For Reel


The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
July 7, 2012, 6:55 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Charles Brabin

Even by the standards of 1932 Hollywood, The Mask of Fu Manchu is shockingly racist. The title character seeks to eliminate the white race with his army of Chinese warriors and black slaves. Once he has been discarded, the heroes travel on a boat bound for England, where they are sure to ask that the Chinese servant on board is uneducated so as to confirm that he will not pose a future threat. Hateful as it may be, director Charles Brabin brings much to this marvelously constructed thriller, moving it at a rapid pace and providing a series of memorable images – watch as Boris Karloff’s Fu Manchu is introduced with a giant playhouse mirror that distorts his face in terrifying, exaggerated angles. Though his torture devices include the requisite tarantulas and snakes, his lair is strikingly modern in a Bond villain sort of way. His surgical table sits on a giant black staircase in an otherwise glowing white room, defying the expectations that one would have of an Eastern-themed villain. Beyond the pleasures that the picture provides as pure spectacle, just as worthy of noting is how explicit it can be. Myrna Loy is memorable as Karloff’s daughter, a perverted sadist who enjoys watching her father’s prisoners tortured before she has her way with them.

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