The Mask of Fu Manchu Reviews
Is the film racist? Well, yes, but I found it less disturbing than others from the time period. Despite the whitewashing of Hollywood - Karloff, Loy, and other Caucasians in Asian roles - I liked the strength of their characters, in direct contrast to the more common fawning, servile roles. Then again, Karloff bellows "Kill the white man, and take his women!" towards the end, in what likely directly stoked the "yellow fear" of the day. Still, I took more offense to the gap-tooth, goofy waiter ringing the dinner bell at the end, than I did to Karloff or Loy. You have to be able to forgive the filmmakers a bit, but if you can, I think you'll enjoy this one too.
From a purely plot-centric standpoint, the reliance on Dr. Fu Manchu's "Eastern-ness" to make him a convincing villain is unimpressive. Others might argue that it was the Doctor's cunning or intention to take over the world that made him a great villain, but that argument fails once you put the movie in the historical context that it's defender love to put it in. At this time the British had a very extensive empire. They had, for all intents and purposes, taken over the world themselves. The movie is not as clear as the book in making the audience aware of a British empire, but that makes it no less of a reality. The British were scared of someone else, someone who did not look like them, having control over what they had. The film seeks to justify that fear as much as it plans to entertain, although it certainly did one better than the other.
Karloff was outstanding. One of his best performances. Truly an underrated actor. He presents one of the better evil genius villains I've seen.
The Terry character was often so fricking annoying at times.
The plot, which is a good one, gets a little derailed on account of some preoccupation with sets (which were pretty good). It starts out promisingly. But the film suffers in that it didn't draw out the kind of emotional conviction needed to be fully engaged in the moribund subject matter. Rather, it was just enough. Good, but had the potential to be better.
*Apparently, alligators roar like lions.
Boris Karloff is one of the greats, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, and Lon Chaney Jr. are all some of the greatest early film actors of all time. What we have here is a group of scientists searching out the mask and sword of Genghis Khan. Dr. Fu Manchu wants to get his hands on the items so that he can summon Genghis Khan to come and destroy the Western World. More importantly kill all of the white men.
There are some amazing electricity effects that Boris Karloff does himself with, what looks like, a Tesla Coil. The effects are enough for you to really sit through it. On the scary scale though this has to rake in a easy 6 of 10. Though it is not scary what-so-ever.
Kill the white man - Dr. Fu Manchu
The original 'torture porn' horror film is replete with racist 'yellow peril', out-of-this-world tortures, and a menacing performance by Karloff as the Sax Rohmer character.
Lewis Stone is unflappable as the definitive Nayland Smith. The hysterically bi-polar performance by Karen Morley almost overcomes the scenes she is in and only really comes into its own when she suspects Terry, culminating in her cries in a raging rainstorm "He's possessed, possessed!"
The testing of the sword in Fu Manchu's lab is an atmospheric example of pulp fantasy with its wild display of electrics conducted by Karloff. The alligator death trap Smith is tied to is a setpiece that puts even the 007 movies to shame. But its the operation scene that is one of the bizarre sequences put on film. Manchu's operating lab is stocked with giant boa constrictors, spiders, and nearly naked muscled black men who's job it seems is only to stand on pedestals with their arms crossed. The cuts between the operation to Fu Manchu's daughter calmly smoking away are creepy indeed.
The finale with the armies of the East gathered together and a laser blasting away are quite spectacular for its time.