Film Review – THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

Pre Code Confidential #4: Boris Karloff in THE MASK OF FU MANCHU ...THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (USA, 1932) ***½
      Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); Production Company: Cosmopolitan Productions / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) ; Release Date: 5 November 1932 (USA), 24 November 1932 (UK); Filming Dates: 6 August 1932 – 21 October 1932; Running Time: 68m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (Western Electric Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
      Director: Charles Brabin; Writer: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, John Willard (based on the novel by Sax Rohmer); Director of Photography: Tony Gaudio; Music Composer: William Axt (uncredited); Film Editor: Ben Lewis; Art Director: Cedric Gibbons; Costumes: Adrian; Make-up: Cecil Holland (uncredited); Sound: Douglas Shearer; Special Effects: Warren Newcombe (uncredited).
      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), Everett Brown (Slave (uncredited)), Steve Clemente (Knife Thrower (uncredited)), Willie Fung (Ship’s Steward (uncredited)), Ferdinand Gottschalk (British Museum Official (uncredited)), Allen Jung (Coolie (uncredited)), Tetsu Komai (Swordsman (uncredited)), James B. Leong (Guest (uncredited)), Oswald Marshall (Undetermined Role (uncredited)), Chris-Pin Martin (Potentate (uncredited)), Lal Chand Mehra (Indian Prince (uncredited)), Edward Peil Sr. (Coolie Spy (uncredited)), Clinton Rosemond (Slave (uncredited)), C. Montague Shaw (Curator Dr. Fairgyle – British Museum Official (uncredited)), E. Alyn Warren (Goy Lo Sung – Fu Manchu Messenger (uncredited)), Olive Young (Cantina singer (uncredited)).
      Synopsis: Englishmen race to find the tomb of Ghengis Khan. They have to get there fast, as the evil genius Dr. Fu Manchu is also searching, and if he gets the mysteriously powerful relics, he and his diabolical daughter will enslave the world!
      Comment: Karloff is excellent as Sax Rohmer’s evil Dr Fu Manchu in this pre-Hays code adventure controversial for its racial overtones. Stone leads an expedition to Africa in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan to claim the sword and mask from within. Karloff seeks the treasures for his own benefit. Sumptuously designed and with torture scenes that would have pushed the censors a couple of years later, it is a fascinating adaptation of Rohmer’s simplistic story if rather leaden due to the static camerawork. Loy is deliciously treacherous as Karloff’s daughter who seduces Starrett – the pair being an obvious influence on FLASH GORDON’s Emperor Ming and Princess Aura. Charles Vidor was fired after a few days of shooting and replaced as director by Brabin. Rohmer’s original novel was serialized in Colliers between 7 May and 23 July 1932.

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