The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) Classic Movie Review 70

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) - Myrna Loy

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) – Myrna Loy

I am a doctor of philosophy from Edinburgh, a doctor of law from Christ's College, a doctor of medicine from Harvard. My friends, out of courtesy, call me 'Doctor'

Today’s movie is The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). It features many European actors with taped-backed eyes but I going to go with “that’s how it was done back then” and move on. Boris Karloff and Jean Hersholt were amazing in their roles. Myrna Loy was fantastic playing an evil sex-crazed fiend. I’m use to seeing her in roles like The Thin Man (1934) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Of course, this movie has archeologists which always draws me in.


Boris Karloff was up to the role of Dr. Fu Manchu and was as good as anything I have seen him in. We first covered Karloff in Episode 7 – Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Jean Hersholt was cast as the German member of the archeological team named Von Berg. Although the theme was dark Hersholt delivered with a light touch. We covered Jean Hersholt in Episode 64 – Mark of the Vampire (1935).

Steve Clemente has a very small role as a knife thrower. Clemente was first covered in Episode 1 – King Kong (1933).

Lewis Stone played in Nayland Smith of the British Secret Service. Stone was an American actor. He went to fight in the Spanish-American War and returned to a career as a writer. By the time he was out of his teens his hair had already turned white. He began acting in 1915 but took another break to serve in the cavalry during World War I. Following the war, his white hair allowed him to be cast as older and more respectable.

He started getting better roles such as Don’t Neglect Your Wife (1921), The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), Scaramouche (1923), and The Lost World (1925). He received an Oscar nomination for The Patriot (1928). He moved easily into sound pictures with The Trial of Mary Dugan (1929). Other movies include The Big House (1930), The Phantom of Paris (1931), Red-Headed Woman (1932) with Jean Harlow, and Inspiration (1931), Mata Hari (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), and Queen Christina (1933) all with Greta Garbo (1931).

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) - Boris Karloff

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) – Boris Karloff

In 1938 he took the role of Judge James Hardy father of crime solver Andy. Mickey Rooney played the role of Andy. Stone had a heart attack and died in 1953

Karen Morley played the role of Sheila Barton, daughter of Sir Barton. Morley was born in 1909 and was adopted by a Los Angles family in the mid-1920s. She attended Hollywood High School and her interest soon turned to acting. She studied at the Pasadena Playhouse and signed a contract with Fox Studios. Her big break came when Howard Hughes cast her as a blonde gun maul in Scarface (1932) which starred Paul Muni and Boris Karloff had a small part. Morley starred in Mata Hari (1931) with Greta Garbo, Arsène Lupin (1932) with John Barrymore, and Dinner at Eight (1933) with Jean Harlow.

In 1934, Morley left MGM over her intentions to start a family and marry director Charles Vidor. Morley was the third of four wives with Evelyn Keyes of Episode 38 – 99 River Street (1953) being number two. Morley continued to work as a freelance until 1947 when she refused to answer questions for the Communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities. Morley died in 2003.

Charles Starrett played the role of Terrence “Terry” Granville. He was playing football for Darmouth and was hired as an extra for The Quarterback (1926). After that Starrett followed the path to vaudeville, then stock stage work, and finally to Broadway. He was spotted by a Paramount scout and signed to play in Fast and Loose (1930). The good-looking young man was cast in many roles but nothing really remarkable. In 1936, he signed with Columbia where he was in 115 westerns over the next 16 years. In the 1940s he was a top cowboy actor and his roles include the “Durango Kid”. Slowly these B westerns dried up and Starrett left acting in the early 1950s.

Myrna Loy played the lovely and totally evil Fah Lo See. Loy was born in Montana in 1905. Following her father’s death, the family moved to Los Angles. She began acting at the age of 15. While acting in a local production at the Grauman’s Theater, Loy was spotted by Mrs. Rudolph Valentino who worked to get her parts in movies.

Her first film was a What Price Beauty? (1925) followed by Pretty Ladies (1925). Loy was able to easily transition from silent to talkies. When she acted in Satan in Sables (1925), she was able to land a studio contract with Warner Bros. She slowly moved from playing a vamp, hussy, not vampire to a wholesome lady and wife.

When her contract with Warner ended she moved to MGM where she immediately got two good roles. These films were The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933), and the other as Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934) with William Powell. In total, she was in six Thin Man films and was an important part of the series success.

Her roles slowed in the 40s and 50s but that didn’t stop her from being a major part of one of the greatest movies of all times. She was the glue that held The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) together. Loy had very few roles through the 1970s and her last film was Summer Solstice (1981). She passed away at the age of 88 in 1993.

Lawrence Grant played the lead archeologist Sir Lionel Barton. Born in England Grant traveled to America in 1908 with a repertoire company. Grant was always fascinated by Native Americans. He was able to spend time with several tribes and shot a good bit of color motion pictures. He went on a lecture tour and showed his film. He was also able to have a 25 year Hollywood career. Grant died in 1952, at the age of 81 following four hard performances during a heat wave.

David Torrence played maybe Scottish archeologist McLeod. He was born in Scotland in 1863. David followed his older brother to California and began working in silent films such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1913) and The Prisoner of Zenda (1913). However, David preferred to work on Broadway. Due to economics, he returned Hollywood following World War I. Now in sound pictures, he was a standout in Disraeli (1929), A Successful Calamity (1932), and Voltaire (1933). His roles became smaller and smaller until by 1939 he was at an end. However, this was not before appearing in Queen Christina (1933), Bonnie Scotland (1935) with Laurel and Hardy, Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), Captain Blood (1935), The Dark Angel (1935), Lost Horizon (1937). Rulers of the Sea (1939), and Stanley and Livingstone (1939). Torrence died in 1951.


The Commissioner of the British Secret Service, Sir Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) asks Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) to travel to the Gobi desert in China to find and obtain the mask and sword of famous conquered Genghis Khan. Smith says Fu Manchu is trying to obtain the mask and sword and will use it to raise up all of Asia.

Barton heads to the British Museum to meet the other archeologists for the trip. When he enters he is being watched from inside a mummy sarcophagus by an Asian man. He picks two men to go with him: Von Berg (Gene Hersholt) and McLeod (David Torrence). He reveals he may know the location of Genghis Khan’s tomb. They plan to meet on Sunday and leave on Monday. When he walks out of the back room three mummy ninja attack and kidnap him.

Barton’s daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) and Terry –  Terrence Granville (Charles Starrett) go to Smith office after a week seeking word on the kidnapped Barton. Smith knows that he has been kidnapped by Dr. Fu Manchu. The other archeologists have agreed to continue the expedition and Sheila and Terry sign on against Smith’s objections.

Over in China, Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) has Barton brought before him. Fu tries to buy him off first. Then his smoking-hot dragoon-queen daughter Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy) comes in. She is offered to Barton as well. But he again refuses. He is then dragged off to the torture room. They strap Barton under a giant bell and do a version of the water torture with sound.

The others travel across the desert on camels and Sheila shows them the presumed location of the tomb. The English and their hired coolies begin excavating in a cave. Currently, we use graduate students for this type of labor.

Fu continues the torture. Back at the cave, they are using burros with baskets to haul out the dirt. They find the tomb and are lowered in by rope. All four English people go down into the pit. As they open the tomb they debunk the Curse of King Tut. Nice homage to other horror movies. They then get to the inner door which contains a curse. They go right through the door. The recovery the sword and mask off of the skeleton. The workers come in and bow before the body. The archeologists fire their pistols in the air to drive the workers out.

Fu is having a Mongol leaders banquet. He cracks hard on his daughter. She gives the prophecy that Genghis Khan will return to conquer the world.

The archeology crew makes it to a mansion for the night with a sword and mask in hand. Smith is there waiting for them. They have to hide with no lights so Fu Manchu doesn’t find them. They take the goods upstairs to a place that looks like the building from Game of Death (1978). McLeod agrees to be locked in with the goods all night. There are spies and thieves all over the grounds. One of Fu’s men throws a grappling hook over to the house and slides from a tree. He throws his knife and hits McLeod in the back but McLeod manages to shot and kill him.

In the morning they bury McLeod out back. Smith tells them the plan is to leave that night. Terry goes on guard duty and there are still spies in the house. When Terry goes into the yard a hand with Barton’s ring flies over the wall. Fu Manchu’s messenger asks for the sword and mask delivered to the shop of Goy Lo Sung on the Street of the Dragoon or Barton dies.

Sheila convinces Terry to deliver the sword and mask and they end up at the palace of Fu Manchu. Fah Lo See thinks Terry is beautiful. Fu Manchu puts the sword to the electricity test and it fails because it is a fake. Terry is hauled to the torture room and Fah Lo See happily goes along. She has a great time watching him be whipped. Kinky! She takes him back to her bedroom and starts to get all kissy face. However, Fu has other plans.

Back at the mansion, Smith is interrogating Sheila about where Terry is. About that time Barton’s dead body is delivered in a rickshaw. He has a dragon stamp on his forehead. They have to give Sheila a sedative. Smith reveals that he had a fake sword made and hide the original.

Goy Lo Sung is the entrance to the House of 10,000 Joys. Smith heads to the fun place. Smith bribes the owner to get into the opium den. He is given a bed and some opium but he quickly slips away into the lounge in the back. Seeing the dragon tattoos on the girls he knows he is in the right place. He throws a gas lantern and escapes into the back during the confusion. He falls through the Buddha trap door into some old tunnels. It is not long before Fu shows up and takes Smith prisoner.

Fu takes Smith to Terry who is being transformed into a zombie for Fu. Fu Manchu extracts spider venom and uses a boa constrictor to bite another man. He uses that man’s blood to mix with the spider venom as the bitten man dies. Fu then uses a sparkler to heat the potion as he adds powders. He administers only a small dose.

Back at the mansion, Sheila wakes as someone lurks outside her window. It is Terry But he seems a little weird. Terry says Smith wants them to leave in the storm and head for Peking. Sheila seems to sees through the trick.

Von Berg and Terry go out to the cemetery where the sword and mask are buried. When they dig it up the trio gets in a horse-drawn wagon and head out. In the deep woods, they are set upon by Fu’s men while Terry howls madly.

The trio, the sword, and the mask are taken Fu’s palace. The sword passes the test. Fu lays out his whole plan. Bad move. Shelia tries to bring Terry back from his trance and fixation with Fah Lo See. He comes back but they all still get hauled way to the dungeon. At sunrise, they put Smith on a  teeter-totter over alligators, Von Berg is taken to the spike press, and Sheila is dressed to be sacrificed to the gods. She is drugged and ready. Terry is being remade as a sex slave.

All of the Mongol leaders assemble in the great hall. Fu dresses in the mask and a Carman Miranda hat. Smith gets untied and walks on the alligator’s way before Pitfall. Von Berg struggled to get free as Sheila is brought in to be sacrificed.

Terry overpowers two black weightlifters as Smith shows up to help. They get to Von Berg in time to save him. Fu gets the sword and the three European men run to the electrical sword testing machine. It just happens to have a portal to the room where the Mongols leaders are meeting. Von Berg turns it on and zaps the sword in Fu Manchu’s hand. Terry picks up the sword and gives him a chop. He flees with Sheila as Von Berg and Smith zap the crowd.

On the boat back to England Smith gets ready to throw the sword in the ocean when a gong rings. After a small fright, they realize it is just the dinner bell.

World-Famous Short Summary – Boy struggles with two different girls

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Beware the moors

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

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