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Category:    Home > Reviews > Serial > Adventure > Drums Of Fu Manchu serial

Drums Of Fu Manchu†† (Republic Serial)


Picture: C-†††† Sound: C-†††† Extras: C+†††† Main Chapters: B



The second longest serial Republic Pictures ever released is Drums Of Fu Manchu (1940), which also turns out to be one of their biggest commercial successes.With its pre-Film Noir cinematography, 15 massive chapters, and one of the biggest budgets in Republic serial history, this is one of the key chapter plays.It is easily also one of the most expensive serials ever made, period, even including Universalís Flash Gordon.Despite the racism attached to the politically incorrect title character, the legacy of Fu Manchu lies in being one of the strongest archetypes for the villains and super villains in the action/adventure films and comic books today. Ernst Stravos Blofeld from James Bond, The Joker from Batman, and Khan from Star Trek all have their roots in characters like this.In the case of The Joker, having the villain as the lead was very rare, and Fu Manchu is several decades ahead of the anti-heroes of the mid-1960s onward in this respect.


VCI has issued the serial on two DVDs from the best prints they could find.They are theatrical prints, but do show their age.On the good side, the black and white is good, with rich blacks and decent gray scale.However, the prints are a few generations down.Undeniably however, they still have a good enough look to them that current black and white printing might miss.The full screen image works just well enough, and is likely one of the better copies of the entire serial in tact existent.Quality varies, as it usually does for serials and their prints, especially in later chapters when they recycle shots from earlier chapters.Printing was not as good then.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono also shows its age, likely sourced from old analog tracks from the print.The music offers pseudo-Asian sounds, but it is not comical in any way.The same music is used over and over again, however, so expect that.Dialogue is passable, with Henry Brandonís Fu Manchu coming across more clearly because of his stage-like diction.The Chinese government was never happy with the character, but with World War II in swing, it is not trivial that a German actor is actually embodying an Asian villain.It subtly reflects events of the time.


Though the serial has many subplots, the main one is a race for a religious relic that will give Fu Manchu the powers of Genghis Khan, which surfaced again more explicitly in 1994ís feature film version of The Shadow, but is also reminiscent of the chase in 1981ís Raiders Of The Lost Ark.However, it remains a mere McGuffin here, as Alfred Hitchcock would say.To set the record straight, since so many have bungled this, it is the item everyone on screen is after, but nobody in the audience really cares about.It is simply an item that keeps the story moving, the chase going.This will make for interesting comparisons to the 1932 Boris Karloff/M-G-M B-movie whenever Warner Bros. or its current owner issue that on DVD, as they are supposed to have the strongest common denominators story-wise.


The DVD offers a photo gallery, biography/filmographies, a video commentary, and an exceptional booklet entitled The History Of Fu Manchu by Eric Hoffman.The booklet is of the quality usually reserved for Criterion DVDs, and then happens to be about key Pop Culture, so it is a treat indeed.The print quality is also exceptional throughout its ten pages, offering valuable info on all of Fu Manchuís incarnations.†† It could have even gone on longer, but its purpose is to set up this serial, yet that does not mean it stops short to push only the serial itself.This will make for quite a comparison to the restored Christopher Lee/Fu Manchu films coming soon to DVD.



- Nicholas Sheffo


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