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

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Henry Brandon as the Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu
DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (15 chapter Republic serial/1940). Directors: William Witney; John English.

Taking its cue from the feature-length film starring Boris Karloff, The Mask of Fu Manchu, this serial is also loosely based not on Sax Rohmer's "Drums of Fu Manchu" but rather his "Mask of Fu Manchu." In both film and serial Fu Manchu (Henry Brandon) is out to get certain artifacts from the tomb of Genghis Kahn that will give him the power to conquer all Asia -- in the serial's case it is a sacred scepter. To that end there is a lot of back and forth dallying over not only the scepter, but the "kardac segment," a piece of a tile that will lead to the location of the tomb. Fu's chief adversary, as in the books, is Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (William Royle), with assistance from Dr. Petrie (Olaf Hytten of Detective Kitty O'Day) and young Allan Parker (Robert Kellard of Escort Girl), whose father was murdered by Fu. Other characters include Professor Randolph (Tom Chatterton); his daughter Mary (Luana Walters); Fu Manchu's loyal assistant, Loki (John Merton of Radar Patrol vs Spy King), who actually has fangs; and Fu's daughter, Fah Lo Suee (Gloria Franklin). One carry over from the novel "Drums of Fu Manchu" is the way one hears the nerve-wracking sound of beating, steadily louder drums whenever someone's doom is approaching. Fu, who is more sadistic than in the novels, employs gelatinous darts; a cage with rats inside of it (known as "the gates to paradise"); a fire-branch trap that threatens to snap Allan in two; and a deadly gas in Kahn's tomb. Especially memorable cliffhangers include two trains about to collide in chapter one; the attack of a kind of octo-squid in a watery chamber below Fu's HQ in chapter two; a pendulum that nearly cleaves Allan in twain in chapter four; a jeep that sails over a cliff during a fight with Arabs in chapter eight; a deadly heat device from the sun's rays that nearly frizzles Mary in chapter nine; and a whole ceiling of stalactites that comes crashing down on the good guys in chapter ten. There's a little too much running about the desert in the final chapters, and the score is mediocre. This is not necessarily top-drawer Fu or a top-drawer serial, but it is good and entertaining. Once you get used to the odd voice Henry Brandon affects for Fu, he is quite effective.

Verdict: Great fun to watch Fu Manchu carry out his diabolical manipulations -- always with class. ***.


angelman66 said...

I've seen the Boris Karloff version but not this one. Will look for it!

William said...

It's much, much longer, but quite entertaining!