The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Director: Charles Brabin

Another one of those films whose presence on the Top 500 Horror list strikes me as tenuous at best, but eh. It’s on the list so it counts for the ICheckMovies horror challenge this month, and IMDB classes it as horror too, and it’s in that Warners/MGM box of 30s horror I scored recently, so I’m watching it anyway. As I mentioned the last time I reviewed a Fu Manchu film here, even back in the 1910s when they first appeared the Fu Manchu stories were recognised as basically racist, and this film was similarly condemned in its day too; it was still contentious on reissue in the 70s and had some minutes cut for several years (although the DVD restores those bits). It was actually produced by Wm. Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan company (who released through MGM), and given that Hearst’s papers had been among the chief peddlers of the “Yellow Peril”, it kind of makes sense he’d be behind this… Anyway, this time round, Fu is in search of the relics of Genghis Khan, with which he will inspire millions of those inscrutable easterners to rise up against the west, kill the white man and take his woman (one of the lines cut from the film in the 70s), etc… Boris Karloff is the yellow peril in this film (making his first actual speaking horror role), and he plays him as the somewhat cartoonish supervillain I suppose Fu really is; given that Fu also has a laboratory of high-level pseudoscience machinery, I’m surprised he doesn’t just use that to threaten the world and inspire his followers that way… it’s not like Genghis’ mask and sword actually seem to confer more than symbolic power. Still, even if I’m not sure it’s horror as such, it is fairly entertaining in its somewhat racially insensitive fashion, pulp adventure of the sort that time specialised in. Resolutely old-school in many ways, but rather fun if you can look past some of those old-school ways…

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