Evil genius Dr Fu Manchu schemes to get hold of the recently-discovered sword and mask of Genghis Khan, artefacts which will enable him to assume command of an Asiatic horde and conquer the Western world. Stalwart British hero Nayland Smith sets out to stop him.
Sax Rohmer’s oriental master fiend, ‘the yellow peril incarnate’, made his screen debut in the silent era and had been rehashed several times – notably in a series of three very early talkies starring Warner Oland – by the time MGM mounted this lavish pulp adventure as a vehicle for the reigning superstar bogey man, Boris Karloff. A troubled production, with credited director Charles Brabin replacing King Vidor in mid-shoot, it suffered so many rewrites and rethinks that the plot, not exactly sensible in the first place, gets lost amid a procession of bizarre, perverse incident.
Even in 1932, Fu Manchu was camp and Karloff slyly sends up the super-villain, lisping politely to various captives as he describes the tortures he intends to inflict on them, promising his Asiatic followers an apocalypse in which they can kill all the white men and take their women.
A svelte, slinky Myrna Loy is outrageous as Fu Manchu’s equally strange daughter, who either has a brain siezure or the world’s best orgasm while watching the shirtless hero get whipped.
As Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard, a perpetually angry Lewis Stone is so given to spitting ‘you yellow monster’ at Asian people it’s hard not to feel Fu Manchu has a point about the unworthiness of the caucasian race.
In the 1960s, Christopher Lee wore the long moustaches in the excellent Face of Fu Manchu and four increasingly shoddy sequels. The Devil Doctor has been out of the movies since the disastrous Peter Sellers comedy The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu.
As ridiculous as this is, Brois Karloff is camply compelling.