Monsters & Memories 12: The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) By Ed Davis

Greetings Groovy Ghoulies! Nothing like a nice, long stretch on the torture racks to recharge the batteries! This time around I’d like to ask, “What happens when Fu Manchu gets his hands of the mask and sword of Genghis Khan”? “Does Indiana Jones swing in to save the day”? and “Hey, can Boris Karloff really talk”? Let’s see if we can answer these questions from the 1932 MGM horror classic, “The Mask of Fu Manchu”.

This film is still in the pre-code days and is equal parts horror and adventure films. We have the race to find the above mentioned artifacts by Fu Manchu, played with perfection by Boris Karloff; and on the other side archeologist Sir Lional Barton played by Lawrence Grant. Fu Manchu is going to use the mask and sword to lead the Chinese people in a rebellion and take over the white people and steal their women. Just like all good movie dictators. Fu Manchu is able to get his hands on the goods, but is he able to start the rebellion?

The cast was really good in this one. Boris Karloff proved he was more than capable of playing a lead role that didn’t involve moaning at the camera. I think he showed his acting chops in this one, and it helped to fuel the rise to stardom he achieved. The Fu Manchu make-up was good. I liked the effect created to give him his Chinese eyes. Great look and costumes for him. Manchu’s daughter was played by Myrna Loy, another great beauty on the screen. There was a torture scene where a character is getting whipped and you can see the wicked enjoyment creep across her face. She would go on to star in 6 films in The Thin Man series starting in 1934. Naylon Smith of the British Secret Service is played by Lewis Stone, with dignity. There was an air of professionalism to him on the scene. I wondered how he was going to get away from crocodiles, and he does so with grace. Charles Starrett plays Terry Granville, the fiancee of Barton’s daughter. I think Brandon Frasher channeled him in the later Mummy series. Terry falls under the power of Fu Manchu and plays hero and villian with success. Karen Morley played the daughter of Lional Barton, Sheila. She was decent in

role as the damsel. She was more well-known for being blacklisted in the 1947 Hollywood communist scandals.

This film treaded a lot of dangerous ground. Chinese people were upset at their portrayal in the film. This was the pre-code days and the violence was excellent. Torture is always tough to watch, but this is a far cry from the likes of Hostel and Saw. My stomach is able to handle this much better. It’s still scary though; it’s the kind of stuff that really does happen.

The sets were lavish and reminded me of many scenes from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. I was waiting for a round of Anything Goes from Kate Capshaw, or Indy himself swinging in to save the day. Torture devices play a big role in this film. The torture of the bells, crocodile pits, and walls of spikes! Great fun!

This really was a fun film. Karloff has some great stuff and gets to play with electricity again in some very cool scenes. Definitely one to check out!

I had a really cool playset that I was reminded of watching this film that I had from Raiders of The Lost Ark. In 1982, Kenner released the Well of Souls playset. It came with the Ark of the Covenant. There were mini torches and snakes! One of the coolest features was the mummy that was all decomposed in the face, and just looked really creepy. I remember using it as Dracula’s cave with my other action figures. It wasn’t a really big playset but one of the coolest toys I received one Christmas from my Aunt Joann and Uncle Fred.

I can see that it’s my turn to dangle in the crocodile pit, and see if one of them ate our next feature. While I wrestle it away, you all take care. And remember, watch the skies!

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