The Mask of Fu Manchu


1h 12m 1932
The Mask of Fu Manchu

Brief Synopsis

A Chinese warlord threatens explorers in search of the key to global power.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Horror
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
Nov 5, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (New York, 1932).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 12m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Synopsis

Nayland Smith begs his friend, Sir Lionel Barton, to find the tomb of Genghis Kahn before it is discovered by Chinese scientist Dr. Fu Manchu, who will use its contents for his own evil purposes. Just after Sir Lionel explains the expedition to his colleagues at the British Museum, however, he is kidnapped by Manchu's emissaries. When Sir Lionel's daughter Sheila hears of her father's capture, she tells Smith that she plans to search for the tomb herself. Meanwhile, at Manchu's headquarters in the Far East, the doctor tries to cajole and bribe Sir Lionel to reveal the secret, and even offers him his daughter, Fah Lo See, but Sir Lionel refuses. While Sir Lionel then undergoes Manchu's fiendish "torture of the bell," Sheila and the men of the expedition find the tomb and unlock its doors, despite a warning of a terrible curse. When the group meets up with Smith, he warns them that Manchu may strike at any moment, hoping to gain possession of the sword and mask of Genghis Kahn, which they found in the tomb. That night, expedition member McLeod is killed by a dagger thrown through a window. The next day, Terrence Granville, Sheila's fiancé, finds a human hand wearing Sir Lionel's ring, after which one of Manchu's underlings invites him to meet Manchu. Though Terry knows it is foolish, he agrees to go to Manchu's headquarters, carrying the sword and mask. Fah Lo See, who is attracted to Terry, orders her father's men to whip him when the sword turns out not to be geniune. She wants to make love to him later, but is stopped by Manchu, who has other things in mind for Terry. Manchu then has Sir Lionel's body delivered to the expedition's compound and Smith sadly reveals that he had made the phony relics to fool Manchu. Smith tells his colleague, Von Berg, that he must go away, then enters an opium den, where he sees a man with the Tattoo of Manchu on his shoulder. Smith follows the man and finds the secret entrance to Manchu's headquarters. After Manchu discovers Smith, Smith demands the release of Terry just as Terry is about to be injected by Manchu with a serum that will make him totally subject to the doctor's will. Manchu prepares the serum, derived from various reptiles and deadly insects, and tells Terry that it is the smallest dose, so that he will be himself again for Fah Lo See. Soon Terry, under the influence of the drug, goes to Sheila. Sheila suspects that Terry has been drugged when he blankly asks for the real sword and mask, but she and Von Berg still go with him and are captured by Manchu's men. At Manchu's headquarters, Sheila sees Fah Lo See with Terry and tries to get him out of his stupor. He does awaken, but Manchu orders Sheila taken away and prepared as a human sacrifice to the gods. The next morning, as Sheila lies on the sacrificial table, Smith breaks free from his crocodile infested cell and frees Terry. Together they then free Von Berg and tamper with Manchu's electricity machine, sending an electrical charge to the sword, apparently killing Manchu. While Terry rescues Sheila, Smith and Von Berg use the machine to send shocks to Manchu's men. On the boat back to England, Smith decides to throw the evil sword overboard.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Horror
Mystery
Thriller
Release Date
Nov 5, 1932
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (New York, 1932).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 12m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7 reels

Articles

The Mask of Fu Manchu


The brilliant and evil Chinese scientist Dr. Fu Manchu is on a hunt for the tomb of Genghis Khan, whose sword and mask are said to contain supernatural powers. British agent Nayland Smith and Sir Lionel Barton, an official at the British Museum, hope to find the tomb before Dr. Manchu can carry out his nefarious scheme of world domination. But shortly after Sir Lionel reveals his plans for an expedition, he is kidnapped by Manchu's henchmen. Barton's daughter Sheila is determined to continue her father's work and accompanies the team on the expedition, along with her fiance Terrence Granville. When Terry tries to set a trap for Dr. Manchu with a fake mask and sword, he is captured and finds himself caught precariously between Dr. Fu Manchu's ingenious tortures and the amorous attentions of the Doctor's daughter, Fah Lo See. To make matters worse, Dr. Fu Manchu has invented a terrifying "death ray."

The ever-popular character of Dr. Fu Manchu is the brainchild of Sax Rohmer (1883-1959). The English writer, whose real name is Arthur Sarsfield Ward, created thriller novels based on characters such as the female criminal mastermind Sumuru and the Parisian Detective Gaston Max. Rohmer's most successful series by far was the Fu Manchu novels, which spanned from 1913's The Mystery of Fu Manchu to Emperor Fu Manchu in 1959. The Fu Manchu character inspired a number of films over the years: a run of quickly-made British silent films starring Harry Agar Lyons, among them The Fiery Hand and The Cry of the Night Hawk (both 1923); the three Paramount films starring Warner Oland, including The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929); the Hammer productions The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) and The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), starring Christopher Lee; and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980), a comedy version starring Peter Sellers. There was also a television series, The Adventures of Fu Manchu (1956), starring Glen Gordon.

Rohmer's novel The Mask of Fu Manchu, on which this film is based, was serialized in Colliers from May to July of 1932. The hardcover version was published by Doubleday in October of that year. After earning worldwide fame for his roles in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and The Old Dark House (1932), Boris Karloff was selected for the lead and loaned out to MGM from Universal.

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) started production in early August, with Charles Vidor as director and Courtenay Terrett writing the screenplay adaptation. Within a couple weeks, they were fired; a new team of scriptwriters and a new director - Charles Brabin - were hired as replacements.

The production was rushed and chaotic, as Boris Karloff recalls: "I shall never forget, about a week before we started, I kept asking for a script - and I was met with roars of laughter at the idea that there would be a script. On the morning that we started shooting, I went into the makeup shop and worked there for about a couple of hours getting this extremely bad makeup on, as a matter of fact, for Fu Manchu. It was ridiculous. And, as I was in the makeup chair, a gentleman came in and handed me about four sheets of paper which was one enormous, long speech. That was to be the opening shot in the film and I was seeing it for the first time, then and there. It was written in the most impeccable English. Then, I said, 'This is absolute nonsense. I can't learn this in time to do it,' and he said, 'Well, it will be all right. Don't worry.' So I got my makeup on and, on my way to the stage from the makeup shop, I was intercepted by somebody else who took those pages away from me and gave me some others that were written in pidgin English!" Hollywood insiders called the project The Mess of Fu Manchu.

Myrna Loy, who plays the "sadistic nymphomaniac" Fah Lo See, had long been typecast as an exotic temptress. At her own insistence, this was her last of many roles as an Asian character. Nonetheless, she brings undeniable energy and conviction to the role, and her sensuality surely pushed the limits of the pre-Code era. In her autobiography Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, the actress remarked upon seeing the film many years later: "...It astonished me how good Karloff and I were. Everyone else just tossed it off as something that didn't matter, while Boris and I brought some feeling and humor to those comic-book characters. Boris was a fine actor, a professional who never condescended to his often unworthy material." Her close friend Roddy McDowall liked to tease her about the role, calling her "Fu."

The production design for The Mask of Fu Manchu was quite elaborate and helped contribute to the picture's relatively high cost for the period - over $327,000. Director Charles Brabin recalls: "We took the mysteries of the Orient and blended them with ultra-modern science. ...For instance, the great Buddhas and other statues in the palace of Fu Manchu were copied from actual Oriental examples. Then we put in artificial lightning, Tesla coils, death-rays and other modern electrical wonders to show how the Oriental super-brain operated the strange laboratory in the chamber of the idols of his ancestors. Technicians copied almost everything in the British museum, from mummies to pterodactyls. The picture is literally a course in archaeology, Oriental religion, history and modern engineering rolled into one." The film's electrical equipment was created by Kenneth Strickfaden, who also designed the laboratory equipment for Universal's Frankenstein films. The famous mask in the film was based on the original designs by famed artist W. T. Benda for the novel's serialization in Collier magazine. The foremost mask maker of his day, Benda frequently worked on stage productions and even created special masks for fashion models. Last but not least came the complex makeup designed to transform Karloff into a Chinese character. The makeup, which required three hours preparation each day before shooting, involved filling in the area around Karloff's eyes, reshaping his nose, applying tooth caps and long fingernails, to say nothing of the wig, moustache and painted eyebrows.

Understandably, the character of Fu Manchu - Rohmer once described him as the "yellow peril incarnate" - has earned criticism over the years for its reliance on racist stereotypes. At the same time, the character in Rohmer's novels is extraordinarily intelligent and even displays noble traits; he and his nemesis Nayland Smith have a grudging respect for each other. This is a subtle point often lost in the film adaptations; The Mask of Fu Manchu in particular was attacked by the Chinese-American community when it was released. Boris Karloff dismissed such criticisms as "utterly ridiculous," since he felt the film was simply an escapist adventure not to be taken seriously. He continued to play Asian characters throughout his career, most notably the Chinese detective James Lee Wong in the Mr. Wong series for Monogram Pictures.

Director: Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor
Producer: Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard, based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (1932)
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Costumes: Adrian
Principal cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See); Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod).
BW-69m. Closed captioning.

by James Steffen

The Mask Of Fu Manchu

The Mask of Fu Manchu

The brilliant and evil Chinese scientist Dr. Fu Manchu is on a hunt for the tomb of Genghis Khan, whose sword and mask are said to contain supernatural powers. British agent Nayland Smith and Sir Lionel Barton, an official at the British Museum, hope to find the tomb before Dr. Manchu can carry out his nefarious scheme of world domination. But shortly after Sir Lionel reveals his plans for an expedition, he is kidnapped by Manchu's henchmen. Barton's daughter Sheila is determined to continue her father's work and accompanies the team on the expedition, along with her fiance Terrence Granville. When Terry tries to set a trap for Dr. Manchu with a fake mask and sword, he is captured and finds himself caught precariously between Dr. Fu Manchu's ingenious tortures and the amorous attentions of the Doctor's daughter, Fah Lo See. To make matters worse, Dr. Fu Manchu has invented a terrifying "death ray." The ever-popular character of Dr. Fu Manchu is the brainchild of Sax Rohmer (1883-1959). The English writer, whose real name is Arthur Sarsfield Ward, created thriller novels based on characters such as the female criminal mastermind Sumuru and the Parisian Detective Gaston Max. Rohmer's most successful series by far was the Fu Manchu novels, which spanned from 1913's The Mystery of Fu Manchu to Emperor Fu Manchu in 1959. The Fu Manchu character inspired a number of films over the years: a run of quickly-made British silent films starring Harry Agar Lyons, among them The Fiery Hand and The Cry of the Night Hawk (both 1923); the three Paramount films starring Warner Oland, including The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929); the Hammer productions The Face of Fu Manchu (1965) and The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), starring Christopher Lee; and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980), a comedy version starring Peter Sellers. There was also a television series, The Adventures of Fu Manchu (1956), starring Glen Gordon. Rohmer's novel The Mask of Fu Manchu, on which this film is based, was serialized in Colliers from May to July of 1932. The hardcover version was published by Doubleday in October of that year. After earning worldwide fame for his roles in James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and The Old Dark House (1932), Boris Karloff was selected for the lead and loaned out to MGM from Universal. The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) started production in early August, with Charles Vidor as director and Courtenay Terrett writing the screenplay adaptation. Within a couple weeks, they were fired; a new team of scriptwriters and a new director - Charles Brabin - were hired as replacements. The production was rushed and chaotic, as Boris Karloff recalls: "I shall never forget, about a week before we started, I kept asking for a script - and I was met with roars of laughter at the idea that there would be a script. On the morning that we started shooting, I went into the makeup shop and worked there for about a couple of hours getting this extremely bad makeup on, as a matter of fact, for Fu Manchu. It was ridiculous. And, as I was in the makeup chair, a gentleman came in and handed me about four sheets of paper which was one enormous, long speech. That was to be the opening shot in the film and I was seeing it for the first time, then and there. It was written in the most impeccable English. Then, I said, 'This is absolute nonsense. I can't learn this in time to do it,' and he said, 'Well, it will be all right. Don't worry.' So I got my makeup on and, on my way to the stage from the makeup shop, I was intercepted by somebody else who took those pages away from me and gave me some others that were written in pidgin English!" Hollywood insiders called the project The Mess of Fu Manchu. Myrna Loy, who plays the "sadistic nymphomaniac" Fah Lo See, had long been typecast as an exotic temptress. At her own insistence, this was her last of many roles as an Asian character. Nonetheless, she brings undeniable energy and conviction to the role, and her sensuality surely pushed the limits of the pre-Code era. In her autobiography Myrna Loy: Being and Becoming, the actress remarked upon seeing the film many years later: "...It astonished me how good Karloff and I were. Everyone else just tossed it off as something that didn't matter, while Boris and I brought some feeling and humor to those comic-book characters. Boris was a fine actor, a professional who never condescended to his often unworthy material." Her close friend Roddy McDowall liked to tease her about the role, calling her "Fu." The production design for The Mask of Fu Manchu was quite elaborate and helped contribute to the picture's relatively high cost for the period - over $327,000. Director Charles Brabin recalls: "We took the mysteries of the Orient and blended them with ultra-modern science. ...For instance, the great Buddhas and other statues in the palace of Fu Manchu were copied from actual Oriental examples. Then we put in artificial lightning, Tesla coils, death-rays and other modern electrical wonders to show how the Oriental super-brain operated the strange laboratory in the chamber of the idols of his ancestors. Technicians copied almost everything in the British museum, from mummies to pterodactyls. The picture is literally a course in archaeology, Oriental religion, history and modern engineering rolled into one." The film's electrical equipment was created by Kenneth Strickfaden, who also designed the laboratory equipment for Universal's Frankenstein films. The famous mask in the film was based on the original designs by famed artist W. T. Benda for the novel's serialization in Collier magazine. The foremost mask maker of his day, Benda frequently worked on stage productions and even created special masks for fashion models. Last but not least came the complex makeup designed to transform Karloff into a Chinese character. The makeup, which required three hours preparation each day before shooting, involved filling in the area around Karloff's eyes, reshaping his nose, applying tooth caps and long fingernails, to say nothing of the wig, moustache and painted eyebrows. Understandably, the character of Fu Manchu - Rohmer once described him as the "yellow peril incarnate" - has earned criticism over the years for its reliance on racist stereotypes. At the same time, the character in Rohmer's novels is extraordinarily intelligent and even displays noble traits; he and his nemesis Nayland Smith have a grudging respect for each other. This is a subtle point often lost in the film adaptations; The Mask of Fu Manchu in particular was attacked by the Chinese-American community when it was released. Boris Karloff dismissed such criticisms as "utterly ridiculous," since he felt the film was simply an escapist adventure not to be taken seriously. He continued to play Asian characters throughout his career, most notably the Chinese detective James Lee Wong in the Mr. Wong series for Monogram Pictures. Director: Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor Producer: Irving Thalberg Screenplay: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard, based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (1932) Cinematography: Tony Gaudio Editing: Ben Lewis Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons Costumes: Adrian Principal cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See); Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod). BW-69m. Closed captioning. by James Steffen

The Mask of Fu Manchu - Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU on DVD


"Kill the white man and take his women!" So intones the "yellow menace" of the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu as personified by Boris Karloff in this fabulously dishy, and all-too-rarely-seen 1932 thriller from the Sax Rohmer source-well. Far from an early talkie waiting to be redeemed by the auteur theory, The Mask of Fu Manchu is a sensational artifact for every reason except its director – or directors (there were three that we know of, in addition to the credited Charles Brabin). It was in fact very much a calculated and market-driven studio product, one of several efforts MGM made during the first years of the Depression to jump on the bandwagon driven by Universal's gothic-horror series. Produced by William R. Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures, subject to a protracted and nettlesome shooting schedule, and pot-stirred by more than the three credited screenwriters (one of whom, Irene Kuhn, was actually a Hearst columnist for The New York Daily Mirror), the film is no work of art, and much more than just another nostalgic bask in the gray heaven of '30s genre films. It is, most of all, an act of popular outrageousness, a mercenary effort at attracting an audience jaded by poverty, hard times and the excesses of the '20s. The Production Code had yet to fall into place, and studio heads Louis Mayer and Irving Thalberg saw no reason not to test society's lust, or tolerance, for sex, torture, opium den decadence, and xenophobic inflammation.

Of course, yesterday's screaming transgression is today's quaint camp, and The Mask of Fu Manchu is paradise for viewers with a sweet tooth for absurd orientalist exotica played straight (well, more or less), and remembrances of a day and age when thinly veiled hints of sadomasochism were scandalous. This wasn't the first Fu Manchu film (it was actually the third American film based on the Rohmer villain; a Euro-rash of adaptations starring Christopher Lee prospered in the '60s). But it is easily the most well-known, thanks largely to the lisping Karloff and the retrospectively odd casting of Myrna Loy, two years away from setting the mold for the ultimate modern wife in The Thin Man, as the Chinese villain's "ugly and insignificant" nymphomaniac daughter, Fah Lo See. The story is classic Rohmer nonsense, though not so silly that it hasn't inspired thousands of imitators, George Lucas among them: holed up in his Gobi Desert fortress, the evil lisping megalomaniac endeavors to retrieve the sword of Genghis Khan from its newly-excavated resting place, which means kidnapping and torturing various intrepid British explorers, including stiff-upper-lip hero Nyland Smith (Lewis Stone).

Fu Manchu's ambitions are, of course, world domination and annihilation of the "accursed white race." The version of the film we get today on DVD hasn't been seen in many years – the smugly amused but informative audio commentary by Greg Mank details the film's long history of erratic censorship, which leaned toward eradicating cruel violence in the '30s and racial epithets and stereotypes in the '80s (when the film was trimmed for videotape). Long-taboo scenes of bodily peril and slanderous dialogue are once again part of the film's crazy fabric. The participation of Hearst, mass purveyor of the "yellow peril" anti-immigration myth for years in his newspapers, and his columnist/lackey Kuhn, is no coincidence – The Mask of Fu Manchu might stand as the most virulently anti-Chinese film ever made in Hollywood. At the time, however, trading white-yellow insults in flat-out pulp was A-OK, so long as the peripheries of the story were tricked up with tarantulas and stainless steel torture devices for the kids, and came bearing leering innuendo for their parents.

So, it's a sociological goldmine, innocently wallowing in bigotry in the way American culture happily did until the postwar-WWII years and the awakenings of the civil-rights movement. (Fu Manchu exhorts his Mongol army into an "uprising" – but against what mass contingent of Caucasians, more than three decades after the Boxer Rebellion, is not clear.) Still, it's difficult to hold the colonialist small-mindedness of The Mask of Fu Manchu against it, particularly as Fu Manchu's evil minions emerge from museum sarcophagi dressed as mummies to abduct a unwitting victim, the doctor himself sacrifices one of his Nubian guards (all posed by designer Cedric Gibbons to resemble Oscar® statuettes) to retrieve zombiefying snake venom, Fah Lo See practically snarls with feral lust watching the hunky hero get flogged, and the Sino-Moderno-Art-Deco sets loom over the actors like a child's vision of the Museum of Natural History. For some, the racy rudeness that so fired Mayer and Thalberg's commercial loins is the movie's ace in the hole; for others, it's the enduring matinee daydream of torchlit catacombs, nightened museums, pit helmets, jodhpurs, and booby-trapped marble palaces. Everybody wins.

For more information about The Mask of Fu Manchu, visit Warner Video. To order The Mask of Fu Manchu (which is only available as part of the Hollywood Legends of Horror box set), go to TCM Shopping.



by Michael Atkinson

The Mask of Fu Manchu - Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU on DVD

"Kill the white man and take his women!" So intones the "yellow menace" of the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu as personified by Boris Karloff in this fabulously dishy, and all-too-rarely-seen 1932 thriller from the Sax Rohmer source-well. Far from an early talkie waiting to be redeemed by the auteur theory, The Mask of Fu Manchu is a sensational artifact for every reason except its director – or directors (there were three that we know of, in addition to the credited Charles Brabin). It was in fact very much a calculated and market-driven studio product, one of several efforts MGM made during the first years of the Depression to jump on the bandwagon driven by Universal's gothic-horror series. Produced by William R. Hearst's Cosmopolitan Pictures, subject to a protracted and nettlesome shooting schedule, and pot-stirred by more than the three credited screenwriters (one of whom, Irene Kuhn, was actually a Hearst columnist for The New York Daily Mirror), the film is no work of art, and much more than just another nostalgic bask in the gray heaven of '30s genre films. It is, most of all, an act of popular outrageousness, a mercenary effort at attracting an audience jaded by poverty, hard times and the excesses of the '20s. The Production Code had yet to fall into place, and studio heads Louis Mayer and Irving Thalberg saw no reason not to test society's lust, or tolerance, for sex, torture, opium den decadence, and xenophobic inflammation. Of course, yesterday's screaming transgression is today's quaint camp, and The Mask of Fu Manchu is paradise for viewers with a sweet tooth for absurd orientalist exotica played straight (well, more or less), and remembrances of a day and age when thinly veiled hints of sadomasochism were scandalous. This wasn't the first Fu Manchu film (it was actually the third American film based on the Rohmer villain; a Euro-rash of adaptations starring Christopher Lee prospered in the '60s). But it is easily the most well-known, thanks largely to the lisping Karloff and the retrospectively odd casting of Myrna Loy, two years away from setting the mold for the ultimate modern wife in The Thin Man, as the Chinese villain's "ugly and insignificant" nymphomaniac daughter, Fah Lo See. The story is classic Rohmer nonsense, though not so silly that it hasn't inspired thousands of imitators, George Lucas among them: holed up in his Gobi Desert fortress, the evil lisping megalomaniac endeavors to retrieve the sword of Genghis Khan from its newly-excavated resting place, which means kidnapping and torturing various intrepid British explorers, including stiff-upper-lip hero Nyland Smith (Lewis Stone). Fu Manchu's ambitions are, of course, world domination and annihilation of the "accursed white race." The version of the film we get today on DVD hasn't been seen in many years – the smugly amused but informative audio commentary by Greg Mank details the film's long history of erratic censorship, which leaned toward eradicating cruel violence in the '30s and racial epithets and stereotypes in the '80s (when the film was trimmed for videotape). Long-taboo scenes of bodily peril and slanderous dialogue are once again part of the film's crazy fabric. The participation of Hearst, mass purveyor of the "yellow peril" anti-immigration myth for years in his newspapers, and his columnist/lackey Kuhn, is no coincidence – The Mask of Fu Manchu might stand as the most virulently anti-Chinese film ever made in Hollywood. At the time, however, trading white-yellow insults in flat-out pulp was A-OK, so long as the peripheries of the story were tricked up with tarantulas and stainless steel torture devices for the kids, and came bearing leering innuendo for their parents. So, it's a sociological goldmine, innocently wallowing in bigotry in the way American culture happily did until the postwar-WWII years and the awakenings of the civil-rights movement. (Fu Manchu exhorts his Mongol army into an "uprising" – but against what mass contingent of Caucasians, more than three decades after the Boxer Rebellion, is not clear.) Still, it's difficult to hold the colonialist small-mindedness of The Mask of Fu Manchu against it, particularly as Fu Manchu's evil minions emerge from museum sarcophagi dressed as mummies to abduct a unwitting victim, the doctor himself sacrifices one of his Nubian guards (all posed by designer Cedric Gibbons to resemble Oscar® statuettes) to retrieve zombiefying snake venom, Fah Lo See practically snarls with feral lust watching the hunky hero get flogged, and the Sino-Moderno-Art-Deco sets loom over the actors like a child's vision of the Museum of Natural History. For some, the racy rudeness that so fired Mayer and Thalberg's commercial loins is the movie's ace in the hole; for others, it's the enduring matinee daydream of torchlit catacombs, nightened museums, pit helmets, jodhpurs, and booby-trapped marble palaces. Everybody wins. For more information about The Mask of Fu Manchu, visit Warner Video. To order The Mask of Fu Manchu (which is only available as part of the Hollywood Legends of Horror box set), go to TCM Shopping. by Michael Atkinson

Quotes

Will we ever understand these Eastern races?
- Nayland Smith
I am a doctor of philosophy from Edinburgh, a doctor of law from Price College, a doctor of medicine from Harvard. My friends, out of courtesy, call me 'Doctor'.
- Fu Manchu

Trivia

Charles Vidor started directing this movie but was fired after a few days of shooting and replaced by Charles Brabin.

It took Boris Karloff 2.5 hours every morning to apply makeup for this role.

Notes

Sax Rohmer's novel was serialized in Colliers (7 May-23 July 1932). According to various news items in Hollywood Reporter, the film began production under the direction of Charles Vidor in early August 1932, with a script by Courtenay Terrett. On the third day of production, filming stopped for several days, then resumed on 11 Aug, when it was reported that Raoul Whitfield was to write the screenplay. On 13 Aug, a news item reported that M-G-M had decided to bring in Charles Brabin to work on the picture along with Vidor; however, on 17 August Hollywood Reporter reported that Vidor had been fired and that Brabin would be sole director commencing the next day. At that time, Bayard Veiller was announced as Terrett's replacement. As Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard are the only writers credited on screen and in reviews, it has not been determined what contributions of Terrett, Veiller and Whitfield were retained in the released film. Production charts also include Gertrude Michael, Herbert Bunston and Oswald Marskall in the cast, but their participation in the completed film has not been determined. According to additional news items, Boris Karloff was borrowed from Universal for the film and needed two-and-one-half hours in make-up each day for his role. Other films based on Sax Rohmer's character include the 1923 British picture Cry of the Night Hawk, 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), a 1956 television series called The Adventures of Fu Manchu, starring Glen Gordon, and a 1980 British comedy directed by Piers Haggard, starring Peter Sellers, called The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu. According to a news item in Daily Variety on May 1, 1972, the Japanese-American Citizens League asked M-G-M to remove The Mask of Fu Manchu from its catalog because it was "offensive and demeaning to Asian Americans"; however, the film was not removed from circulation.