Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Mask of Fu Manchu

Pictured below, Boris Karloff as the Lord of Strange Deaths... I rounded off my reading of The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu with a screening of MGM's 1932 film The Mask of Fu Manchu, a most politically incorrect relic from the Pre-Code era which sees the criminal mastermind plotting terror against the West with the aid of Genghis Kahn's sword and mask... A brisk and enjoyable 68mins of pulp hokum, the film sells the diabolical doctor a little cheap compared to the arch villain I've been reading about this past week, but Karloff delivers some fine devilry under the grotesque makeup, sending his victims to ever inventive deaths (pressed inside a spiked cabinet, a slow descent into a crocodile pit) and in the film's most sinister sequence donning a surgeon's apron to administer a mind control serum. The film looks spectacular with lavish production design, in some instances anticipating Ken Adam's work on the Bond series and features some surprisingly fluid camerawork for an early sound film. It would be remiss of me not to mention the film's rampant xenophobia, the picture was produced by Cosmopolitan Productions, a William Randolph Hearst company (and rather ironically named in this instance) which furthered Hearst's own theory of the Yellow Peril and what he considered the "threatening and tremendous assault of the Asiatic and the Slav upon the religion, the institutions and the civilization of us Caucasians". Africans fare no better than Asians in the film, given short shrift in the role of Fu Manchu's mindless disposable slaves. Still such antiquated attitudes are tempered by the presence of zapping death rays, a rich vain of homo-eroticism and a performance by the film's leading lady pitched at near hysterical levels...

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