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Film / The Mask of Fu Manchu

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The Mask of Fu Manchu is a 1932 film directed by Charles Brabin. It stars Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu, Lewis Stone has his nemesis Sir Nayland, and Myrna Loy, a couple of years before she broke out to stardom, as Fu Manchu's daughter Fah Lo See.

Sir Nayland, an agent of the British Secret Service, calls on well-known Egyptologist Sir Lionel Barton. He informs Barton that British intelligence indicates that the evil Fu Manchu (Karloff) is searching for the long lost tomb of Genghis Khan, with the purpose of reclaiming Genghis's ceremonial mask and sword. With these tokens, Fu Manchu can assert himself as the new Khan, and then "all Asia rises" and attacks the West.

Unfortunately, Barton is kidnapped by Fu Manchu's minions shortly after this. Nayland, Barton's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley), and Sheila's boyfriend Terry (Charles Starrett) set off themselves in search of the mask and sword and Sheila's father.

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This is the fourth film based on the popular novels by Sax Rohmer, and the only one to star Boris Karloff.


Tropes:

  • Asian Speekee Engrish: The last little dollop of racism in the film finds our heroes on a steamship heading home, when they're startled by a Chinese gong. It's a steward, calling people for dinner. Nayland takes a moment to make sure the gap-toothed, broken-English-speaking servant doesn't have three doctorates.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Fu Manchu leaves both Barton and Dr. Von Berg (Jean Hersholt) alone in elaborate traps: Barton in a see-saw designed to lower him into a pit of alligators, and Von Berg in a rig where two walls of spikes are slowly advancing toward him. They are both totally unguarded. Barton wriggles out of his ropes, simply steps out of the pit of alligators, and rescues Von Berg.
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  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Terry is a mild case, where Fu Manchu's serum gets him to act as The Mole. The doctor explicitly says he's holding back on the serum so his daughter can have fun with Terry later.
  • Bridal Carry: Terry rescues Sheila this way after killing Fu Manchu at the end.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Fu Manchu has a ray gun that he uses to test Genghis Khan's sword—the first is revealed to be a fake when it burns up under electric current. At the climax, Nayland grabs this gun and uses it to wipe out both Fu Manchu and the audience.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Fah Lo See vanishes in the climax and is nowhere to be seen. Presumably she got electrocuted with the rest of the masses.
  • Clothing Damage: Terry gets his shirt ripped while struggling with the guards in the climax.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: A fetish for Fah Lo See, who obviously gets off on seeing Terry being whipped. Fu Manchu also does this to Barton, subjecting him to the torture of the bells.
  • Daddy's Little Villain: Fah Lo See is every bit as evil as her father, and is completely on board with making him the new Khan.
  • Damsel in Distress: Sheila is to be sacrificed in the climax.
  • Distressed Dude: Terry spends rather a lot of time as Fu Manchu's captive.
  • Dragon Lady: Fah Lo See of course.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Sheila appears to do so. She calmly tells Fu Manchu that she is ready, and doesn't struggle.
  • Fanservice: An unusual example of male Fanservice in the person of Terry, who gets whipped at the orders of Fah Lo See in an obvious fetish, and is later shackled to a stone slab while wearing nothing but a loincloth.
  • Femme Fatale: Fah Lo See has a dash of this. The seductive and manipulative part anyway.
  • Femme Fatalons: Both Fu Manchu and Fah Lo See wear artificial Fatalons, marking them as capital-E Evil.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: When a giant bell is being rung nonstop directly above you as Cold-Blooded Torture...
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: How can you tell that this is a film from The Pre-Code Era? By the look of orgiastic glee on Fah Lo See's face as she cries "Faster! Faster!" to the mooks who are whipping poor Terry.
  • Go-Go Enslavement:
    • Sheila gets dressed up in a skin-tight white dress before she is to be sacrificed.
    • Terry gets shackled to a stone slab wearing nothing but a loincloth.
  • Human Sacrifice: Fu Manchu is interrupted before he can sacrifice Sheila to Genghis Khan.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Sheila succeeds in talking Terry out of the influence of Fu Manchu's mind control drug.
  • Idiot Ball: Nayland Smith decides not to tell Sheila and Terry that the sword he's brought is a fake, which bites them both in the ass when they try to trade it for Sir Lionel. Fu Manchu kills Sir Lionel and captures Terry in retaliation.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures:
    • The premise has Fu Manchu using the talismans of Genghis Khan to rally all Asia to war. Never mind that most of Asia, including the Chinese, would regard Genghis as an invader and conqueror.
    • There's a statue of Buddha in Fu Manchu's lair, and he refers to "the gods" and tries to sacrifice Sheila to Shiva.
  • Kick the Dog: Fu Manchu kills Sheila's father and dumps the body at the house in revenge for bringing him a fake sword.
  • Laughing Mad: Terry gets off a pretty good cackling laugh while under the mind control drug, after giving over Sheila and Von Berg to the bad guys.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: An extreme example with kinky, dark-haired, Chinese, evil Fah Lo See, and angelic blonde-haired Caucasian good girl Sheila.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Fu Manchu has a doctorate of philosophy from Edinburgh, a doctorate in law from Christ's College, and a doctorate in medicine from Harvard.
    "My friends, out of courtesy, call me Doctor."
  • Mind-Control Device: A special chemical solution that Fu Manchu injects into Terry to make Terry his temporarily slave.
  • Opium Den: Nayland manages to figure out that one of these actually hides the secret entrance to Fu Manchu's underground compound. He talks his way into the opium den and then enters the compound.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: Seen in some ceremonial Egyptian masks at the British Museum as Barton takes his leave of Nayland. Fu Manchu's goons then leap out of their hiding places and kidnap Barton.
  • Renaissance Man: As noted above, Fu Manchu has three different doctorates.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The serum to brainwash Terry is made from the blood of many reptiles.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: McLeod, who is killed by one of Fu Manchu's henchmen, to show the doctor means business.
  • Shirtless Captives: Terry is stripped when Fah Lo See gets him.
  • Snake Pit: Fu Manchu's death trap for Nayland is to leave him suspended over a pit of alligators.
  • Technicolor Science: Fu Manchu has the standard set of exotic bubbling flasks that he uses to make his elixirs.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Fu Manchu insists that Sir Nayland call him "Doctor"; see Majored in Western Hypocrisy above.
  • Trap Door: Nayland sees the statue of Buddha move, but somehow fails to see the incredibly obvious trap door in the floor—you can even see the hinge! Naturally it opens and he falls in.
  • Wake Up Make Up: Sheila has full make-up whenever she's shown in bed.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: Fu Manchu's death trap for Von Berg is to leave him tied to a chair while two spike-laden walls push at him from left and right.
  • Yellowface: Depressingly typical of films in this era; even when the Asians were the bad guys, white people still got the parts. Loy, due to her rather exotic looks, got several Yellowface parts before she broke out as a star in 1934 with Manhattan Melodrama and The Thin Man.
  • Yellow Peril: The reason that all these white people have to retrieve the sword and mask is that if Fu Manchu gets them first, he'll assume the role of Genghis Khan and lead Asia in a war of extermination against white people.
    Fah Lo See: Genghis Khan leads the east against the world!
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