Return of Dr. Fu Manchu, The
U.S.A. Before 1950
Directed by Rowland V. Lee.

Fu Manchu continues his quest for revenge against the Petrie family, though one begins to wonder if they are really worth the bother.

"The thought of two deaths for one victim delights my own peculiar sense of humor." - Fu Manchu

The original cast from The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu is back again for more Yellow Peril hijinks. The story begins at Fu Manchu's funeral. He's having an open casket wake, the dragon emblem of the house of Fu draped over the coffin. Nayland Smith (O.P.Heggie) tells the story of the Boxer rebellion and how Fu went insane. Smith explains that Fu "mistakenly" believed that the white men intentionally fired on his home. Excuse me? Now, having just watch the earlier movie, I can say that general Petrie quite clearly gives the orders to fire on Fu's house. Perhaps there were complaints that Fu was not evil enough, so they had to engage in a little cinematic revisionism to make him seem more mad. Nayland sees the coffin sealed, paying his respects to a truly great man, he says. So sad that he went mad. And all we did was kill his family! Poor chap. But, what Smith doesn't know is that the coffin has a fake side, Fu is still alive, and does an escape that would make David Copperfield green with envy.

Meanwhile, the young Jack Petrie (Neil Hamilton) and Lia Eltham (Jean Arthur) are planning their marriage. Fu Manchu (Warner Oland) buzzes the wedding like some publicity starved paparazzi, in his biplane (the Fuplane?). He drops in on the wedding and kills Lia's maidservant after handing her a nice letter which describes his revenge plans. Dr. Petrie will have three warnings. First, the maidservant. Second, Fu will capture or kill Lia. Third, Fu will appear himself. It's sort of like the Christmas Carol, in a way. Though Dickens never thought of adding the whole sinister oriental thing.

When Nayland Smith hears Fu Manchu is still alive, he tries to puzzle out how it could have happened. At last he realizes, "The funeral was all done by orientals." The implicit assumption here is that no oriental is to be trusted. He places a handful of Scotland Yard detectives around their house, to protect Lia and Dr. Petrie, but to no avail -- they are picked off one by one, and Lia, along with Petrie's aunt, are captured by Fu and thrown into a cage. Fu Manchu interrogates the obviously wealthy aunt, who tells him to "Go back to China." He gags her.

Dr. Petrie gets another letter, stating he must meet with Fu alone. Nayland Smith disguises himself as Dr. Petrie and gets kidnapped in his place, and is flown in the Fuplane to Fu Manchu's hideout, where Fu finds out he has been tricked. What follows is a classic matching of wits, as Fu and Smith talk it up, Fu gloating over his captive, Smith always polite but confrontational. But in fact, they sound like old school chums. Smith asks for his cigar case, so he can smoke, Fu obliges then runs off to whip up a little something to eat.

The meal itself is an opportunity to clearly categorize Fu Manchu, and by extension, all orientals, as the unassimilable, unknowable 'other,' as he serves completely unrecognizable, disgusting-looking food. No mention of dogs-head soup, but they came just nearly close enough.

The police storm the place, having been given a signal by Smith, and Fu has to beat a hasty retreat, but not before being wounded. He next kidnaps Dr. Petrie, but not to kill him (of course, that would be too...easy). Instead, he forces the Doctor to operate on his gunshot wound, which is causing partial paralysis because it "impinges on a nerve." Fu would do it himself, were it in a more convenient spot. The police and Nayland Smith once again arrive to foil Fu's devious plans. This time, he pulls a grenade out of nowhere and threatens to pull the pin and kill everyone. Conveniently, though, he is standing by an open window overlooking the Thames and Nayland just walks up and heaves him over, in an anticlimactic, almost comic, finish.

The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu is even more fun than the original, though Fu had a better kill record in the first movie. Here, he only manages to kill the maidservant. Obviously, he's losing his touch. But still, he delights in inexplicably complicated ways of killing people, something that will become something of a trademark in the Christopher Lee days. Here, he explains his 'death' tea: Drink it, and you appear dead. Then, after you are buried, you wake up, only to find that you are buried alive, and you die again, permanently. "The thought of two deaths for one victim delights my own peculiar sense of humor," he explains, helpfully. This is the first film in which he demonstrates that he has a powerful network of servants, coolies, and killers working for him, hinting at the idea that no Chinese man can be trusted.

Still, anyone looking for offensive stereotypes in this movie will find someone far outclassing Warner Oland's Fu Manchu. I'm speaking of the role of Dr. Petrie's secretary. A tall, John Cleese-looking sort of chap, he plays the most blantantly awful homosexual stereotype I have ever seen. He is absolutely appalling to watch (not that anyone overtly alludes to his sexuality). He is the comic relief, in his flustered, clumsy, effeminate way. When Dr. Petrie and Lia are to be married, who is there to design it? Why, the gay man is, of course. Lest anyone think this kind of stereotype character originated with Martin Short in Father of the Bride. No my friend, it goes waaayyy back.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 07, 2004.

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