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Monday, June 03, 2019

Fu Finishes For Paramount

Daughter Of The Dragon (1931) Boasts a Once-In-Lifetime Ensemble

Lamented over disappearance of the Paramount Fu Manchu films nearly thirteen years ago. None surfaced to my notice until TCM lately ran Daughter Of The Dragon, final of the trilogy and released in 1931. Author rights (Sax Rohmer) have kept Fu on ice, though others with the character stayed on view (MGM's with Karloff, several w/ Christopher Lee). Rohmer must have had a stricter contract with Paramount. Daughter Of The Dragon slipped its leash and got on television because packagers didn't realize this also was a Fu Manchu story, and I guess no one since the late 50's cared enough to fix the error. This gets complicated and there's surely more to the mess than what I've cited. Point is we can see Daughter Of The Dragon again, the show elusive in syndication and 16mm prints nowhere found. One of latter was used for the transfer Universal licensed to TCM. Is this really the best they can do? Probably so at U's level of caring. Daughter Of The Dragon has a sock-full of exotics. Anna May Wong is the titular lead, Oland back as Fu but dispensed with in a first third after a death scene that takes up much of that. Sessue Hayakawa of silent stardom has his first talking role here (other than a 1929 Vitaphone short --- does that exist?). It's said he made millions per year at a peak, which was late teens-early 20's (millions --- really?).

The Wong-Oland-Hayakawa triad would confer interest even on footage of them standing still, so what matter if Daughter Of The Dragon plays in half-speed accord with most of 1931 Paramount? Good as the Classic Era was for assembling mighty casts, we have to acknowledge waste and trifling these were put to where volume was paramount at say, Paramount, leader among bulk makers, as sadly noted by staff producer David Selznick before he gave up and quit the shop. You can't altogether condemn studio perception of Daughter Of The Dragon as silliness and pulp, but imagine how a Rouben Mamoulian could have thickened into high art, Dragon a dry run at his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Instead there is Lloyd Corrigan as director, evidence of outcome suggesting he got the script on Sunday with instruction to begin on Monday. That's an exaggeration I'm sure, but not by so much. Daughter Of The Dragon then, is lost opportunity, but much is here to like, including brisk pace for a second half, Oland to enliven a first, and Wong-Hayakawa to enrich the whole. It is a rarity and curiosity we are fortunate to have back.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

We are fortunate to have at least one good looking version out of the three films. I read FU MANCHU as a kid. Devoured the books. Was dying to see the movies. In Rochdale College a fellow told me MASK OF FU MANCHU was on late night TV. Not having a TV I went to his place to watch it. Half way through he said, "I want you to beat me up." I said, "Well, there's a problem there if I do I might like it so I'd rather not." Took me years to see the rest of THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. When I found the Warner Oland Fu's on the web on dvd I bought multiple copies in the vain hope there might be better ones (or at least one) out there. There isn't but, still, those films for me shine. Hope they get a legitimate release before I pass on to the celestial spheres. I would watch Warner Oland reading the phone book. They should never have killed of Fu on screen in this. Sax Rohmer knew from the start that each book with Fu must always end with the promise of another to whet our appetites. Hollywood in the main still has not learned that hence not only the death of The Joker, etc., in THE BATMAN films but also the death of Tony Stark, etc.. Guys there re some very simple rules that we follow here. Chris Lee makes a great Fu but the movies seem to disintegrate (Did Jesse Franco ever make a truly good movie?. The Republic Serial is lots of fun. I remember the TV show as a kid. Bought the dvds of that. Quality is wretched (worse than the Paramount Fu's). Ironically, Peter Sellers did a really fine stab at Fu.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Ha! Vivid memory of racing home from high school one afternoon to catch an airing on a local UHF. They ran DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON twice, back to back no commercials. That image of Sessue Hayakawa heroically throwing himself out the window(!) is pretty much all that stuck with me on this one for over half a century. Good to see some effort to get DAUGHTER back in circulation.

10:40 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky snickers like a schoolboy every time he sees the word "titular".

11:24 AM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

Talk of missed opportunities: Sax Rhomer always maintained that the PERFECT Fu Manchu would've been Basil Rathbone. In the novels, Fu is tall, imposing, has no mustache and is a master of disguise.

Imagine, if you will, Rathbone as Fu Manchu and Sir Dennis Nayland Smith, directed by Roy William Neill. The mind reels.

There's lots of good stuff out there Fu you. The Karloff version is delirious fun and gorgeous to look at. The serial is goofy fun, and the first two Christopher Lee pictures are really good... the rest of them are wretched.

I'd love a big-budget re-imagining today, but that would be highly unlikely...

12:26 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

But, boy, done right a big budget re-imaging would scare the bejeezus out of folks and make pots of money not to mention establish a franchise to rival James Bond.

Anna May Wong is so damn beautiful it's insane. Have you seen PICCADILLY?

4:42 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

A few speculations:

-- Maybe Oland and Paramount had come to a parting of the ways, even if nobody anticipated Charlie Chan's success at Fox. Rather than just recast, Paramount may have planned to introduce a Fu Manchu relative (ala "The Falcon's Brother") or bring the original back to life in a new body (ala Doctor Who).

-- Maybe the plan was a new series with Wong, perhaps as a "good bad girl".

-- What was the relationship between Paramount and Rohmer? Conceivably Paramount could sever Wong's character from Fu Manchu and be freed of royalties to the author, much as RKO essentially severed George Sanders's portrayal from The Saint and rebranded him as The Falcon.

Footnote: Another vaulted film is the 1975 Disney comedy, "One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing". Not likely to reappear as it has Peter Ustinov as the leader of a Chinese spy ring; thus far not missed because it evidently wasn't much of a movie.

5:25 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts considers past screenings of DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON:


I'm surprised to hear that TCM ran a 16mm transfer of DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON, I saw a beautiful 35mm print at UCLA a decade or so ago (I think it was also ran at Cinecon), and when TCM ran it a number of years ago as part of an Anna May Wong Birthday set, it was a transfer of same beautiful 35mm print.

Also, a message to Donald Benson, ONE OF OUR DINOSAURS IS MISSING can be rented from several streaming sources, and was available on DVD, it's a fun later Disney comedy, with a good cast of Brit comics and Peter Ustinov doing a good, if unofficial, Fu Manchu impersonation, it's Robert Stevenson's last good Disney film, THE SHAGGY D.A. doesn't count.


5:27 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

11:57 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

But, boy, done right a big budget re-imaging would scare the bejeezus out of folks and make pots of money not to mention establish a franchise to rival James Bond.

Sorry Reg but there is no way Fu Manchu could be brought bank today in any way, shape, or form. The firestorm of protest against such a project now would be massive,and nobody involved in it would survive criticism, especially considering what people think and feel about the media not having enough diversity in its offerings (and the same would be true if anybody came up with a revival of Charlie Chan or Mr.Moto [already the subject of a 1965 James Bond-style revival movie starring Henry Silva as Moto.])

9:15 PM  

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