Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932). Director: Charles Brabin.

Loosely based on the 1932 novel by Sax Rohmer, the movie takes the basic idea of Fu Manchu taking over a re-emerging cult, turning the "prophet" of the book into Genghis Khan and moving the location to China. Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) wants to get his hands on a mask and sword taken from Khan's tomb and will stop at nothing to do so in order to use their power for his own ends. Out to foil his plans are Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant), an archaeologist; Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) of Scotland Yard; Barton's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley); and Terrence Granville (Charles Starrett). Rounding out the cast are Jean Hersholt as Professor Von Berg and Myrna Loy as Fah Lo See, Fu's sinister daughter. Of course, the plot doesn't matter half as much as the atmosphere, the creepy sets, the scenes of whipping and torture, and Smith suspended above a pit of snapping crocodiles while Von Berg is trapped between closing walls with spikes. While the fiendish Oriental genius is much more dimensional in Rohmer's wonderful novels, The Mask of Fu Manchu does capture some of the strange, delightful flavor of the books with their weird creatures and uncanny scientific devices. Karloff is fine as an alternative Fu, and the other cast members are also swell, but Karen Morley gives the best and most sincere performance.

Verdict: Lots of Fu fun! ***.

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