Category Archives: MGM

DVD Review: The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932).

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Directed by Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor (uncredited)
Produced by Irving Thalberg
Screenplay: Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard
Based on the novel The Mask of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Film Editor: Ben Lewis

Cast: Boris Karloff (Dr. Fu Manchu), Lewis Stone (Nayland Smith), Karen Morley (Sheila Barton), Charles Starrett (Terrence Granville), Myrna Loy (Fah Lo See); Jean Hersholt (Von Berg), Lawrence Grant (Sir Lionel Barton), David Torrence (McLeod).

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If someone tells you they don’t see what the big deal is about pre-Code movies, show ’em The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932). If its script has been floating around just a couple years later, it wouldn’t have been made.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is a fever dream of an adventure story — or maybe a Chinese-food-stomach-ache adventure story, the kind of movie you get when writers and directors are fired, production is halted for a while, rewrites arrive minutes before scenes are shot, etc.

Boris Karloff: “It was a shambles, it really was — it was simply ridiculous.”

This chaos is evident on the screen. Characters come and go. There is little, if anything, in the way of character development. The plot simply doesn’t make sense. There’s no real flow from one scene to the next. And if you’re easily offended, well you’ll be easily offended.

But it’s absolutely fascinating from the MGM lion to the final fadeout. The evil Dr. Fu Manchu has kidnapped a noted archaeologist who claims to have found the tomb of Genghis Khan. Fu Manchu seeks the power contained in the Mongol emperor’s mask and sword. Torture, death and all sorts of mayhem ensue.

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Fu Manchu (Karloff): “This serum, distilled from dragon’s blood, my own blood, the organs of different reptiles, and mixed with the magic brew of the sacred seven herbs, will temporarily change you into the living instrument of my will. You will do as I command!”

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The entire cast is terrific, with Karloff and Myrna Loy (as Fu Manchu’s freaky daughter) giving it their all. Lewis Stone makes a great Nayland Smith, while Sheila Barton and Charles Starrett are fine as the damsel in distress and her rescuer. The set design is incredible, combining over-the-top Chinese influence with 30s art deco and a bit of Frankenstein’s lab (Kenneth Strickfaden, who made the equipment for Frankenstein, decked out Fu Manchu’s laboratory). It’s as lavish as it is crazy.

The Mask Of Fu Manchu is one of six Pre-Code horror pictures in Warner Archive’s Hollywood Legends Of Horror Collection. It’s a MOD re-issue of the 2006 collection, and it’s great to have it available again. The Mask Of Fu Manchu is my favorite of the bunch, and it looks great — and it’s completely uncut (it was softened a bit a few decades ago). The other films — Doctor X (1932), The Return of Doctor X (1939), Mark Of The Vampire (1935), Mad Love (AKA The Hands Of Orlac, 1935) and The Devil-Doll (1936) — look just as good. All the commentaries and trailers from the original release have been retained. For monsters nuts or fans of Pre-Code Hollywood, this is essential stuff — and a steal at $29.95.

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Filed under Boris Karloff, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, MGM, Pre-Code, Warner Archive

DVD News #72: Hollywood Legends Of Horror Collection.

Mask Of FM

If you like Weird, then you need to spend some time with the Horror films of the 1930s. And with this six-picture set, Warner Archive gives you a chance to jump right into the deep end.

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Doctor X (1932)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy

The Return of Doctor X (1939)
Directed by Vincent Sherman
Starring Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane, Humphrey Bogart

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: The Return Of Doctor X is not a sequel to Doctor X. The first one was shot in the early two-color Technicolor process. The Return Of Doctor X is one of the films Bogart didn’t like to talk about.

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Tod Browning directs Caroll Borland and Bela Lugosi

Mark Of The Vampire (1935)
Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill

Tod Browning directs a talkie remake of one the great lost Silents, his own London After Midnight (1927) starring Lon Chaney.

Mask of Fu Manchu LC

The Mask Of Fu Manchu (1932)
Directed by Charles Brabin
Starring Boris Karloff, Myrna Loy, Lewis Stone

Karloff is the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, wearing what appear to be his Frankenstein boots. Myrna Loy is his equally-evil daughter. This thing has to be seen to be believed.

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Basil Gogos’ painting of Peter Lorre for Famous Monsters #63

Mad Love (AKA The Hands Of Orlac, 1935)
Directed by Karl Freund
Starring Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive

The great cinematographer Karl Freund’s last film as director — he also directed The Mummy (1932). And of course, he was the director of photography for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and I Love Lucy (he developed the flat-light system, and perfected the three-camera setup, that are still used in TV today).

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Tod Browning and Lionel Barrymore

The Devil-Doll (1936)
Directed by Tod Browning
Starring Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan

For this creepy crime picture, Tod Browning revisits some of the ideas of his The Unholy Three (1930), Lon Chaney’s only sound film — which they’d already made as a Silent in 1925.

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Filed under Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, MGM, Pre-Code, Tod Browning, Warner Archive