“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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