“The British government is asking you to risk your life again.” “Oh, very well.”
Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) of the British Secret Service recruits Egyptologist Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) for a mission to find the tomb of Genghis Khan before the evil Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) finds it first. Fu Manchu is searching for the mask and sword of Genghis Khan. Fu Manchu plans to use the sword and mask to proclaim himself the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. He believes his people will rise up and destroy the white race and he will be all powerful and rule the world. Fu Manchu has Sir Lionel kidnapped and brought to him. Fu Manchu tries to bribe Sir Lionel into telling him where the tomb is. When bribery doesn’t work, he has Sir Lionel tortured.
Barton's daughter Sheila (Karen Morley) also knows where the tomb is. She insists on taking her father's place on the expedition. With her fiancé Terry Granville (Charles Starrett) she sets out to find the tomb. Along with her are; Dr. Von Berg (Jean Hersholt), and McLeod (David Torrence). The tomb is found and so are the sword and mask. Fu Manchu’s men try to steal the artifacts but it only results in McLeod being killed.
An emissary from Fu Manchu approaches Terry and Sheila. He offers to trade Barton for the priceless artifacts. Terry and Sheila agree, however, unbeknownst to them, Nayland had switched swords. Fu Manchu discovers the fake. Terry is whipped under the supervision of Fu Manchu’s daughter Fah Lo See. Being a masochist Fah Lo See gets excited. Nayland tries to rescue Terry and is captured too. Terry is injected with a serum that makes him a slave to Fu Manchu and released. Under Fu Manchu’s orders he lures Sheila and Von Berg into a trap. With everyone captured and the sword and mask in the hands of Fu Manchu, it appears that everything Fu Manchu desires is at hand.
“The Mask of Fu Manchu” was released in 1932 and was directed by Charles Brabin. This is the only time Karloff played Fu Manchu. It was made in 1932 when all Asians were played by White people. At least the stars of the movies. The movie is a pre-code film. It depicts torture, drug use, racism, sexism, xenophobia, sadism, homosexual undertones, white slavery, human sacrifice, and interracial sex. It’s a lot to pack into 68 minutes. For over 70 years, the movie has been plagued with protests and criticism. Different parts were censored depending on who was showing it.
During its initial release the film was criticized by the Chinese government. The Chinese embassy in Washington launched a formal complaint against the film for its hostile depiction of the Chinese. The speech where Fu Manchu tells his followers to "Kill the white man and take his women!" was singled out for strong criticism.
Other critics also objected to the film's depictions of violence and sexuality. The re-release of the film in 1972 was met with protest from the Japanese American Citizens League. They stated that "the movie was offensive and demeaning to Asian-Americans". Due to such criticism, the 1992 VHS release of the film removed several scenes containing the most criticized lines of dialogue, such as the "Kill the white man" speech, and the scenes of Myrna Loy in an orgasmic frenzy while witnessing a torture whipping. The latest release of the DVD of the movie by Warner Bros has restored those scenes.
All this for one campy movie.