Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast formally known as iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is Daughter of the Dragon (1931). This is actually the third Fu Manchu movie and the first to feature real Asians. The first film was The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (1929). The film is set during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Fu Manchu’s wife and son are killed and vows to take revenge on the English officers he blames for their death.
The second film is The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1930). In this film, Fu Manchu takes his revenge on the people he blames for his wife and son’s death until he is stopped by Scotland Yard.
This movie features the great Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, Japanese silent film actor Sessue Hayakawa, and Swedish Warner Oland as Fu Manchu. The movie is rated 6.2 on iMDB.com and has a 44 percent audience score on rottentomatoes.com. However, this movie is better than those scores indicate. Wong is reminiscent of Norma Desmond as she works her hands while speaking. Take the time to watch this wonderful pre-code film.
Warner Oland was in this film only a short time. The Swedish actor played the evil Dr. Fu Manchu. Oland was first covered in the Werewolf of London (1935).
Holmes Herbert was cast as Sir John Petrie. He also was not in the movie for a great amount of time. Herbert was covered in The Verdict (1946).
Lawrence Grant returned as Scotland Yard’s Sir Basil Courtney. Grant was first covered in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), where red-head Myrna Loy was chosen to play daughter to Boris Karloff’s Fu Manchu.
Anna May Wong played Ling Moy, daughter of Fu Manchu. Born in Los Angles in 1905, this Chinese-American became the first movie star, with that heritage. In spite of this, she faced massive discrimination in America.
Wong’s family lived in and around the LA Chinatown are during the era of early filmmaking. As a young girl, Wong would go to the local nickelodeons to watch shorts and often visited filming locations, where she would ask for work. Very much against her families wishes, a family friend helped her get a small uncredited role in The Red Lantern (1919). This was also the time period when she adopted the name, Anna May Wong. it took two years for her to get a credited role. She finally dropped out of high school to pursue a full time acting career.
Wong got small parts in films like Dinty (1920), Bits of Life (1921) where she played Lon Chaney’s abused wife, while he acted in yellow face, Shame (1921), and The Toll of the Sea (1922) a Chinese adaptation of Madame Butterfly. She was now a star but had to suffer through miscegenation laws. As a result, she kept getting smaller roles, while the main leads when to white actors in yellow face. She continued in Drifting (1923), a western Thundering Dawn (1923), as an Eskimo in The Alaskan (1924), and as Tiger Lilly in Peter Pan (1924). She was cast as a murderous Mongolian slave in The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and became widely known.
Wong had a hard time getting good roles that mostly went to whites wearing makeup. She got a lot of roles as dragon ladies but nothing solid. Films during this period include His Supreme Moment (1925) with Ronald Coleman, The Silk Bouquet (1926), Mr. Wu (1927) with Lon Chaney, with Warner Oland in Old San Francisco (1927), and The Crimson City (1928) with Myrna Loy playing an Asian.
In 1928, Wong traveled to Europe where she performed in plays and made movies in the United Kingdom and Germany. It was not long before she was moving among the top acting talents in Europe and a cast of royalty. She was in Piccadilly (1929) and Road to Dishonour (1930) where she recorded in three languages.
Paramount convinced Wong to return to the US with a promise of movie leads. After a successful run on Broadway, Wong filmed Daughter of the Dragon (1931). She also had a part in Shanghai Express (1932) with Marlene Dietrich. Then she started getting hit with “looking too Chinese” to play a Chinese role.
Wong returned to Europe and made among other films Daughter of Shanghai (1937), Dangerous to Know (1938), King of Chinatown (1939), and Island of Lost Men (1939). Wong did not make films from 1939 to 1941. She had a few propaganda films during the war including Bombs Over Burma (1942) and Lady from Chungking (1942). Her work dried up during the war years, and her next film did not come out until 1949. She had a short-lived detective series on television in 1951 called “The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.”
Wong did well in Portrait in Black (1960) with Lana Turner and was offered a major role in Flower Drum Song (1961). Sadly, she died before the film could begin. Wong died in 1961 at the early age of 56.
Sessue Hayakawa played Chinese detective Ah Kee. Hayakawa was born in Japan in 1889. Hayakawa’s family was very prestigious, and his mother belonged to the samurai class. He initially tried to join the Japanese Navy but was medically ineligible. He then turned to acting and joined a theater troop. In 1913, he traveled in the US where he was seen acting and given two film roles, The Wrath of the Gods (1914) and The Typhoon (1914). These films made Hayakawa into the first Asian in American cinema.
Great director Cecil B. DeMille cast Hayakawa in The Cheat (1915) where he starred as an ivory merchant that had an affair with a white actress, Fannie Ward. The movie caused a lot of controversies but none the less made Hayakawa a bigger silent star. Through the 1910s he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.
Eventually, Hayakawa left the future Paramount studios to start his own production company. Movies from this period include The Dragon Painter (1919) about a wild artist that loses his talent when he finds love. Following World War I and the resulting economic slump, an anti-immigrant wave began in America. Hayakawa left America in 1922. He relocated to France where he made movies like The Battle (1923), which had martial arts, Sen Yan’s Devotion (1924), and The Great Prince Shan (1924) [UK].
He returned to Hollywood in 1931, for his talkie debut in Daughter of the Dragon (1931). I thought he was pretty good, but his voice and acting were generally given bad reviews. I did think that he and Anna May Wong, showed a style of acting that was clearly based in silent-films. He returned to France where he made a geisha movie, Yoshiwara (1937), and a remake of The Cheat (1937).
In 1949, following World War II, Hayakawa returned to Hollywood for the third time. He worked with big stars like Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949) and Claudette Colbert in Three Came Home (1950). However, his first big role came playing the sadistic Japanese POW commander in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), opposite Sir Alec Guinness. The film won seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Hayakawa was nominated for Best Supporting actor but did not win. By 1960, he was playing one-dimensional characters like the pirate in Swiss Family Robinson (1960).
He continued to act until retirement in 1966. He returned to Japan, where he became a Buddhist priest. He died in 1973 at the age of 84.
Bramwell Fletcher played Ronald Petrie. I have not done anything Fletcher but he played the idiot that read the mummy’s curse, at night, while the damn thing was right behind him, in The Mummy (1932). Frances Dade played Joan Marshall. Dade, whom I have also not reviewed, was bitten by Dracula as Lucy in Dracula (1931).
The text tells that 20-years prior, Dr. Fu Manchu has terrorized London. He blamed the death of his wife and son, during the Boxer Rebellion, on English General Petrie. Trying to wipe out the Petrie clan, he killed two people before he was stopped by Scotland Yard.
In London, Princess Ling Moy (Anna May Wong), is a star performer and dancer. She has just completed her final London performance before a planned South American tour. Her manager Morloff (Nicholas Soussanin) comes to see her in the dressing room. He has an engaged couple with him, Joan Marshall (Frances Dade) and Ronald Petrie (Bramwell Fletcher). Ling Moy is staying at the home of Morloff, and the next-door neighbors are the Petrie’s. Ronald is very star struck by Ling Moy. She, however, is only interested in finding out if her father is coming to Morloff’s house, although she does not know him or his true identity.
At Scotland Yard, Sir Basil Courtney (Lawrence Grant) receives news from Ah Kee (Sessue Hayakawa), a Chinese detective, that Fu Manchu is in London. Courtney does not believe Ah Kee, choosing to believe Fu Manchu is dead, but he decides to warn the Petrie’s anyway. When he phones, he finds that the house’s wires have been cut. The two men leave for the Petrie house with a group of bobbies.
Morloff and the Petrie’s are hanging out, and Ronald is telling his father, Sir John Petrie (Holmes Herbert) how hot Ling Moy is, while his fiancé is sitting right there. Rogers (Harold Minjir), the secretary to Sir John comes in, and he is clearly blind without his glasses.
The hands of Fu Manchu (Warner Oland) are shown mixing something into Sir John’s pipe tobacco in the study. Sir John and Rogers head to the study and Fu Manchu flees. As soon as he sits down, Sir John packs his pipe and begins smoking. Rogers shows him threating letters from Fu Manchu. They try to call Scotland Yard but realize the line is cut. Rogers leave to call from Morloff’s house. Fu Manchu announces to Sir John that he is in the room. Fu says he wants to wipe the slate clean. Sir John pulls and hides a gun behind his back. Sir John fires the gun at Fu, but the bullets have been removed. The effects of the poison in the tobacco begins to take effect. Fu has Sir John under mind control.
Sir Basil and Ah Kee arrive just in time to see Fu Manchu mind forcing Sir John to the top of the stairs. Fu claps his hands, and Sir John falls dead. Fu raises a knife to kill Ronald by Ah Kee shoots him. They chase the fleeing Fu. Morloff opens a secret passage under the stairs, where Harry Potter lives, and allows Fu to escape to his house. So Morloff is a bad guy and a talent agent. Amazing! The police cannot find Fu Manchu.
Over at Morloff’s house, two of Fu’s helpers bring him through the secret passageway. The wounded Fu, asks that Ling Moy be brought to the altar room. This Morloff character is all in. Ling Moy is brought to meet Fu who expects to die within the hour. Ling Moy is shown the family dragon crest, and she knows she is the daughter of Fu Manchu. She takes it really well. Fu says he is shamed because he has not completed his mission and has no son to pass the work onto. Ling Moy jumps right in and takes up the mantle. She vows that she will be his son and he calls her man-daughter. As Fu dies, he hatches a plan to make it seem he was trying to murder Ling Moy. This way she will be above suspicion and have access to the Petrie’s.
Sir Basil, Ah Ke, et al. hear screaming that Ling Moy is being killed. They rush into Ming Loy’s room and shoot Fu Manchu. Ming Loy thanks them as she has been instructed. Ronald tries to ease up on Ling Moy.
Ling Moy prays to her father in front of the dragon tapestry and re-devotes herself to the mission.
Two months have passed, and Ronald is snaking on Ming Loy without regards to old whats-her-name. Oh yes, it was Joan, and she shows up and is a little snotty. One of Fu’s servants, Lu Chung (E. Alyn Warren) is encouraging Ming Loy to get on with the killing. She says the plan will go forward that very night.
Ah Kee shows up at the door and is brought in. He is surprised to see Lu Chung there, but they pretend is selling lottery tickets. Ah Kee asks about how they know each other. Ah Kee pledged love and affection to Ling Moy.
Ah Kee is walking through Chinatown and comes to Kim Lee Greengrocer. He is passed a message in a book of matches. It warns him to watch the Petrie house that night.
Late that night, Lu Chung brings Ling Moy through the secret passage into the Petrie house. She is wearing white silk PJs, which are not the preferred knife murdering wear. She quietly enters the room of Ronald, strokes his hair, and raises the knife.
Ah Kee comes in downstairs, and Lu Chung knocks him out from behind. As Ling Moy comes down the stairs and sees Ah Kee, Lu Chung knocks a vase over. Roberts comes out without his glasses and cannot see the escaping assassins. They call for Ronald, and he comes downstairs unharmed. Roberts calls Scotland Yard, and Ah Kee calls for more men. Ronald’s only thought is for the safety of Ling Moy. Ronald and Ah Kee head out to check on her.
Morloff and Lu Chung think she has killed Ronald until he arrives at the door. They are told that the princess is sleeping. Ah Kee adds a few guards to Morloff’s house as well. Morloff and Lu Chung jump down Ling Moy’s throat about not doing the killing. They insult her for being a girl. Lu Chung has some incense that Fu gave him to strengthen Ling Moy’s female side. She pledges her love for Ronald and almost kills herself before Lu Chung stops her. He opens the dragon tapestry and sets off the incense. She hears her father’s voice telling her to kill.
In the morning, Ling Moy is all in. The plan is to lure Ah Kee away from Petrie. That night Morloff calls Ah Kee and then Ling Moy invites him over, in a really husky voice, to say farewell. Ah Kee is let into the bedroom, and Ah Kee is given a ceremonial robe to wear. She comes in all decked out in robes too.
Morloff comes in and tells Ronald that Ming Loy has been kidnapped by Lu Chung and that Ah Kee has followed them. Morloff tells him to have Lu Chung’s joint raided. Ronald leaves with Rogers in tow. IT’S-A TRAP! They raid the joint and Ronald is lead away and trapped behind a fake brick wall. He is clubbed and taken prisoner. The Scotland Yard guys realize Ronald has been taken.
Ming Long keeps Ah Kee busy with a Chinese banjo serenade. Lu Chung peeps in through a full-face viewport. He gives Ling Moy the signal that it is done. Ah Kee proposes. Ling Moy doesn’t answer but says she is going away to pray. Ah Kee sees the face viewport. He looks in and sees Ling Moy and Lu Chung with the knocked-out Ronald. Ling Moy has knock out wine for Ah Kee so he will not have to be killed. He calls her out before he drinks the wine. She tells that she is Fu Manchu’s daughter. He says he has a duty and she says he will be killed if he tries to leave. Finally, she gongs him, but he fights his way out of the house. Morloff, Lu Chung, and another man beat him down in the yard. Morloff goes and grabs Joan.
Ah Kee is a prisoner in Morloff’s house. Ling Moy tells them to tie him in the attic. Ronald wakes with Ling Moy holding him. She tries to kiss him. Ronald hears Joan screaming. Ling Moy gets all butt-hurt that Ronald is concerned about the screaming Joan. Ronald is pretty dense. She finally tells Ronald that she is the daughter of Fu Manchu. Ling Moy plans to put acid on Joan’s face.
Sir Basil returns from the raid and heads to Morloff’s House. Ah Kee stands at the window but can’t signal Sir Basil. Finally, he jumps from the window, killing himself, to warn the others. Sir Basil and company rush into the house where they have some Rube Goldberg acid dropping apparatus over Joan. Ming Loy offers Ronald the opportunity to kill Joan. The cops bust in killing Morloff and a henchman. Rogers figures out the secret passage at last. Rogers and Ronald run ahead to the Petrie house and hide in the dark. Rogers shoots Lu Chung. Ronald stays with Ling Moy, and she gives him snake eyes. Then she asks to surrender. Joan comes in, and Ronald is distracted. Ming Loy raises a knife to stab him but is shot dead by Ah Kee, who is not dead yet. I think they used this in True Grit (1969). Ling Moy dies beautifully, and Ah Kee falls and pledges love to Ling Moy before he too dies.
World-Famous Short Summary – Love/hate triangle goes badly wrong
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Beware the moors