Saturday, October 05, 2002


Yes, I suppose this is a rather reprehensible film with its racist and colonial streaks running a mile wide throughout. But one can do a little deconstructive work on it to turn it into an almost guilt-free guilty pleasure. Ostensibly, the good guys are the bland Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) and Prof. Van Berg (Jean Hersholt) who have unearthed the mask and sword of Genghis Kahn in the Gobi Desert. They defy a curse to bring the relics to the British Museum, but the wicked and powerful warlord Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) has nefarious plans. He kidnaps one of the good guys, tortures him to death, and gets the rest of the good guys to play right into his hands. Fu's daughter, played by Myrna Loy (at the peak of her sexy and exotic otherness before she was softened to play safe and domestic Nora Charles in the Thin Man movies), lusts sadistically after the hunky white guy (Charles Starrett); my very favorite scene is where he is stripped to the waist and whipped (with Loy drooling over him nearby), then strapped down to a table wearing a diaperish loincloth and given a serum to render him Fu's slave. There are other torture scenes that apparently inspired some scenes in GUNGA DIN, STAR WARS, and the Indiana Jones movies. Ultimately, I found myself rooting for Loy and Karloff, especially against the shrill bitchery of the blond "damsel in distress" (Karen Morely). The atmosphere of the scenes in Fu's lair is sometimes quite creepy, and this would not be out of place as Halloween night viewing, but overall, this is a horror movie best appreciated as camp.

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