harold Owen)
Cinematography: John Arnold
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and Richard Day
Cast: Lon Chaney (Mr. Wu/Wu's Grandfather), Renee Adoree (Nang Ping), Louise Dresser (Mrs. Gregory), Holmes Herbert (Mr. Gregory), Ralph Forbes (Basil Gregory).
by Jeff Stafford