MOD Movies: Halloween with Fu Manchu and friends

There is nothing tasteful about a Fu Manchu movie. The stories of a ruthless, sadistic, depraved Mandarin crimelord, originally created in a series of lurid pulp thrillers by Sax Rohmer in the 1910s, traffic in a jingoistic fear of Asian assault on western culture (especially the empire-building Britania). Fu Manchu is a criminal genius with three doctorates, a passion for assassination by exotic poison, and an obsessive quest for world domination. And he has been, since the beginning, played by Caucasian actors in silk robes, long-mustaches, and what can only be called yellowface make-up.

Dr. Fu Manchu returned with a vengeance in the 1960 in a series of lurid British thrillers from Harry Alan Towers, a British writer/producer cashing in on the Hammer success with his own low-budget thrillers and horror films, and starring Christopher Lee as the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.

In the 1965 The Face of Fu Manchu (Warner Archive), the first of five Fu Manchu features from Towers and Lee and the character’s first big official screen appearance since 1940, he kidnaps a brilliant scientist, forces him to turn over his latest, potentially destructive invention by means of torture (usually of a beautiful young daughter), and then holds the world ransom. That basic structure recurs in the sequels, just as it drove many a James Bond film and a couple of Pink Panther sequels and Austin Powers movies.

Not that anyone watched these films for their plots. The film opens on Fu Manchu’s own execution, a scene right out of Hammer Films’ The Revenge of Frankenstein. Clearly this is not the end of Fu Manchu, who returns for his revenge with a literal underground kingdom beneath the streets of London, a fanatically devoted cutthroat army in black pajamas and red sashes (part Viet Cong, part Playboy After Dark), and a small private zoo of poisonous spiders and deadly snakes.

More manufacture on demand releases at Videodrone

TV on DVD 09/14/10 – Glee, The Good Wife, Fringe and The League

The pick for the week is not anything new but the Blu-ray debut of a classic: The Twlight Zone: Season 1 Blu-ray, reviewed on my blog here. I also featured one of my favorite shows in another DVD/Blu-ray release: Sons of Anarchy: Season Two, reviewed here. But this a month dominated by new shows and network productions rolling out as the fall TV season begins. Here are a few of the highlights from this week.

"The Good Wife" Julianna Margulies

Neither nighttime soap opera nor tabloid exploitation, The Good Wife: The First Season (Paramount) is a classic legal drama reframed with a ripped-from-the-headlines twist. Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick is the publicly loyal but privately ambivalent wife of a disgraced Chicago politician (Chris Noth), who resigns in the face of a sex scandal. “Six months later,” Alicia goes back to work as the junior attorney at a firm run by an old friend and colleague (Josh Charles) while her husband (now in prison) fights his conviction for corruption. The cases are pretty conventional, what with a firm that (with exceptions) manages to represent only innocent clients and consistently Perry Mason-style last-minute saves with evidence that reveals the true culprits (and, more often than not, humiliates the man who took down Alicia’s husband). What makes them interesting is how the cases reflect back on her struggle with her marriage and her loyalty to a man who wants to rebuild his political career and needs her support. Noth makes the husband a wonderful set of contradictions and questions and Margulies grounds the courtroom tactics and law-office politics with a compelling personal journey as her husband tries to rebuild his political career even as his appeal is barely underway and she has to decide if she trusts him anymore.

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