The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) – reviewed by George

This MGM production was directed by Charles Brabin, with a screenplay by Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, and John Willard, from the story by Sax Rohmer.
Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) is looking for the lost tomb of Genghis Khan, as is Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant), but Sir Lionel doesn’t know about the competition, until Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) of the British Secret Service tells him. Smith also says that Barton absolutely must reach the tomb first, because Fu Manchu’s ambition is to wear the mask of Genghis Khan, and wave the scimitar of Genghis Khan, and declare himself Genghis Khan come back to life. He then will raise an army of hundreds of millions of Asians and sweep the world. All this in the first three minutes of the movie!
Barton holds a meeting of his team, which includes Terence Granville (Charles Starrett), Von Berg (Jean Hersholt), and McLeod (David Torrence). Barton’s daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) is also present; she and Terry are in love. As Barton leaves the meeting he is kidnapped by Fu Manchu’s men, and this dialogue is heard:
Barton: “You’re Fu Manchu, aren’t you?”
Fu Manchu: “I’m a Doctor of Philosophy from Edinburgh. I’m a Doctor of Law from Christ’s College. I’m a Doctor of Medicine from Harvard. My friends, out of courtesy, call me Doctor.”
Then Barton is spirited out of Britain. Nayland Smith (who is only called Nayland throughout the movie) urges Terry to go ahead and lead the team to the Gobi Desert and investigate the area where Barton was so sure the tomb was buried. They go (Sheila begs and wheedles her way onto the team) and they find the tomb and they obtain the mask and scimitar. But Fu Manchu’s spies are everywhere, and now the real adventure begins.
Fu keeps a wild menagerie (spiders and snakes and one Gila monster, and he has an alligator pit) in order to harvest rare poisons and mind-control drugs, and to feed prisoners to the alligators. He is also a master of torture, as is his lovely but eee-vill daughter (surprisingly played by Myrna Loy). The movie is somewhat dated, and I’m not talking about the total distrust in all peoples oriental, though that doesn’t help. It is also unavoidably corny in places, with people rolling their eyes in fear and such. But the print I saw was crisp and clear, beautiful black and white. And I enjoyed it. As a B-picture it was pretty good… could have used some popcorn though.

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