Saturday, May 11, 2024

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU On Blu-ray From Warner Archive


The Warner Archive unleashes on Blu-ray one of the wildest, wickedest Pre-Code thrillers--the 1932 MGM production of THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. 

During the heady days of classic Hollywood, MGM was considered the studio of class and distinction, but in the early 1930s they made some of the more outlandish horror films of the era, such as FREAKS, MAD LOVE, and this film. THE MASK OF FU MANCHU is so off-the-wall and crazy it makes the Sax Rohmer novels written about the title character seem tame by comparison. 

One thing about THE MASK OF FU MANCHU: MGM didn't skimp on any of the tawdry details. The sets, the costumes, and the expressive photography are a sight to behold (the production design can best be described as art deco on opium). One can only imagine how fantastic this movie would have looked in color. 

MGM took advantage of Boris Karloff's newfound horror popularity by giving him the title role. The actor himself thought the whole thing to be ridiculous, so he pitched his performance to the material. The result is that Boris is--dare I say it--almost Lugosi-esque here. Karloff really lets it rip, and the movie is all the more enjoyable for that. Boris is matched in his mad ravings by Myrna Loy as his sinfully slinky daughter. The supporting cast includes Lewis Stone as Fu's nemesis, the very stalwart Dennis Nayland Smith, Jean Hersholt, and a hysterical Karen Morley. 

The movie's production history was as outlandish as the picture itself, with multiple directors, script problems, and censorship issues. THE MASK OF FU MANCHU has gone down in history as one of the most politically incorrect movies ever made by a major American studio, due to its East vs. West racial themes, but the film is so absurdly fantastic that there's no point in trying to take it seriously. 

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU was released on DVD in 2006 by Warners as part of a box set devoted to early 1930s horror classics. That version was uncut, but the edited scenes that were restored had a very noticeable difference in picture and sound quality. This new Blu-ray also has the uncut version, and the once-edited scenes have a better quality to them, and their appearance is not as abrupt. Overall, the visual & sound quality is fantastic--this disc really shows off the exotic splendor MGM put in the project. 

On this Blu-ray, before the film starts, a text statement is shown explaining that this movie is a product of its time, and it may be offensive to some, etc. I understand why Warners felt the need to do this, but I'm sure anyone who would be offended by this film would never see it in the first place, and certainly wouldn't buy it on Blu-ray. 

This disc carries over the audio commentary by Greg Mank that was on the earlier DVD of the film. Greg's talk is fun and fast-paced, and despite having only 68 minutes to do so, he provides all the info, context, and background on what is a very unusual and complicated production. There's also a couple of early 30s Merrie Melodies cartoons (considering the bizarre nature of the film, a couple of Looney Tunes would have been more fitting). 

You can't get any more Pre-Code than THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. Boris Karloff gives one of his most lip-smacking portrayals as the fiendish Fu, and Myrna Loy is truly a dragon lady you're going to die for. This movie certainly isn't for the faint of heart. If you're looking for something that promotes peace, international brotherhood, and understanding, this ain't it.....but if you want a wild, wacky, and provocative ride, this Blu-ray of THE MASK OF FU MANCHU is for you. 


  1. "Art Deco on opium"!! I love it! Crazy, outrageous movie, most definitely. Who cares about international brotherhood anyway? Myrna Loy was so cool during her Oriental temptress period. She was lucky that she was able to escape that image and become a popular leading lady. I have the DVD set, but I never listened to Greg Mank's commentary, I'm embarrassed to admit. This may be worth an upgrade.

    1. It is, and Greg's commentaries are worth a course credit!