Cole-o-ween: Day 1

It’s the first installment of Queue De Grâce here at Spectacular Optical…and Cole of vitagraph, american starts us off with a bang (or should I say gong?) with 1932’s THE MASK OF FU MANCHU!

I have to admit that I don’t watch many old timey movies…it’s not that I have anything against them, I just don’t ever seem to watch anything pre-1950s….shit, let’s be honest, I’d be lucky if I watched anything pre-1970s these days.

I’d like to say all that’s going to change thanks to how awesome MASK was but I’m not making any promises that I don’t plan on keeping today.

MASK gets right to it with the introduction of  no-nonsense British Secret Service agent, Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone), and Egyptologist, Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant), making plans to ransack the tomb of Genghis Khan before Dr. Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) can get his creepy, long finger nailed, yellow mitts on a mask and sword that will get the people of Asia and the Middle East all worked up into a “kill Whitey” froth that’s sure to lead to the evil Dr.’s world domination.

So it’s a race to the tomb and a fight for the artifacts in what can only be described as “the best offensive and demeaning film to Asian-Americans (made in the 1930s) that I ever did see”!

It was a real pleasure watching Lewis Stone and Karloff act circles around the younger performers. Stone is the type of silver haired, mustachioed, pragmatic leading man I can totally get behind in these types of pictures; while Karloff does his menacing, lispy best to bring the evil criminal genius to life.

Karen Morley doesn’t pull any punches with her hand wringing, whiny, histrionics as Sheila…and that’s not a good thing. Sheila was the one character that drove me up the friggin’ wall every time she was onscreen. Now I get that there’s a place for these types of female characters in movies, but Morley’s acting was over the top and awkward even for 1932.

Thankfully, the bewitching Myrna Loy was around as Chinese princess, Fah Lo See to inject some balls into the only other major female role.

Oh, there was the  “not entirely un-handsomeCharles Starrett in the role Brendan Fraser is destined to play in the remake…so you pretty much can guess that he did an ok job as the unnecessary love interest/hero. In my opinion, we already had our hero role filled with Stone so I would have preferred if the Starrett and Morley parts were dropped to allow more room for the Dr.’s craaaazy medical experiments and elaborate death traps.

Overall, the film was thoroughly enjoyable and I loved seeing Karloff as the precursor and major influence on two of my favorite movie villains, Ming the Merciless of FLASH GORDON (1980) and David Lo Pan  from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986).

So, with all that being said here’s the breakdown…

Things I liked:

  • Mummy kidnappers
  • Awesome hats
  • Elaborate death traps
  • Secret passageways
  • Opium dens
  • Old timey science
  • Genuine fisticuffs

Things I disliked:

  • Karen Morley

Tune in tomorrow ’cause it looks like Day 2 is bringing more black and white spooks and scares…

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2 Responses to “Cole-o-ween: Day 1”

  1. cole roulain Says:

    by now you have probably figured out that i put your list in chronological order. i did that for all sorts of reasons – so you could vaguely relive the evolution of the horror film, to underline how much a couple of them were ahead of their time and, in this case, to show you how wacky things could be before that damned hays code came along and cleaned up the town. it would be a long time before you would see a character’s face light up again with bdsm glee the way myrna loy’s does in this. it is similar to the look on mine when i front-loaded four black and white films on your list.

    kill the white man and take his women!

  2. Corey Convex Says:

    Once I saw the list I did notice the timeline…but the Hays Code never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until I started to read about each film after watching them did I get hip to the problems of censorship and the reactions of the movie going public. A great start to the week and I’m anxious to make my way back to the future!


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