The Mask of Fu Manchu

The Mask of Fu Manchu
Directed by Charles Brabin
Charles Vidor (uncredited)
Written by Irene Kuhn
Edgar Allan Woolf
John Willard
Based on The Mask of Fu Manchu
(1932 novel)
by Sax Rohmer
Starring Boris Karloff
Cinematography Tony Gaudio
Edited by Ben Lewis
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • November 5, 1932 (1932-11-05)
Running time
68 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $327,627[1]

The Mask of Fu Manchu is a 1932 Pre-Code adventure film directed by Charles Brabin. It was written by Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard based on the 1932 novel of the same name by Sax Rohmer. Starring Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu, and featuring Myrna Loy as his depraved daughter, the movie revolves around Fu Manchu's quest for the golden sword and mask of Genghis Khan. Lewis Stone plays his nemesis.

The Mask of Fu Manchu is considered the best of the Fu Manchu films produced in the 1930s. This is one of the few films produced by William Randolph Hearst's Cosmopolitan Productions which did not star Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies.


Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) of the British Secret Service warns Egyptologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) that he must beat Fu Manchu in the race to find the tomb of Genghis Khan. The power-mad Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) intends to use the sword and mask to proclaim himself the reincarnation of the legendary conqueror and inflame the peoples of Asia and the Middle East into a war to wipe out the "white race". Sir Lionel is kidnapped soon afterward and taken to Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu tries bribing his captive, even offering his own daughter, Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy). When that fails, Barton suffers the "torture of the bell" (lying underneath a gigantic, constantly ringing bell) in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to reveal the location of the tomb.

Barton's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) insists on taking her father's place on the expedition, as she knows where the tomb is. She finds the tomb and its treasures with the help of her fiance Terrence "Terry" Granville (Charles Starrett), Von Berg (Jean Hersholt), and McLeod (David Torrence). Nayland Smith joins them soon afterward.

McLeod is killed by one of Fu Manchu's men during a robbery attempt, after McLeod kills one of Fu Manchu's men. When that fails, an emissary offers to trade Barton for the priceless artifacts. Despite Terry's misgivings, Sheila persuades him to take the relics to Fu Manchu without Smith's knowledge. However, when Fu Manchu tests the sword, he determines that it is a fake (Nayland had switched them). Terry is whipped under the supervision of Fah Lo See, who is attracted to him. Meanwhile, Fu Manchu has Barton's corpse delivered to Sheila. When Nayland tries to rescue Terry, he is taken captive as well.

Terry is injected with a serum that makes him temporarily obedient to Fu Manchu and released. He tells Sheila and Von Berg that Nayland Smith wants them to bring the sword and mask to him. Sheila senses something is wrong, but Von Berg digs up the real relics, and they follow Terry into a trap.

Captured by Fu Manchu, the party is sentenced to death or enslavement, but not before Sheila manages to bring Terry back to his senses. Sheila is to become a human sacrifice, Nayland Smith is to be lowered into a crocodile pit, and Von Berg placed between two sets of metal spikes inching toward each other. Terry is prepared for another dose of the serum, which will make him a permanent slave of the whims of Fu Manchu's daughter. However, Nayland Smith manages to free himself, Terry, and Von Berg. Using one of Fu Manchu's own weapons—a death ray that shoots an electric current—the men incapacitate the arch-villain as he raises the sword to execute Sheila. When Fu Manchu drops the sword, Terry picks it up and hacks him to death. While Terry frees Sheila and carries her away, Nayland Smith and Von Berg incinerate Fu Manchu's followers using the same weapon. Safely aboard a ship bound for England, Nayland Smith tosses the sword over the side so that the world will be safe from any future Fu Manchu.



During its initial release, The Mask of Fu Manchu was criticized by the Chinese government, and the Chinese embassy in Washington launched a formal complaint against the film for its hostile depiction of the Chinese. The speech where Fu Manchu tells his followers to "Kill the white man and take his women!" was singled out for strong criticism.[2]

Some other critics also objected to the film's depictions of violence and sexuality.[3] The film's re-release in 1972 was met with protest from the Japanese American Citizens League, who stated that "the movie was offensive and demeaning to Asian-Americans." Because of the criticism of the film's racism, the 1992 VHS release of the film removed several scenes containing the most criticized lines of dialogue, such as the "Kill the white man" speech, and the scenes of Myrna Loy in an orgiastic frenzy while witnessing a torture whipping.[3] The latest releases on DVD of this movie by Warner Bros have restored the above scenes.


The film was a financial success, making a profit of $62,000.[1]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. 1 2 Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011 p 121-122
  2. Christopher Frayling, quoted in "Fu Manchu", in Newman, Kim (ed.), The BFI Companion to Horror. London, Cassell,1996, pp. 131-32; ISBN 0-304-33216-X
  3. 1 2 Gregory William Mank, Hollywood Cauldron: 13 Horror Films from the Genres's Golden Age McFarland, 2001 (pp. 53-89); ISBN 0-7864-1112-0
  4. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
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