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Friday, January 22, 2010

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932)

There’s stupendous fun in this Mysterious East adventure that poshly prefigures all those INDIANA JONES pics. And now, with restored Pre-Code sexual perversity & Politically Incorrect racial slurs, it even holds a certain didactic value. Lewis Stone & Jean Hersholt lead a group of archaeologists on a race to beat Boris Karloff’s Fu Manchu to the lost tomb of Genghis Khan. There’s a death trap lurking at every plot turn and if that doesn’t stop you, there’s Myrna Loy, Manchu’s wicked off-spring, squinting her Oriental eyes your way. Either way, you haven’t a chance, heathen white man! Don’t be put off by the slow opening scene, the pace immediately picks up* and the photography (Tony Gaudio) & sets are quite astounding. Note how art director Cedric Gibbons & costumer Adrian dress up the black slaves to look like living Oscar statuettes. (It was Gibbons who designed the little man.) And what’s with all the homoeroticism? The golden guards of Khan’s tomb have unmissable phallic scabbards (placed right where they should be, too!!), and the torture sequence for hunky Charles Starrett looks like S&M porn as Karloff fondles his diapered victim before administering his ‘serum.’ Yikes!

*Lots o’ directors & writers had a hand on this one with M-G-M’s production head Irving Thalberg reshooting even more footage than usual. On this silly business, it worked like a charm.

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