“The Mask of Fu Manchu” (1932)

[http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023194/]

Capsule Description: The malevolent Mandarin, Fu Manchu, attempts to rally the heathen Asiatic hordes under his banner by way of the legendary Sword and Mask of Genghis Kahn, proclaiming himself the reincarnation of the legendary conqueror. But his opponent, Sir Nayland Smith, is there to oppose his scheme.

Description: Archaeologist Sir Lionel Barton has discovered the tomb of Genghis Khan, the resting place of the legendary conqueror's mask and sword. With these artifacts, Fu Manchu, by proclaiming himself as the reincarnation of the Genghis, can organize the Asiatic races into a mass assault on the West. But Barton refuses to divulge the location, even after being offered bribes (including Fu Manchu's own daughter Fah Lo Suee) and suffering torture, carrying the secret to his grave.

But the secret is not lost: Barton's daughter Sheila also knows the location of the tomb, and together with her fiancee Terry Granville and Inspector Nayland Smith, uncover the artifacts. After a switch by Nayland Smith, Fu Manchu captures both Granville and Smith. Using a mysterious hypnotic drug, Fu Manchu places Granville under his control and uses him to persuade Sheila to bring him the sword and mask.

Now possessing the mask and sword, Fu Manchu plans to seal his assumption by sacrificing Sheila while Smith is being lowered into a pit of crocodiles and Granville is to be given a second dose of the drug, which will make him obedient to Fu Manchu forever. But Smith escapes and frees Granville and Sheila: using a weapon from Fu Manchu's own arsenal, they blast the Mandarin and his followers and make their escape. As the weary victors sail across the Atlantic, Smith throws the sword overboard, so that it will never be seen or used again.

History: "The Mask of Fu Manchu" is largely based on the 1932 novel of the same name, changing the identity from the "Masked Prophet" or "Golden Prophet" to Genghis Khan and condensing the story to accommodate the limited film run time, plus changing a few names around. Also, Fu Manchu is largely reduced from an honorable, Machiavellian schemer to an insidious power-hungry rabble-rouser.

Commentary: Yes, there is strong anti-Asian stereotype in this movie, but it is from the 1930's, and that sentiment was very strong in all of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels and is considered one of the best adaptations of the time period.

Trivia:

  • Wikipedia entry on the movie
  • Issue #25 of "Master of Kung Fu" bears a striking resemblance to this movie.
  • Although the movie depictions have given rise to the mustache style known as a "fu manchu", the character in the novels was always described as being clean-shaven.

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