Warner Oland makes the first of four screen appearances as Sax Rohmer’s insidious oriental Dr. Fu Manchu. The film makes an effort to explain Fu’s hatred of all whites by showing the death of the Doctor’s family during the Boxer Rebellion. Twenty years later, Fu Manchu is a full-blooded villain using a hypnotized Jean Arthur to help wipe out the British family Fu holds responsible for the deaths of his loved ones. But when Arthur falls in love with potential victim Neil Hamilton, Dr. Fu is forced to add her to his death-list. Weakened only by the excessive “silly-ass Englishman” comedy relief of William Austin, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu is a rapid-fire adventure devoid of early-talkie clumsiness.
The least known of all the sound Fu Manchu pictures are those that ushered the character created by author Sax Rohmer into the talkie era. With “THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU”, Paramount launched a three-picture series in which the title role was played by Warner Oland , soon to achieve greater fame as detective Charlie Chan. The film recounts the beginnings of the doctor’s life of crime: the deaths of his wife and son during the Boxer Rebellion drives Dr. Fu Manchu to kill off, one by one, the British colonialists who put down the Rebellion, using what a contemporary reviewer called “diabolical cunning and fiendish methods.” The aura of mystery and menace comes via director Rowland V. Lee, who would achieve similar effects in later thrillers such as SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939).
A master criminal, Fu Manchu’s murderous plots are marked by the extensive use of arcane methods; he disdains guns or explosives, preferring dacoits, Thuggee, and members of other secret societies as his agents armed with knives, or using “pythons and hamadryads… fungi and my tiny allies, the bacilli… my black spiders” and other peculiar animals or natural chemical weapons.
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