Drums of Fu Manchu
Cast & Crew
Lal Chand Mehra
Hiram S. Brown Jr.
Morgan B. Cox
Norman S. Hall
Barney A. Sarecky
William [p.] Thompson
Drums of Fu Manchu
Fu Manchu was the creation of English author Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward under the pen name "Sax Rohmer." A collection of the worst of racist fears of the Orient, Dr. Fu Manchu was a brilliant and near-unstoppable super villain seeking control of Asia's countless masses to bring about the downfall of the West. An utterly inexcusable stereotype today but, once past the trappings, Fu Manchu is cut from the same cloth as all the masterminds that battled James Bond.
Drums of Fu Manchu never gives a viewer much time to ponder the pervasiveness of prejudice in the media. From chapter one ("Fu Manchu Strikes!") to chapter fifteen ("Revolt!") the action and intrigue is breakneck in what has often been called one of the best serials ever made. A great villain and fast pacing are not the only virtues here. There is a darkness and terror matched by no other serial of its time. Fu Manchu's orders are given to the Dacoits, men turned into zombies via lobotomies that leave Y-shaped scars on their foreheads. In action that stretches from "San Angeles" (standing in for Los Angeles) to the Himalayas, there is nowhere the heroes can go that is not under constant observation by the Dacoits. They invade homes by walking on telephone wires, climb up walls to peer through windows with wristwatch video cameras or eavesdrop behind every door.
Fu Manchu's quest is to find the location of the Tomb of Genghis Khan with whose scepter he will lead the East in revolt. Opposing him is his old nemesis Sir Nayland Smith accompanied by young American Allan Parker out to revenge the death of his father at Fu Manchu's hands. Some of Fu Manchu's futuristic methods are a little campy today, never so much as when he reveals that he controls a force-field prison with the Clapper!
German actor Henry Brandon, best known for his bad guys, most notably as "Scar" in John Ford's The Searchers (1956), has a field day as Fu Manchu. Wearing a bald wig and practically vertical eyebrows, Brandon oozes evil at every turn. The voice he affects for Fu Manchu provides a model for all the Doctor No's and Ernst Stavro Blofeld's to come. One scene in which he duplicates the face of Allan Parker for himself but retains the Fu Manchu voice provides a treat for both actors and audience.
Brandon recalls his delight with the role in a booklet that comes with the DVD: "I'd go to a theater nearby here in Hollywood where they showed it, and sit among the kids (they never recognized me) and I loved their reactions. Within two or three episodes, they were on my side! It was because I was brighter than the others, and the kids went for intelligence, whether it was bad or good."
In addition to the booklet, VCI has included a short commentary by Scarlet Street magazine author Richard Valley, biographies of the two directors and the major actors and a collection of stills and press material. Although digitally restored, several of the chapters come from 16mm and the first few chapters lean to high contrast and less detail. Any viewer wanting to see one of the most exciting serials ever made should not let such small problems keep him away.
For more information about Drums of Fu Manchu, visit VCI Entertainment. To order Drums of Fu Manchu, go to TCM Shopping.
by Brian Cady
Drums of Fu Manchu
This film consists of re-edited footage from Republic's fifteen-episode serial, also titled Drums of Fu Manchu, which was released in March 1940. On July 9, 1942, Hollywood Reporter reported that Republic had decided to shelve plans for a new film based on the Fu Manchu character, tentatively titled Fu Manchu Strikes Again, "out of deference to the Chinese people." The article noted additionally that representatives of the Chinese government had been lodging complaints about the character for some time. By July 27, 1942, however, Republic had changed its mind and announced in Hollywood Reporter that it would proceed with a new version of Fu Manchu, although the character would be "cleaned up" and depicted as a crusader against the Japanese. That film was apparently never made. Correspondence located at NARS in Washington, D.C., dated September 23, 1943, indicates that Drums of Fu Manchu did not receive approval for export from the U.S. government because the film represented "a derogatory picturization of our Chinese allies."
A modern source adds the following crew credits to the serial: Screenplay R. P. Thompson, Rex Taylor; Supervising Editor Murray Seldeen; Special Effects Howard Lydecker and Theodore Lydecker; Sound Charles L. Lootens and Daniel J. Bloomberg; Costumes Robert H. Ramsay and Adele Palmer; Art Director John Victor Mackay; Makeup Supervisor Robert Mark; Construction Supervisor Ralph Oberg; Set Decoration Morris Braun; Location Manager John T. Bourke; and Cast Robert Webb and Kam Tong.
Earlier films based on the characters from Sax Rohmer's serialized "Fu Manchu" novels include the 1929 Paramount film The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu, directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Warner Oland and Jean Arthur (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.3760); Paramount's 1931 release Daughter of the Dragon, directed by Lloyd Corrigan and featuring Warner Oland and Anna May Wong; and M-G-M's 1932 The Mask of Fu Manchu, directed by Charles Brabin and starring Boris Karloff (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0968 and F3.2775). Later adaptations include a 1956 television series, The Adventures of Fu Manchu, starring Glenn Gordon, and the 1980 British comedy The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu, directed by Piers Haggard and starring Peter Sellars.