Monday, August 9, 2010
Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu (1929)
Another week and this time out of the box we're looking at some great black and white films. Most of them are thrillers, and one is not. The comedy in that film is counterpointed by two more thrilling color entries on the Wednesday Triple Feature
We begin with Fu Manchu...
The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu is the first of the sound Fu Manchu films stars Warner Oland as the "evil" doctor. Here the plot begins in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. Fu is a good and loving doctor respected by all sides of the conflict. When the Boxers are routed by a western army several take refuge in Fu's garden. The soldiers pursue and in the resulting fighting the wife and child of the doctor are slain. He of course vows revenge and sets out to kill the men he feels are responsible. The film jumps ahead to the present (1929) where Fu, aided unwittingly by his Caucasian ward,a young Jean Arthur, stalks London on his path of revenge.
Opulent and spectacular early sound film that mostly doesn't seem like most sound films of the period, its not static and frozen, there is movement around the sets. If there is any hint of its origin in the early days of sound its the lack of music cues. Otherwise this is a rip roaring thriller. It has more in common with the murder mysteries of the period rather then the much better known later versions of Sax Rohmer tales with Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee. Here we have shadowy streets in Chinatown and an English manner house perched high on a cliff. Its moody fun stuff.
The cast is mostly excellent, with Warner Oland playing Fu as a darker version of his most famous role, Charlie Chan. The real hero here is not so much Nayland Smith, rather it Dr Petrie, son of of one of Fu's Targets. Petrie is played by Neil Hamilton, best known now as Commissioner Gordon on Batman, however this was back at the start of his career when he was an action leading man. It clear why he was a popular actor back in the day. The only weakness is Jean Arthur as Fu's ward. She seems ill at ease and actually quite awkward. One would be hard pressed to realize that she had been on screen in almost 50 movies by the time this film was made. I would like to think its because of the transition to sound, certainly she shows little sign of the wonderful performances she would give in films like You can't Take it With You or Mr Smith Goes to Washington.
Over all this is a perfect film for a dark and stormy night.
Look to Sinister Cinema for a copy.