Old San Francisco (excerpt), Shivers & The Mask of Fu Manchu
In association with Professor Albert Johnson of the Afro-American Studies Department, William K. Everson will present three rare films of classic Hollywood vintage that feature stories, settings, and characters replete with anti-Chinese racist images and sentiments. Nevertheless, the films are of interest beyond illustrating aspects of racism in Hollywood.
Old San Francisco
“A good condensation of a rich melodrama climaxing in the earthquake. Villain Warner Oland's crimes - including land-grabbing, murder and rape - are tolerated since this is San Francisco, and old San Francisco to boot. But when it is discovered that he is an Oriental passing for white, both races are howling for his blood!” -WKE.
Despite its “distasteful story,” the film, as Kevin Brownlow points out in “The Parade's Gone By,” provides genuine aesthetic pleasure in its skillful treatment of the melodrama, a tribute to the talents and visual sense of director, cameraman and art director.
• Directed by Alan Crosland. Screenplay by Anthony Coldewey. Story by Darryl F. Zanuck. Photographed by Hal Mohr. With Dolores Costello, Warner Oland, Charles Emmet Mack, Anna May Wong. (1927, 20-minute excerpt, Print Courtesy of WKE)
“When Harry Langdon learns that he has Chinese blood in his veins, he immediately begins to speak fluent Chinese - and his wife thereupon refuses to sleep with him! A bizarre and black comedy.” -WKE
• Written and Directed by Arthur Ripley. With Harry Langdon. (1934, ca.20 mins, Print Courtesy of WKE)
The Mask of Fu Manchu
“One of the chief delights of The Mask of Fu Manchu is its refusal to admit that it is an MGM glossy, and its determination to conduct itself at all times like a wild and woolly silent Pathe serial. Somehow this gives the whole film the look of a rehearsal which paid off so well in spontaneous gusto that they never bothered to shoot the film proper; this off-the-cuff look extends to both props (Fu Manchu's laboratory, for example, with snakes and tarantulas happily slithering out of containers that are too small for them) and performances. Despite the professional aplomb of Lewis Stone and Karloff, most of the players perform as though they had no idea into what context their scenes would fall, and indeed many of Karen Morley's reactions and lines do in fact contradict themselves. The art direction too seems to have a non-Oriental life of its own, since Fu's big laboratory has the lush yet sterile look of an Academy Award banquet hall, with dacoits lined up like glistened human Oscars. Yet we know that this was no off-the-cuff cheapie, and encountered the usual MGM travails; director #1 was fired to be replaced by director #2 (Brabin), and many scenes were reshot for the flimsiest of reasons.... Its racism - Hollywood's concern with the ‘Yellow Peril' was still at its peak - is too delightfully overdone to be offensive, and works both ways. Fu and his peppy masochist/nymphomaniac daughter freely admit that it is the Oriental's purpose to kill all the white men and mate with their women; in return, Lewis Stone is less florid but no less biting in his insults, and in the climax even leaves a death ray running amok to mow down any hapless Oriental that might stray into its path. Whether the dialogue be jingoistically underplayed, as in the lovely opening sequence, or flamboyantly overplayed (as in most of the rest of the film) it's a constant joy; the pace never lets up, and Karloff gives one of his finest bravura heavy performances. Just as the book was one of Rohmer's best, so the film is easily the best of the surprisingly few Fu Manchu movies that Hollywood and England have made.” -WKE
• Directed by Charles Brabin and Charles Vidor. Screenplay by Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Willard from Sax Rohmer's novel. Photographed by Tony Gaudio. With Boris Karloff, Lewis Stone, Karen Morley, Myrna Loy, Charles Starrett, Jean Hersholt, Lawrence Grant, David Torrence, E.A. Warren. (1932, ca.75 mins, Print Courtesy of WKE)