Saturday, November 3, 2012


Tonight I'm here to discuss a very popular fellow, Sax Rohmer's Dr. Fu Manchu, a character who has well stood the test of time, and just might be immortal! It's the"Drums Of Fu Manchu!" Can you hear them beating? If you can, then that's not a very good sign for you, because it means that Fu Manchu and his minions are on the way to get you, and that can be quite an uncomfortable position to be in. Look over on the sidebar, out of almost 1500 movies, Fu Manchu's name consistently pops up as one of the most popular of all, in fact our stats show him to be more popular than Frankenstein and Dracula combined! The mystique of Fu is undeniable!

The "Drums Of Fu Manchu" was a 15 episode serial put out by Republic Pictures in 1940! It was re-released in 1943 as an edited down 69 minute feature film!

Fu Manchu has been played by many an actor over the years, and in this particular version he was portrayed by Henry Brandon, who among his 171 film and TV credits was in everything from "The Outer Limits" to "Mr. Ed!" Henry could do it all!

Fu Manchu's arch nemesis was Sir Nayland Smith, who this go round was played by William Royle. William's first film role was as the prosecuting attorney in "Reefer Madness," and he died shortly after this series was completed!

Sir Nayland Smith's right hand man was Robert Kellard as Allan Parker who was in a slew of cowboy movies, and ended up his career in 10 episodes of the "Lone Ranger" show as different characters! From what I can see in this series, he must have been quite the stuntman too! The rest of the main cast was fleshed out by Gloria Franklin as Mary Randolph, and Luana Walters as Fu's daughter Fah-Lo-Suee!

Like all serials, "Drums Of Fu Manchu" would leave it's viewers hanging for a week, to make sure the kids would be really excited to come back a week later to see how their heros managed to escape a certain fantastic death that would never happen or the series would be over prematurely!

In chapter three, Allan Parker and Mary Randolph were surely doomed, as they were stuck in an airplane headed into the mountains that was running out of gas after Fu Manchu had jumped out with the only parachute, but somehow they made it!

Chapter four took a page from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," and you just know Allan is going to get sliced in two by the ever lowering massive blade!

And so it goes, week after week, as Fu Manchu tries to find all the keys to the tomb of Genghis Khan, which will allow him to first take over the all of Asia, and from there continue on to conquer the world! Fu Manchu is by no means a small thinker!! This is one cat with some lofty expectations! Fu Manchu has at his disposal a group of characters called dacoits who are zombie-like killers he has brainwashed into doing his every bidding! In this particularly interesting episode, in an effort to get the drop on Nayland Smith, the dacoits do a very effective job of posing as museum dummies.

Fu Manchu is fiendishly clever, and in this episode, he makes a mask of Allan that he wears to elude the authorities in order to sneak out of the country. Meanwhile, Allan is left behind, bound and gagged and left with a bomb as his best friend! "Drums Of Fu Manchu" is available these days in a two disc set. Episodes one through six are on the first disc

The first six or seven episodes are sheer dynamite, but for me, once the action moves to Asia, I started to lose interest. Mind you, all these episodes were never meant to be watched in one or two settings, but were intended to be stretched out over the course of almost four months, and that makes a big difference!

To read the definitive story of Fu Manchu and his cohorts through history, look no further than this piece written by Douglas McEwan titled "Many Men Smoke..." Take your time and read the whole thing, you will not be disappointed!!

I liked the earlier episodes better because they seemed more personal. Fu Manchu was not on his own turf and had to be trickier to accomplish his evil tasks, and there was no military involved. Once they got to Asia, the whole operation got larger. I just happen to like the simple one on one type stories better!

These are some great titles, you've got to admit!!

"Drums Of Fu Manchu" is a fun ride, and is available on Netflix! It's a two disc set, so you can still spread it out over a week or so by the time you get them both mailed to you!

I'll leave you with this picture of John Merton as Loki, one of Fu Manchu's main Dacoits, so you at least have an idea of what to expect! John Merton played a henchman in more movies than most people were even in! One last thing,  I never did figure out how come every time Fu Manchu was about to strike, his victims would hear the beating of the drums!  They never did show a drummer, and if he was so sneaky, why did he want to let them know he was coming anyway? It just all adds to the mystery of the man known as  Fu Manchu!!


Douglas McEwan said...

"for me, once the action moves to Asia, I started to lose interest."

And by "Asia," I assume you mean Chatsworth. That "China" was so obviously Chatsworth, with Fu and his cohorts chasing each other around the same rocks the Lone Ranger always used to ride around, I got more interested. Perhaps it's because I live about two miles from Chatsworth. Fu is in the neighborhood!

Actually in "The Pendulum of Doom," I was suprised to notice that the pendulum is not an ever-lowering massive blade! In fact, a close view of the scene reveals that the pendulum stays fixed in place, and a dacoit, using apparently a tire-jack, raises the platform Allan Parker is strapped towards the pendulum, the only time I've ever seen that approach used. (And we gotta give Fu credit; he credits Poe with the device, rather than pass it off as one of his own inventions.)

But for me, the highlight of the entire serial comes in Chapter 5 with the appearance of Dwight Frye. Seeing Renfield in a fist-fight with dacoits is a real treat.

Eegah!! and Tabonga! said...

Busted again! You're absolutely correct, the platform was being raised, I forgot about that detail, I'll blame my new meds! Chapters 5 and 6 were the two I liked the best out of the bunch! Funny story I'll never forget about Chatsworth, I was at the San Diego Com Con one year waiting to get an autograph from arrogant comics artist Howard Chaykin, and when the person getting the autograph told him he was from Chatsworth, Howard said quite condescendingly that Chatsworth was the Bakersfield of Los Angeles! I walked away at that point!

Douglas McEwan said...

I thought Bakersfield was the Bakersfield of Los Angeles. (Actually, in Hitchcock's Psycho, Studio City "plays" Bakersfield, which I guess means Studio City is the Bakersfield of Los Angeles, so Mr. Chaykin knows less than he thinks.)

Chartsworth was good enough to be Smallville for Kirk Alyn (In Chapter One of Superman, Kirk Alyn catches the train for Metropolis at the " Atsworth" train station), to be "The Old West" to everything from The Lone Ranger to Circus Boy, to be The Stone Age for Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy. It was good enough to be Macedonia in Serpent of the Nile, the low-budget spectacle directed by William Castle in 1953 in which Raymond Burr plays Mark Antony and Rhonda Fleming plays Cleopatra. Now there is a movie that has to be seen to be disbelieved. (I think Castle's gimmick for this movie was "Historical Inaccuracio".) In that movie, Macedonia, Italy and Egypt all look exactly like China, that is to say, Chatsworth.

I'm embarrassed to be the same age as Howard Chaykin.

TABONGA! said...

Chaykin insulted my art at that Comic Con, too - the jerk!

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