The Drums of Fu Manchu (1940)

Article 2489 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2008
Posting Date: 6-5-2008
Directed by John English and William Witney
Featuring Henry Brandon, William Royle, Robert Kellard
Country: USA

Fu Manchu has a plot to acquire the scepter of Genghis Khan, which will give him the power to conquer Asia as a result of a prophecy. Dr. Nayland Smith and his youthful associate Allan Parker do battle with him.

Let’s face it; most serials were churned out on fairly low budgets with little effort expended on a decent story and with largely recycled cliffhangers. Unless you’re particularly partial to the form, only a small handful of them are really worth the effort to watch them. This is one of them. Fu Manchu is one of the great villains, and this serial manages to do him justice, thanks primarily to an engrossing plot and a fine performance by Henry Brandon in the role. He’s one of the most effective serial villains; he has some great lines, refuses to confine his villainy to sitting behind a chair and barking commands to henchmen, and is even allowed to win a bit of our sympathy on occasion. There’s also a real sense of atmosphere, a rarity in serials. The story matters this time around; each episode advances the plot, and the sense that the whole plot largely exists in the first and last episodes does not exist here. This is not only a great serial, it’s one of the very best cinematic versions of Fu Manchu; only THE MASK OF FU MANCHU gives it any competition, and it’s far better than any of the movies in the late-sixties resurrection of the character. Amazingly enough, Fu Manchu is allowed to survive at the end of the movie, in defiance of the Motion Picture code that would ordinarily require his death. It seems to promise a sequel that never appeared. There’s plenty of fantastic content, what with all of the horror atmosphere, the legion of Fu Manchu’s minions (rendered that way by an operation on the brain), and Fu Manchu’s mystical hypnotic powers. Highly recommended.



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