The Mask of Fu Manchu Blu-ray Review

3.5 Stars Fun pre-Code suspense and adventure from MGM.
The Mask of Fu Manchu Screenshot

MGM does pre-Code horror on a grand scale with The Mask of Fu Manchu.

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
Released: 05 Nov 1932
Rated: G
Runtime: 68 min
Director: Charles Brabin, Charles Vidor
Genre: Adventure, Horror, Sci-Fi
Cast: Boris Karloff, Lewis Stone, Karen Morley
Writer(s): Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, John Willard
Plot: Englishmen race to find the tomb of Genghis Khan before the sinister Fu Manchu does.
IMDB rating: 6.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 8 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 05/07/2024
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 3.5/5

Impressed by the huge grosses of Universal’s 1931 Dracula and Frankenstein, MGM bosses decided with their resources they could churn out better and even more profitable horror films than any other Hollywood studio. Thus, among their 1932 output were Tod Browning’s Freaks and Charles Brabin’s The Mask of Fu Manchu. Oriental fiend Fu Manchu had already been presented in both silent and early sound films (the latter had starred Warner Oland before he assumed the mantle of Charlie Chan), but MGM brought in horror star Boris Karloff to assume the role and cranked out one of the most manically entertaining camp horror shows ever to be mounted. Seen today without the intrusions of the censors or the PC police, The Mask of Fu Manchu has the expected MGM gloss and spectacle, some of their top talent, and enough disturbing moments to please almost anyone looking for a thrill or two.

Sadistic and xenophobic Chinese warrior Dr. Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) is determined to obtain the mask and simitar of legendary Mongolian war lord Genghis Khan knowing they could provide him power to invade the rest of the world for all its spoils. But only archeologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) and his daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) know exactly where Khan’s tomb is located. Once the artefacts are obtained, they’re hidden by Barton and Scotland Yard officer Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone). Fu has Barton kidnapped and tortures him to make him talk, but when his efforts are in vain, he must hatch a new plan by kidnapping Sheila’s fiancé Terry Granville (Charles Starrett) to use as bait to lure the rest of the white people he loathes into his clutches.

The screenplay by Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf, and John Willard positively revels in its sadistic attitudes and fiendish torture devices, all of which get the lavish MGM treatment and are photographed in all their glory by future Oscar-winner Tony Gaudio. Much of the fun of a picture like this that pits East against West is seeing how ingenuity and split-second timing along with more than a bit of luck manage to thwart even the most carefully planned operations and expected outcomes. But director Charles Brabin (with a few days of filming by Charles Vidor) doesn’t shy away from the grisly and the gruesome including the torture of Sir Lionel in a bell tower, the whipping of a stripped down Terry Granville, an excruciating sequence where venom from snakes, tarantulas, and a Gila monster is extracted and injected into our stalwart hero Terry, and the climactic execution scenarios which are set up for Smith over a crocodile pit and Von Berg (Jean Hersholt) facing the temple of silver fingers. He also manages to cram skillfully into a brief 68-minute running time a great deal of action and character building.

Boris Karloff seems to be having the time of his life as the sneering, gleefully maniacal Dr. Fu Manchu. Though this very talky role revealed to audiences his pronounced lisp for the first time, he never lets it prevent him from joyously embracing his every curse of the white men he despises. Lewis Stone (though no man of action) gets with the program quickly once it’s clear that Fu is kidnapping his friends. Charles Starrett is a courageous young hero that this kind of pulp adventure needs playing subtly a zombified pawn after the injection but snapping back to normal due to the love of a good woman: Karen Morley playing perhaps a bit too nobly his love interest Sheila Barton. Yes, that’s Myrna Loy in one of her final Oriental vamp roles as Fu Manchu’s “ugly” (his words, not mine) daughter, luxuriating in the sadism and lustfully hoping to have a burly white man as her love trophy. Jean Hersholt and Lawrence Grant do what they can with underwritten roles as archeologists involved in the caper.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 original aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Though occasional long shots are a bit soft (likely part of the original photography and not a fault of the transfer), most of the image is sharp and clear with film grain present and consistently realized. Clarity is certainly vivid enough to notice Karloff’s stand-in during the first electric spark laboratory sequence as Fu tests the simitar brought to him. The grayscale is very good though blacks aren’t the deepest you’ll ever see. The movie has been divided into 21 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound mix is very strong for audio elements less than a decade away from the century mark. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and the spare bits of music and the multiple sound effects have been mixed with great professionalism. There are no instances of hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 2/5

Audio Commentary: film historian Greg Mank does a first-rate job celebrating this marvelous MGM pre-Code horror classic. His scripted remarks are delivered with clarity and assurance, and when he ad-libs off script, it’s always concise and appropriate.

Animated Shorts (HD): both from 1932 and in black and white, Freddie the Freshman (6:54) and The Queen Was in the Parlor (6:46).

Overall: 3.5/5

MGM’s pre-Code horror classic The Mask of Fu Manchu is loads of fun with a juicy, sadistic role for Boris Karloff and some fine studio players doing their best in the spirit of this entertaining adventure film.

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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aPhil

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Is the Greg Mank commentary the same one as for the old DVD?
It was very good, but wondering if this is a newer one with Mr Mank.
 

Camps

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Would love to know just how big an upgrade this is from my DVD. Anyone here in a position to compare the two, please weigh in.....
 

lark144

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mark gross
Would love to know just how big an upgrade this is from my DVD. Anyone here in a position to compare the two, please weigh in.....
My WB/MGM HORROR set, which includes MASK OF FU MANCHU, suffers from DVD rot. FU MANCHU plays ok, but the other one, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, gets stuck, and sooner or later, the same will happen to FU MANCH. In addition, I'm not crazy about the visual quality. It's pretty soft and somewhat dupey, and you don't really get a sense of MGM glamor. In fact, I thought it looked tawdry, the last time I watched it, due to the graininess. This Blu sounds so much better. The lushness of the lighting in MGM films of the 1930's that have been recently released by Warmer Archive--THE GREAT ZIEGFELD, for instance--have totally wowed me, and Matt's great review got me to order this right away, though I wasn't intending to.
 

Matt Hough

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Is the Greg Mank commentary the same one as for the old DVD?
It was very good, but wondering if this is a newer one with Mr Mank.
I'm certain they've merely ported over the old commentary, but I don't have the DVD in order to make any kind of comparison.
 

Wayne Klein

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Fu Manchu is a camp fest. It’s also racist but it is of its time. Karloff is terrific chewing scenery at every turn.
 

lark144

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mark gross
I don’t disagree. One can’t judge films today by contemporary beliefs otherwise we wouldn’t be able to watch anything. Just noting it. Much of that went over my head when I saw it as a kid.
I think Karloff said that the film was completely absurd, and to take the film seriously would be equally absurd.
 

Will Krupp

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I think Karloff said that the film was completely absurd, and to take the film seriously would be equally absurd.

His exact quote was even worse than that. Mank quotes him as saying, "It was shambles, it really was. It was simply ridiculous."

For her part, Myrna is quoted (again by Mank) as telling the powers that be, ""I can't do this! I've done a lot of terrible things in film, but this girl's a sadistic nymphomaniac!"

I think there's also a rumor of her telling Lawrence Quirk that the film was so ridiculous that she and Boris decided at the time that the only way to play it was with tongue firmly in cheek!
 

mackjay

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Great review. I didn't find the old DVD to be bad at all, but can't wait to see how this super entertaining movie looks on the blu-ray. A Karloff essential.
 

dana martin

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For her part, Myrna is quoted (again by Mank) as telling the powers that be, ""I can't do this! I've done a lot of terrible things in film, but this girl's a sadistic nymphomaniac!"
I for one am happy that a 26-27 year old Myrna Loy decided to just jump into the role full force , embellishing every bit of it as a sadistic....nymphomaniac...movie magic!
Pre ordered with a sly smile.
 

Broomy

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Matthew
Just had the pleasure to spend the evening watching this delightfully batty movie. Boris Karloff chews the scenery brilliantly. I had to pause the movie at various points just to marvel at some of the shots, they’re a work of art!
Excellent restoration as always from WAC. My biggest thanks all involved for bringing this to disc!
 
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