November 26, 2010

EYE OF THE CAT (1969) - animal attack psycho-thriller still Not On DVD


EYE OF THE CAT(USA, 1969)

(Updated article - first reviewed December 1st, 2005)

A twisty, atmospheric thriller written by Joseph Stefano, the scriptwriter of Psycho no less. After the success of Psycho, Stefano famously turned down Hitchcock's offer of scripting The Birds in order to help write and produce classic sci-fi series The Outer Limits with Leslie Stevens. His career in film, after that decision, was far less busy than his work for TV. But in Eye of the Cat, Stefano mixed eerie elements from both Psycho and The Birds into one carefully tangled scenario.

Wylie (Michael Sarrazin) and Cassia (Gayle Hunnicutt) are a scheming young couple trying to worm their way into a hefty inheritance. Wylie's step-mother (Eleanor Parker) is severely ill with a lung condition, but has written him out of the will after he left the family home years ago. As he returns to regain her good intentions, he discovers that 'Aunt Danny' now has a hundred cats in the house, and he's intensely ailurophobic, that is intensely frightened of having any cat around. The cats also seem to be protecting their ailing owner...

I was first aware of the film from Ivan Butler's Horror in the Cinema, which presented it in the sub-genre of cat-horror! A supernaturally-intelligent ginger moggy appears to know all about the murder plot and all its friends will fiercely try and prevent it. Slow-motion photography, harsh lighting and extra-loud growling and hissing (overlaid with a similar ferocity to The Birds soundtrack), together with the terrified reactions of cat-phobic Wiley, sells the idea of the dozens of cats as malevolent and violent. A queasy score by Lalo Schifrin (Bullitt, Dirty Harry - also very SF movies) describes Wiley's paranoia whenever there's a cat nearby. Their appetites are made more threatening by having their catfood awash in bright red blood.


It's also a smartly written thriller, set in San Francisco at its most 'happening', with sixties sexual attitudes and hip-words. One scene, in a smoky pot-den, presented one of the first non-judgemental gay jokes that I'd ever seen. Stefano exaggerates the amount of black humour that he'd subtly laced throughout his script for Psycho.

My favourite scene is when Aunt Danny's electric wheelchair malfunctions on a steep San Francisco hill... It's cleverly laid out, in a suspense sequence obviously inspired by Hitchcock, Eleanor Parker reaching out to the camera just like Martin Balsam did on that staircase.

Eye of the Cat stars Michael Sarrazin (who next starred opposite Jane Fonda in her Oscar-nominated performance in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? as well as The Reincarnation of Peter Proud) and Gayle Hunnicutt (The Legend of Hell House) both at their sexy heights, along with Tim Henry adding extra beefcake as Wiley's subservient younger brother. Eleanor Parker (The Naked Jungle), despite playing an ailing society dame, is still alluring enough to add a vibrant sexual element to the relationship with her stepsons.

You may recognise the doctor, actor Laurence Naismith, from Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Persuaders (1971), The Valley of Gwangi (made the same year) and the original Village of the Damned (1960).


Director David Lovell Rich with Eleanor Parker and Tim Henry (right)
Director David Lowell Rich and the cinematographers do a fine job, especially with the agile and precise camerawork. Rich's biggest film was Airport 79: Concorde (ahem), and dozens of TV movies, including cult favourites Satan's School For Girls and Horror at 37,000 Feet.


Eye of the Cat was last available on home video on VHS in the US, but also used to play regularly on late night British TV. The action is framed very low in the 1.33 frame, presumably to protect fully exposing many of the actors' during nude scenes. I'd love to see it available on DVD and the soundtrack on CD.

and here's a clip on YouTube (no spoilers)...


 
 

Eye of the Cat location visit - the house on the hill, by the park
 

The filming location for the exteriors of the great house on the hill, and the park opposite - can be found at the junction of Octavia Street (the name can be seen inscribed on a kerbstone in one scene) and Washington Street. We visited and took these photographs in 1998. The wheelchair hill runs downhill northwards from the big house, which sits on a T-junction backing onto Lafayette Square park, also used in the film.
 





November 19, 2010

KOYAANISQATSI (1983) - a travelogue for the mind


KOYAANISQATSI
(USA, 1983)

Want to see your life flash before your eyes?

A visionary journey that darts around America, presenting natural and man-made marvels, and the highs and lows of a technological, high-consumption society. Slow-motion and high-speed filming changes the way we look at the world; slowed-down scenes of passers-by give us time to catch fleeting emotions, sped-up activity transforms crowds of commuters into frantic insects.

Without a word of narrative or any captions, the images lead us around human achievements and mistakes. Starting with an ancient Hopi Indian mural, we next see an Apollo rocket launch on the way to the Moon. We float over some of the country's oldest landscapes, unchanged by human progress or technology. The clouds flow over mountains like a river.


After monuments of nature we see technology unleashed and man-made landscapes. Like row upon row of slab-like high-rise apartments. Horrific-looking places to live. How many people do they hold? As we study them more closely, we see they are damaged, due for demolition.

There's intercutting between different sprawling cities - from the futuristic night-time landscape of LA, with cars flowing in its veins, and densely-packed Manhattan, with its skies replaced by buildings.

The images accelerate as fast food production and consumption speeds by, endless commuters, an hour of TV images and video games in a few seconds, and as the pace keeps increasing it's almost exhausting. A relief when it calms down.

The climax is slowly-paced but poignant. Another rocket launch...

Watching it, I feel like I've seen a lifetime compressed into 80 minutes and think I know the world a little better.


It's good to watch Koyaanisqatsi before knowing too much about it. To start analysing it, or dissecting where it was all shot, is to skew its meaning. It suggests themes, regardless of specific places and events. I first saw it 'cold' and was hugely impressed. It continues to be beautiful, awe-inspiring, humbling and apt.

Ignore the glimpses of seventies fashions and the old arcade video games (like Robotron and Defender) - it's more important what it says about the people wearing them, and being distracted by video games (one of the players is holding and ignoring a small child). It gently makes a point that you can take or leave - doesn't matter what decade it is.

It's good to watch and let your mind wander, great at 3am in the morning, for a mixture of chill-out and freak-out. It makes you think, but doesn't tell you what to think.


The only article I've seen about the making of the film was an interview with Ron Fricke - 'Untold Tales of Koyaanisqatsi' by Ron Gold - in American Cinematographer, March 1984. It's adds an interesting balance to the filmed interview with director Godfrey Reggio on the DVD.

Fricke is credited as cinematographer, and as a writer and editor. But he designed and directed many of the shots. The production lasted 8 years in all and started filming on 16mm, with later 35mm footage shot to blend in.

Fricke used a variety of innovations to increase the impact of the speed changes, using motorised mounts to make the camera appear to perform conventional moves (panning, zooming, tracking) while filming up to 240x normal speed (one frame every 10 seconds). His imagery is also dynamically framed and angled, often using long telescopic lenses (even in low light). I was surprised to learn that the iconic 'Moon shot' (approximated on the DVD cover) was in fact an in-camera splitscreen double-exposure from two different locations! If you look closely, you'll see the two halves of the shot slightly overlap. I was fooled!


Fricke's close-ups are as devastating as his crowd scenes, demonstrated in the section of 'people portraits', shot on 16mm in Times Square. He had no intention to make political points or even thematic links with all of his footage, that was formed by the director and (at least three teams of) editors through the years of the production!

Without him, I feel the 'look' of Koyaanisqatsi is missing from the two sequels, Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002), where director Godfrey Reggio again worked with composer Philip Glass.


The film inspired a wave of homages and rip-offs, seen immediately in adverts, pop videos and Street Hawk! Ten years later, the impressive opening to Candyman (1992) has shots looking straight down, floating over Chicago at the Cabrini Green building project, all with a Philip Glass soundtrack! Bernard Rose's horror film could have been the backstory of one of the many thousands of people who'd appeared in Koyaanisqatsi.

Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke went on to direct more films in the same style. While Koyaanisqatsi is about life on Earth, it was skewed to American society. Reggio's sequel Powaqqatsi would open up the worldview and film all round the globe, with a heavier emphasis on people and culture. More recently Naqoyqatsi tackled the impact of computing. Ron Fricke went on to Chronos (1985), looking like the IMAX answer to Koyaanisqatsi. Better known and more widely seen is Baraka (1992), another spectacular world tour. He has a new film out next year, Samsara. They're all worth seeking out.


This time round, I thought that Koyaanisqatsi had been influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially the fascination with slab-like skyscrapers, towering into the sky like the black monolith. The buildings at night, covered in slit-like windows, resemble Hal 9000's backlit memory chips. Also Kubrick's similar use of long passages without dialogue, ruled by abstract and classical music. The early scenes of gliding over 'alien' landscapes also echo the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Despite all the footage in and around Manhattan, the movie doesn't get date-stamped with any shots of the World Trade Center, unless you recognise it's subterranean escalators. However, there is a shot of a New York skyscraper being vertically demolished, viewed along a 'street canyon', a shot that looks scarily familiar. That and an exploding rocket which now remind us of different associations than were intended.

The film introduced many audiences to the music of Philip Glass. At the time he "didn't do film music" (he's since composed for Mishima, The Truman Show, Scorsese's Kundun and The Hours) but his fast cyclical style is perfect for the rhythms of motion. Even if you don't like his music, it's qualities totally work with the images. The soundtrack was remastered on CD in 1998 to include the whole score.


Koyaanisqatsi is still available on DVD in the US and UK. They include the trailers for the 'Qatsi trilogy' and a breathless 25-minute interview with Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass from 2002.

This was one of the first films I thought would be a natural for blu-ray. But there's still no sign of that. The DVD includes film faults like scratches and the transfer looks like it's taken from a print (slightly soft), rather than remastered from the negative. The aspect ratio is 16:9 anamorphic but is tightly cropped at top and bottom (
see the DVD Beaver screenshots here which indicate the image should be taller). The blu-ray of Chronos had a nice feature which identified all the filming locations - that'd be a nice feature for repeat viewings of Koyaanisqatsi. The DVD doesn't even have 5.1 audio on it.


Here's a more thorough, analytical review with great images
on Genji Press.

An original trailer on YouTube...




November 13, 2010

J'ACCUSE (1919 and 1938) - return of the war dead


J'ACCUSE
(France, silent version 1919, sound remake 1938)

Powerful pleas for an end to war

Never thinking I'd get to see it, I was fascinated by the images from J'accuse in the 1975 book Catastrophe: The End of Cinema (an illustrated guide to visions of the apocalypse that predated the 70's 'disaster movie' craze, and also anticipated the climax of Inglourious Basterds). I saw my first clip in David Gill and Kevin Brownlow's brilliant 1996 documentary The Other Hollywood (which looked at six European countries that once had film industries to rival America, before they were all put on hold by the two World Wars - enough time for Hollywood to dominate the market).


Director Abel Gance rose to command the country's biggest budget for a silent film with the epic Napoleon (1927), pushing the medium to its technological limits. A James Cameron for silent cinema, Gance attempted to include a sequence shot in every film format yet devised, including his famous triptych of three side-by-side sequences, and even a 3D section (removed from the final cut).

But Gance's two versions of J'accuse interest me more, for their early anti-war theme and horror-themed climaxes, where the war dead rise up and march on the living. A zombie fantasy to convey the real horrors of war. But the supernatural isn't the central premise to the films by any means. Gance is trying to convey many aspects of the impact of war through emotion rather than shock, through reality rather than fantasy.

Such bold statements from a famous director, I thought these films would be easy to see. But the 1919 film has only just hit DVD (as a special edition restoration from Flicker Alley), and the 1938 remake was restored and last released on VHS in 1991 in the US. Such sparse access through the years has meant that films like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, 1979) are better known for representing World War One.


J'accuse (1919)

Abel Gance wrote and directed both versions, and even shot actual fighting during the end of the war. I'd love to know how on Earth he was allowed to borrow thousands of soldiers for the climactic marching scenes, during wartime, for an anti-war film! The splendid photography, lighting and rapid editing help the film look ahead of its time.

The story starts in a small French village, where idealistic poet Jean Diaz (Romuald Joubé), and brutish huntsman Francois (the impressive Séverin-Mars) are both in love with the same woman. Their rivalry is interrupted when they enlist to defend France from the German invasion. I was then surprised by a little comedy as both rivals find themselves in the same regiment.


When their beloved Edith is captured by the advancing enemy, both men are driven to the edge of sanity amidst the bullets and missiles of the trenches of 'the western front'. The war-torn love triangle reminded me of Pearl Harbor (2001).

Eventually Jean is discharged from the army with shell shock, leaving Francois tortured that Jean can now see his wife, who is actually hiding another more terrible secret from her husband.


When the war finally ends, Jean dares the townspeople not to forget their dead relatives and friends. He tries to convince them that the dead soldiers will rise up and revisit them unless their consciences are clear. Is that really going to happen, or has he been driven mad?


For the most part this is more melodrama than war film, but it benefits from being made at the time. There's realism in the emotional effects of war on the families and soldiers alike. Even small details ring horrifyingly true - the extended scenes of families saying farewell to sons, fathers and friends as they head for almost certain death, the soldiers' growing immunity to being around corpses, Francois thinking of his hunting dog as he lies in hospital... all well-observed and still uncliched.

Gance demonstrates his skill in directing actors, using choice close-ups, symbolic superimpositions and even rapidfire editing, I found his overuse of the iris effect the only dated visual device. But this remains an accessible and sophisticated film for 1919, helped by a good score, authentic tinted scenes and a realistic projection speed. It's still very watchable, owing to the relatively natural performances.


The new DVD presents an often scratchy, jumpy print, but one that gives us the original version of the story. Despite being 90 years old, many of the film elements still look good today, preserving the carefully lit cinematography. The montage that visualises Jean's poem to the Sun is particularly beautiful.


J'accuse (1938)

The remake is a very different film, a far more emotional and direct plea, albeit a mysterious one. When he completed the 1919 film the war had just ended, but in 1938 Gance was desperate to prevent it happening again.

It plunges straight into the war, eliminating practically the first two hours of his original story. The rest of the scenario is drastically altered and tightened. I only spotted a couple of shots recycled from the first film, and that was actual war footage.

Jean and Francois are still rivalling for Edith's affections. But in an attempt to settle their differences, Francois makes Jean swear that if he dies, Jean won't hook up with his wife. Victor Francen (as Jean) is so intense when promising his friend, it's almost hypnotic, and frighteningly convincing. Throughout the story, Francen repeatedly and passionately laments the dead with enough tears and conviction for a dozen Oscars. I'm surprised that the only other film I've noticed him in was as the ailing concert pianist in the Hollywood horror The Beast With Five Fingers (1945).

Gance is harsher, angrier, inter-cutting between the actual victory parade in Paris through the Arch De Triomphe, and shots of graves and corpses, all while upbeat marching music blares out. As the world gets back to normal after the war, Jean returns to live on the site of the battleground, near the graves of his comrades. His only friend, the cafe owner who kept the soldiers spirits high during the war.


The centre section of the story then tries to rush through the love triangle plot of the first film, adding a second more unsettling triangle between his beloved Edith and her daughter (who confusingly look the same age)! The narrative then skips forward twenty years to the eve of World War Two, suddenly introducing that Jean works at a glass factory where new war technology is being prepared.

One night, in the only passage of the film that deliberately looks like a horror film, his hair turns white while he's off tunnelling among the tombs. What has he seen? What has he learnt? He hints that he's now tense about what's going to happen and the power he now has...

I wish the core of the film was Jean's promise to his fallen comrades and his progressively more mysterious connection with their graveyard, as the scenes in his hometown appear to be far less relevant here. He appears to have been driven insane by his connection with the dead, rather than by shell shock in the first film.

This is a much darker film, with many evocative passages pleading for sanity. The climax is far longer, more elaborate, a little confusing and pregnant with unused possibilities. The march of the war dead is realised both by stony (clay?) make-up and hundreds of actual war veterans who had been maimed and disfigured in the war, at a time when plastic surgery and prosthetic replacement were in still their infancy.


I suppose it's not important how Jean calls the dead back - it appears to be by sheer force of will - but with a two-hour running time, a little more time spent on his methods would have been welcome. For such a monumental build-up, the final pay-off is powerful, but relatively short and ultimately too simple. Obviously, the dead want the living to remember their sacrifice, nothing more. I'd like a sequel to see what the dead did next! With all the rage and sacrifice, I'd have expected more anger and choicer targets. In a similar vein, Joe Dante's Masters of Horror episode 'Homecoming' (2005) brilliantly brought all the dead soldiers back to life... to vote!

Again Gance uses real war footage, but by 1938 film projection speeds had changed, resulting in a marked difference in quality and far too 'sped up'. His use of cross-cutting is more jarring as a result. But I'd have thought this version of J'accuse was one to deserve a special edition DVD. The only copy I could find was this 20 year old VHS from Connoisseur Video.



I'd also recommend The Great War (1964) as a first hand guide to the First World War. Using only documentary and newsreel footage, as well as eyewitness testimonials from both sides, this BBC series exhaustively described the harrowing history of 'the war to end all wars'. It was recently released on DVD in the UK.

The World At War (1973) is an epic documentary series about the Second World War, and has just been restored and released on Blu-Ray. It's a harrowing and thorough history lesson, that I'd be reluctant to see again in any greater visual detail. Some of it is so gruesome and tragic.


November 05, 2010

THE MASK OF FU-MANCHU (1932) - film versus book


THE MASK OF FU MANCHU
(1932, USA)

Everybody was Manchu fighting. It was a little bit frightening.

The Mask of Fu Manchu is my definitive ‘guilty pleasure’ movie. The OTT racism makes me guilty, while I enjoy a golden age Boris Karloff vehicle, an influential cliffhanger, and a complete checklist of everything the censors of the Hays Code eliminated from the screen for the next twenty years. It’s a prime example of a 'pre-code' film – sexual, violent, druggy, sadistic…


The story was hot off the presses. Sax Rohmer had just published The Mask of Fu Manchu as a serial in Collier's Magazine in the first half of 1932. The customary compilation release as a book coincided with the film’s debut in November. Out of curiosity, I’ve read the book, a Corgi paperback reprint.


One of the intriguing aspects of the Sax Rohmer stories is the way he creates complex mysteries around Dr Fu Manchu’s crimes, necessitating some clever detective work from Nayland Smith and his scientist sidekick Dr Petrie.

This story begins with a classic ‘locked room’ murder on an archaeological expedition near Ispahan (a capital of Persia, now called Iran). British explorers are trying to locate the tomb of the Veiled Prophet, an ancient leader who was buried with his mask, sword and a revised text for the Koran, engraved in gold. They are slow to realise that local radicals could use these artefacts to unite extremist factions of Moslems from Afghanistan, India and Persia in a common cause against the west!

The explorers’ motives aren’t noble, they intended to take the treasures back to the British Museum (i.e. steal), rather than save the western world from an Islamic overhaul. As they blow up the tomb to cover their tracks, the explosion is seen as the second coming of the long dead prophet.

The hapless young Greville (as first-person narrator) is led away to Dr Fu Manchu’s hideout, where he notices glass domes, electrical equipment and sliding doors. These are only fleetingly mentioned, but spectacularly expanded on in the film. As is the hypodermic injection that renders Greville susceptible to Fu’s will – a passing reference turned into one of the movie’s most memorable tableaux.

As the party retreat from Persia to Egypt hoping to gain passage back to London via Cairo, Fu Manchu makes a move, kidnapping one of them to bargain for the artefacts. The exchange is to be held in the central chamber of the Great Pyramid. If he succeeds, the Chinese doctor hopes to bring about the downfall of his enemies when a new prophet is crowned in Damascus…

So in the original story the baddies are mostly Arabic. The film switches the action to factions of the Far East, sparing us an anti-Islamic tract. The film also plays down Fu’s use of African slaves to do his dirty work, and fails to repeat the n-word used in the book (unchanged in my 1967 UK reprint).

The story is completely restructured with many minor elements expanded into major plot points. In the story, the discovery of the fake substitute mask is mentioned in passing, again turned into a spectacular scene in the film.

The book completely lacks a climax, almost as if the plot was supposed to ‘pay off’ in a later instalment. Crucially, the Doctor wins the day! Not the sort of ending that Hollywood could use…


The film switches the setting at the end of the book to the start. In London, Nayland-Smith is on the ball immediately and wise to Fu Manchu’s plot. So already we’re halfway through the plot of the book. But with the action switched from the Middle East to the Gobi Desert (joining China with Mongolia), Islamic fanatics are changed to Chinese rebels. The Veiled Prophet becomes Mongol leader Genghis Khan.

At the British Museum, Sir Lionel doesn’t even get as far as the expedition, kidnapped from the Egyptian room by a gang of mummies (very Brendan Fraser). He’s then tortured by Fu Manchu to reveal the location of Genghis Khan’s tomb. (If Fu had just asked his henchman to eavesdrop, he’d have saved himself a ton of bother).

When the tomb is opened Fu gets nasty, using kidnap, mind control and picturesque torture. To try and save the day, Nayland Smith storms into an opium den, wearing the clever disguise of a stroppy colonialist, riding boots and a pith helmet.

The scrapes the gang get into would be reflected in Batman cliffhangers (a tipping see-saw over an animal pit, and closing walls of spikes) as well as Indiana Jones movies (particularly the Raiders of the Lost Ark climax).


The fun is marred by the portrayal of Chinese people. It’s reminiscent of many plotlines where race simplistically implies loyalty. Like Live and Let Die, where all black people are presented as being in league with crime boss Mr Big. Race is used as a plot point, but the implication is that they are all an untrustworthy enemy. Hence all close-ups of anyone Chinese are spookily lit. Plus they’re scarred, scowling and silent, many with ‘bad teeth’ make-up.

A further insult is that any speaking parts are played by westerners in make-up. With the exception of Willie Fung, portraying a gap-toothed half-wit for comedy relief...

Despite racism being spouted by both the Chinese and European camps, the film originally ran into problems for Fu Manchu’s dialogue, prompting complaints from the Chinese government! They were rightfully uneasy that a Chinese character wanted to “conquer and breed. Kill the white man and take his women!”. MGM studios seemed to be inviting fresh controversy, right after the violent reaction to their first horror film, released earlier that year, Freaks.

Much later, the 1972 re-release prompted a Japanese organisation to appeal for the film’s removal from the MGM catalogue, on behalf of Asian Americans citizens (says Wikipedia). This presumably led to the many cuts in dialogue. This 'cleaned-up' version was still in circulation recently, for the US VHS release and on UK TV's Channel 4. As a result, the restored cuts on the DVD are from a noticeably inferior 16mm print – a visual reminder of what went missing.


Plotwise, the film is more exciting than the book, providing escalating action and a neat ending. Also on the plus side is Cedric Gibbons' production design. So many of the sets are works of art – the doors of the tomb, the laboratory, Fah Lo See’s boudoir, the metallic closing walls of silver spikes. In contrast the opium den and torture caverns are grittily realistic. Fu also has more sliding doors (and floors) than the Starship Enterprise. The expense is all on show – the crocodile pit has a dozen lively occupants sharing screen time with one of the stars. This kind of peril was usually stock footage or an unconvincing mechanical prop.

For such an old film, this is full of surprises in terms of what you think was allowed at the time. When early pre-code sound cinema could briefly get away with onscreen murder, offscreen mutilation, extended torture scenes, repeated drug use... topped off with an overt and perverse sexual edge that ably matches the 1980 version of Flash Gordon, in which Ming's father/daughter relationship strongly resembles Fu's.


Like Frankenstein and The Old Dark House, Karloff's make-up is primarily designed to make him look monstrous, as well as Chinese. Literally a case of a Chinese character being demonised. His performance here is far more malevolent and singularly evil than his previous ambivalent hulks, or even the Fu Manchu in the books. He portrays a classic arch-villain, a sadist, a mad scientist, purely to make a hissable baddie rather a realistic character. But unlike Karloff’s other classic monsters of the period, Fu didn’t spin off any sequels. Christopher Lee had the most success with the character, in five Fu films in the 1960s.


Besides Myrna Loy as his dangerous delectable daughter, the rest of the cast isn’t memorable for the right reasons. Lewis Stone (a survivor of the silent era, notably The Lost World) is solid as Nayland Smith, as is Lawrence Grant as the unfortunate Sir Lionel. Karen Morley as his hysterical daughter plays a continually shrill one-note performance. Her betrothed is played by ex-footballer Charles Starrett, who has an embarrassingly short mad scene, and a similarly brief loincloth, exposing more flesh than Johnny Weissmuller
! It’s unavoidable to note that Fu’s interests seem to extend to men under his influence all being half-naked, like his African slaves and his duelling swordsmen…

The production looks rushed in places. Gregory William Mank (in Scarlet Street magazine 24) revealed that Charles Vidor was replaced as the director and most of his footage was reshot. The long tracking shots are impressive, but also simplify many scenes to one or two shots. It always catches me that the opening tracking shot for the great iconic torture laboratory is really shaky, the worst in the film, sadly in one of the best sets. In addition, there are several instances of the cast flubbing their lines during long takes.

But I’m nit-picking, the performances are entertaining regardless. Karloff and Myrna Loy are enjoyably over the top, again prefiguring the approach used in the live TV series of Batman. The fast-moving story, stylish excess and concerted attempts to titillate with sex and violence, make this a must-see film of the 1930s.


The Mask of Fu-Manchu currently on DVD is the version with the racial slurs intact. It’s on a double-bill with the London After Midnight remake Mark of the Vampire, that reunited Bela Lugosi with director Tod Browning. The double-bill is also included in the Legends of Horror boxset. The previously mentioned Gregory William Mank provides the commentary track.



A look at various depictions of the mask through the years
at NJedge.net.

A great review with lots of screengrabs at
And you call yourself a scientist...

I've not seen a trailer for this, but here's a great clip on YouTube...