Drums of Fu Manchu (1940)
Drums of Fu Manchu (1940)

“Daredevils of the Red Circle and Other Cliffhangers” is a blog on serials by Geoffrey Mayer, the author of Encyclopedia of American Film Serials (McFarland, 2017).

At last they truly were face to face – the head of the great Yellow movement, and the man who fought on behalf of the entire white race.[1]  –Sax Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913)

All aesthetic practices, especially the Hollywood cinema, have a cultural dimension.[2] Melodrama, as a mode of imagining,[3] has a transparently significant cultural function as its raison d’être is less to end the drama with the triumph of virtue and more to clarify the morally legibility of the world, “spelling out its ethical forces and imperatives in large and bold characters.”[4] But the specific values that constitute this cultural function are subject to great change. This is apparent in the popularity of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu short stories and novels published between 1912 and 1959. While Rohmer was, undeniably, one of the most popular authors, especially in the United States, during this period, as his novels regularly appeared on the best seller lists, today, as the editors of a recent collection of essays dedicated to him point out, “he is largely remembered as a disgraceful instance of racism.”[5] There is, without doubt, both casual and overt racism embedded in his stories. But to stop there, as many do, is to ignore his ability as a writer, a talented exponent of what Peter Brooks calls the melodramatic imagination.

Rohmer’s fall from grace since the peak of his popularity in the 1930s has been savage. Writing in 1972 editor, author and critic Julian Symons included Rohmer in his history, and taxonomy, of crime fiction authors under the category “Curiosities and singletons.”[6] Symons concluded that

The Fu Manchu stories are absolute rubbish, penny dreadfuls in hard covers, interesting chiefly in the way they reflect popular feelings about the ‘Yellow Peril’ which in thesebooks, as a character remarks, is ‘incarnate in one man’ … The stories proceed with practically no regard for possibility, and several of the books include scenes in which Smith and his friend Petrie face some kind of torture.[7]

Symons’s response is symptomatic of those craftsmen of crime fiction who cherish its so-called classical age and who felt that Rohmer lacked the carefully crafted structure and sense of “reality” found in authors such as Georges Simenon, as Simenon, according to Symons, is “much more than a crime writer, and is regarded by his greater admirers as a novelist comparable to Balzac.”[8] Rohmer, on the other hand, was not a crime writer. Essentially, he wrote morbid, exciting adventure stories full of spectacle and action, notably recurring torture scenes where our heroes, Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie, face certain death at the hands of Fu Manchu. This, Symons argues, provides the “evidence” that his “stories proceed with practically no regard for possibility.”[9] More recent books on Rohmer, including Christophe Frayling’s study of Fu Manchu within the context of the rise of Chinaphobia.[10] are careful to distance themselves from Rohmer’s exploitation of the “Yellow Peril” and, to some extent, treat his fiction as a kind of [juvenile] guilty pleasure.[11] This strange love/hate also runs through an otherwise fascinating, if esoteric, collection of essays on various aspects of Rohmer’s fiction in Lord of Strange Deaths.[12] While appearing to hold the quality of Rohmer’s fiction in low regard, the editors appear fascinated by Rohmer’s ability to inject “juice” into his stories. However, to salve their conscience they provide a pejorative rider that this “juice makes up for bad style and general ridiculousness.”[13]

The stumbling block to any contemporary study of Rohmer is, obviously, his use/exploitation of the Yellow Peril, especially in his early fiction from 1912 to 1917. The phrase “yellow peril,” and the subsequent “sub-genre” known as “yellow peril” fiction, appeared in the late eighteenth century and its usage intensified following the reported massacres, sometimes untrue, of Western missionaries during the Boxer Uprising. However, the term, as well as this form of fiction, predates this event. It is, from the perspective of more than a century later, an irrational, but widespread, ethos that assimilated reports of physical violence, including sexual violence, with deeply held racist views based on ignorant stereotypical projections of Asian cultures, especially the Chinese. They were grouped together under a familiar rubric involving a fear of the “other,” a fear that had little basis in reality. Added to this cultural revulsion, especially in the United States, was an endemic economic dimension involving the competitive fear of cheap Chinese labor. Added to this was the sexist and racist fear of miscegenation. These fears coalesced in the United States in legislation such as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented Chinese laborers from entering the United States. This followed years of agitation and racial violence directed at Chinese workers — despite the self interest lobbying of railway magnates always eager for cheap labor.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first ban in the United States directed at a specific nationality and it was extended in 1892 and 1924. Violence was even directed at naturalised Chinese who had arrived prior to 1882. In 1885, for example, a local labor leader encouraged white workers to attack the Chinese workers in a coal mining community, killing 15 workers and causing extensive damage.[14] These attacks intensified following inflammatory reporting of Chinese “atrocities” committed during the Boxer Uprising of 1898-1901. Central to the pervasive spread of the Yellow Peril was the decision of the influential Hearst newspapers in the United States to regularly editorialise its readers of its supposed dangers.

Xenophobia intensified in the United States after the First World War as the country increasingly drifted into a state of isolationism. Anti-immigration laws were accompanied by the notorious 1922 Cable Act that decreed that the marriage of a foreign national to a female American citizen would lead to the revocation of the (American) female’s citizenship.[15] The State of Virginia in 1924 went even further with their Racial Integrity Act that made it a crime for members of one racial group to marry a member of another racial group. The Act also provided state sanctions for the sterilization of “undesirables,” a law that remained on the state’s statue books until 1967.[16]

The first “Yellow Emperor” character, a prototype embodied and enhanced in Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories, appeared before the Boxer Rebellion in the February 11, 1892 edition of The Nugget Weekly in a science fiction tale titled “Tom Edison Jr’s Electric Sea Spider, or, The Wizard of the Submarine World” by Philip Reade. The villain in the story, Kiang Ho, was a Harvard educated Mongolian pirate “educated and trained in American universities [who] terrorized the world’s shipping with the Sea Serpent, a submersible vessel.”[17] Designed to exploit anti-Chinese feelings in the United States it perpetuated the notion that “Asiatics” trained in American/Western universities would overthrow the Anglo-Saxon hegemony with their newly gained scientific knowledge, a theme that Rohmer would perpetuate again and again.[18]

Robert Chambers’ 1896 story “The Makers of Moons,” featured Yue-Laou, a Chinese sorcerer and leader of a secret society while Dr. C.W. Doyle’s 1900 novel The Shadow of Quong Lung anticipated some of the attributes of Fu Manchu as its villain was a graduate of Yale and Barrister of the Inner Temple as well as a Tong leader who controlled San Francisco’s Chinatown.[19] However, the most influential exponent of the “Yellow Emperor” ethos before Rohmer was the “yellow trilogy” by Irish-West Indian novelist Matthew Phipps Shiel. Shiel’s 1898 prophetic novel The Yellow Danger appeared in eight separate editions between 1898 and 1908.[20] The story featured Dr. Yen How, a half Japanese and half Chinese villain who rises to power in China and foments war with the West. Yen How, a physician educated at Heidelburg, was probably based on the Chinese nationalist leader Dr. Sun Yet Sen,[21] a character Rohmer featured, as the “Mandarin Yen-Sun-Yat,” in his first two Fu Manchu novels. In Rohmer’s stories he is a former member of The Seven, the murderous cosmopolitan group also known as the Si-Fan. Later he becomes a traitor and informer. In Rohmer’s The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu,[22] for example, Fu Manchu receives a message that Yen-Sun-Yat has been assassinated in his garden in Nan-Yang.[23] The real life kidnapping of the Chinese leader by Manchu sponsored officials in Portland Place, as Christopher Frayling points out, “clearly made a strong impression on Sax Rohmer.”[24] It is also likely that Rohmer was aware of Shiel’s The Yellow Danger as the novel was based on the fear that the East would unite to remove the colonial powers from their territories. This provided the thematic basis of Rohmer’s 1932 novel The Mask of Fu Manchu.[25] This, in turn, with significant changes, underpinned the 1932 MGM film, The Mask of Fu Manchu and the 1940 Republic serial, Drums of Fu Manchu.

 It would be a mistake, however, to attribute the genesis of the “Yellow Peril” to either Matthew Shiel or Sax Rohmer. While both were important in disseminating it, its racist ethos formed an intrinsic part of western culture long before they were writing. It appeared more than a decade before the first Fu Manchu novel. Christopher Frayling traces its origin to a reference by Kaiser Wilhelm 11, the grandson of Queen Victoria, in 1895 when he wrote “Russia’s historic mission was help protect Europe from the Yellow Peril.”[26] In July 1898 The Spectator speculated about a Japanese military caste controlling China and referred to this possibility as “the Yellow Peril.”[27] These fears intensified following media coverage of the Boxer Uprising. Coupled with this was the fact, as Rohmer recognised, that the end of the British empire was in sight, a distressing prospect for many people in Great Britain.

This context, although quickly sketched in, is necessary to understand, not condone, Rohmer’s conception of Fu Manchu. This was a period when school textbooks, children’s comics and religious magazines presented the Chinese as pagan, cruel and in need of western missionary salvation. A time when, as Christopher Frayling writes, Britain’s arrogance and bullying in China was justified on the grounds that China was a “static land of arrogance, warlords, infanticide, bound feet, pigtails and effeminacy, a land where people spat in the streets and ate cats and dogs.”[28] At the end of chapter two of the first Fu Manchu novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, Rohmer provided his first, and most famous, description of Fu Manchu. He repeats it towards the end of the novel and includes it in his next Fu Manchu novel, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu:

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government — which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.[29]

The Mystery of Dr. Fu ManchuThe point of this article is not to fixate on Rohmer’s racism. That has been done frequently, and more efficiently, by others. Yet one cannot ignore an ugly, and recurring, element in his fiction. For example, in Chapter 10 in The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, titled “Secret China,” Dr. Petrie, Rohmer’s narrator, writes, following a traumatic visit by Petrie and Nayland Smith to the rural estate of Redmoat in Norfolk: “No white man, I honestly believe, appreciates the unemotional cruelty of the Chinese.”[30] Even worse was his cruel comment in the second Fu Manchu novel, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu, when, once again, our heroes, Nayland Smith and Petrie are manacled to a wall and are facing the prospects of torture from Fu Manchu. Petrie’s response:

By this fact alone did he [Smith] reveal his knowledge that he lay at the mercy of this enemy of the white race, of this inhuman being who himself knew no mercy, of this man whose very genius was inspired by the cool, calculated cruelty of his race, of that race which to this day disposes of hundreds, nay! thousands, of its unwanted girl-children by the simple measure of throwing them down a well specially dedicated to the purpose.[31]

Unless one wants to labor this point, it is best to acknowledge its existence, provide a context for such beliefs, and, as Ruth Mayer does, point out that it does not exhaust the study of his fiction.[32] However, an inherent problem for the studies of Rohmer has been an inability, or unwillingness, to describe the aesthetic or dramatic mode which he employed for his fiction. Modernism is sometimes used as a cultural context, as Christopher Frayling notes, as his “stories share this sense of fragmentation and dislocation, of things falling apart, with Modernist novelists and poets of the period — but that instead of responding to the chaosmos with forms or linguistic innovations, they racialize the problem.[33] However, except for a vague reference to Rohmer’s “series of melodramatic situations strung together by Nayland Smith’s explanations,[34] Frayling does not provide a detailed aesthetic or formal context to place Rohmer’s fiction.

This problem is even worse for the editors of Lord of Strange Deaths who write that his books have survived because they have “conventional strengths in plotting, pacing, sets, and atmosphere …. which leads to the peculiar pleasures of Edwardian-style pulp.”[35] What is “Edwardian-style pulp” and what are its defining characteristics? Further they compound this problem with arguing that his books appeal to the “rot-revellers [where] the pleasures of pulp are akin to kitsch.”[36] A more detailed aesthetic context is required.

Rohmer, the Film Serial and “Sensational Melodrama”

Rohmer’s first Fu Manchu story, “The Zayat Kiss,” appeared in the British magazine The Story-Teller in October 1912. The first episode of the first film serial, What Happened to Mary, appeared a few months earlier on July 26, 1912. As Rohmer’s stories grew in popularity between 1913 to 1917, so did the film serial. Both forms elicited contempt from the critics as both were prime examples of “sensational melodrama.” The great Pathé serial producer and director, George Seitz, who directed most of Pearl White’s box office successes, wrote in a 1916 article titled “The Serial Speaks”:

I am the serial. I am the black sheep of the picture family and the reviled of critics. I am the soulless one with no moral, no character, no uplift. I am ashamed … Ah me, if only I could be respectable. If only the hair of the great critic would rise whenever I pass by and if only he would not cry, “Shame! Child of commerce! Bastard of art!”[37]

Ellis Oberholtzer, Pennsylvania’s chief censor during this period, was representative of middle class reactions to the serial, and sensational melodrama, when he characterized its audience as dangerous rabble trash.[38]

Sensational melodrama represented an evolution of the theatrical melodramas staged in French theaters in the early nineteenth century. Late in the nineteenth century, this mode intensified during a twenty year period, from, approximately, 1890 to 1910, with a succession of action based theatrical spectacles. The emphasis was not on characterisation, character development or complex plotting — it was on action and spectacle, thrills and narrative pacing. The characteristic melodramatic tableau, where the “characters’ attitudes and gestures, compositionally arranged and frozen for a moment, give, like an illustrative painting, a visual summary of the emotional situation,”[39] was heightened further as the melodrama strove to break through everything that constitutes the “reality principle,”[40] society’s “censorships, accommodations, tonings-down. Desire cries aloud its language in identification with full states of being.”[41] It was thrill upon thrill as Archibald Haddon’s observed in 1905 when he noted that a “startling change has come over the tone and spirit of melodrama,”[42] This perception was reinforced by a 1905 newspaper review of The Queen of the White Slaves:

Those who like sensation piled upon sensation with no let-up from the very beginning until the very end will find [this melodrama] admirably suited to their taste. It is a play of thrilling and sensational incidents, events and climaxes … with little extraneous matter … Each [scene] ends with a thrilling rescue, or timely foiling of villainy, or some other episode that meets with the entire approval of the audience.[43]

Known as the “10-20-30” melodrama, a name reflecting the prices charged by theaters specialising in this type of melodrama, sensational theatrical productions began to decline following the rise of the nickelodeon in 1907 and 1908. By 1910 only smaller theaters, with cheaper productions, survived in the large cities such as New York and the number of touring theatrical companies declined from 420 in 1904 to 236 in 1910, 95 in 1915 and 25 in 1918.[44] Melodrama, where it did exist in the theater, transformed itself from expensive spectacular productions to the less costly,“drawing room” melodramas designed for middle class audiences that, as yet, had not “abandoned the theater for the movies.”[45]

The mass audience, on the other hand, deserted the theater for the movies as melodrama underwent a reasonably seamless shift from one medium, the stage, to another, the cinema. As the prolific theatrical producer Lincoln J. Carter remarked after the movies had ended his career: “The heroine and the hero and all the scenic effects of the melodrama have simply moved over into the films. That’s all.”[46] While part of the reason for this shift was economic, as most movies cost only 5 cents compared to 25 to 75 cents for theatrical productions,[47] another major reason was the ability of the cinema to economically, and more efficiently, emulate the action, suspense and sensation scenes that made the stage melodrama so popular. As Ben Singer argues that

whatever the stylistic and structural differences between stage melodrama and film melodrama there is no question that movies succeeded in capturing the essence of sensational melodrama. Movies delivered abundant rapid action, stimulating violence, spectacular sights, and the thrill of physical peril, abductions, and suspended rescues. On a narrative level, film melodramas relied on similar story lines emphasizing pure villainy and heroism, catalyzed by the villain’s jealousy and/or greed and often relying extraordinary coincidences, sudden revelations, and unexpected twists of circumstances.[48]

It was these qualities of sensational melodrama that also epitomized Rohmer’s fiction. Independent of Rohmer, Judith Walkowitz, in her study of late Victorian fiction, noted that the appeal of melodrama for working class audiences was its ability to evoke the instability and vulnerability of their life

in the unstable market culture of the early nineteenth century, where traditional patterns of deference and paternalism had been eroded. Below the surface order of reality lurked a terrible secret that could erupt unexpectedly with violence and irrationality. The melodramatic narrative acted arbitrarily in its very structure calling into question the operation of law and justice. Melodramatic plots overwhelmingly reinforced the sense of destiny out of control.[49]

Sax Rohmer

Sax Rohmer was born Arthur Henry Ward in the Ladywood district of Birmingham on February 15, 1883, and he changed his middle name to “Sarsfield” after his Irish mother, who died of tuberculosis in 1901, concocted the story that he was descended from a seventeenth century Irish military commander.[50] After failing the Civil Service entrance examinations in his late teens, he worked as a clerk for the London branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank alongside future author P. G. Wodehouse. Both men quickly decided that banking was not a suitable career for them. Rohmer subsequently left jobs with a gas company, as a reporter for a weekly paper called Commercial Intelligence[51] and his career as a Fleet Street journalist was also relatively brief. To earn an income he increasingly, and precariously, moved into short fiction with stories such as “The Mysterious Mummy” and “The Leopard Couch” (both 1903). However, there were many more rejections and Ward supplemented his income by writing lyrics for music hall performers such as Little Tich (real name Harry Relph). It was as a lyricist that he first used the name “Sax Rohmer” in 1908 for the song “Bang Went the Chance of a Lifetime.”[52] However, he did not use the Rohmer name for his short fiction until 1912 and the serial “The Sins of Séverac Babylon” for Cassell’s Magazine.[53]

Sax Rohmer (1883-1959)
Sax Rohmer (1883-1959)

In a 1947 article in the New Yorker, Ward described the origin of his “Sax Rohmer” name as emanating from “roaming blade” or “blade runner” whereby he adopted the ancient Saxon term for blade (“Sax”) and then substituted a “h” for the “a” in “roamer.”[54] It was, however, the publication of the first Fu Manchu short story, “The Zayat Kiss,” in the magazine The Story-Teller in October 1912 that ignited Rohmer’s career. Directly influenced by imperialist Britain’s pervasive fear of the Yellow Peril, and the fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle, especially “The Speckled Band,” “The Zayat Kiss” introduced the Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson facsimiles Burmese Police Commissioner Nayland Smith and medical practitioner and aspiring author, Dr. Petrie. The “Andaman-Second,” which appeared in The Story-Teller in April 1913, and was reworked as chapters 18 to 20 in The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, also had clear echoes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of the Bruce-Partington Plans” and chapters 14 to 17 in the second Fu Manchu novel, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu, which began as “The Coughing Horror” published in Collier’s on April 3, 1915, was influenced by The Hounds of the Baskervilles. However, aside from his penchant for locked room mysteries and exotic forms of murder, the association between Smith and Petrie and Holmes and Watson is not strong. Essentially, Rohmer’s novels are not “who-done-its,” as we know who done it (Fu Manchu). They are more concerned with the how and the why (a gigantic Oriental conspiracy). As Christopher Frayling points out:

Whereas in the Sherlock Holmes stories the threat to the established order comes from homicides or burglaries or attempts at blackmail, in Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels it comes from the Yellow Peril … Because Smith is so often caught on the back foot, the national sense of optimism and invulnerability which features so strongly in most Edwardian adventure and detective stories becomes, as one critic has put it, ‘a grim racial fatalism’; a sense of standing on the darkling plain.[55]

It was Rohmer’s ability to exploit the emotional and dramatic possibilities of sensational melodrama that characterized his fiction – and explained their popularity with readers in the United States, Great Britain and elsewhere. His stories epitomised the melodramatic imagination, the clash between pure, integral objects,[56] a constant forcing of the tone, a melodramatic rhetoric. His fiction was always striving for greater reader stimulus with stories that constantly involve a “dramaturgy of admiration and expression … that can infuse the banal and the ordinary with the excitement of grandiose conflict.”[57] There are, literally, hundreds of examples of this process in Rohmer’s fiction. To take just one example, chapter 27 (“The Pit and the Furnace”) of his 1934 novel The Trail of Fu-Manchu. It comes when Alan Sterling, who is assisting Sir Dennis Nayland Smith, is captured by the Devil Doctor while attempting to rescue his lover Fleurette. Sterling is hit over the head and taken to a large furnace under the Thames in the Limehouse district where Fu Manchu’s “Burmans” are feeding human bodies as fuel while he transmutes base metal into gold. Sterling, appalled, stands on a wooden platform “looking down upon a scene which reminded him of nothing so much as an illustration of Dante’s Inferno.[58] Unaware of his exact location, he recalls a warning from Smith that Fu Manchu has, over the years, successfully insinuated himself into everyday British suburban life:

“Behind a house which we have passed a hundred times, over a hill which we have looked at every morning for months together, on the roof of a building in which we have lived, beneath a pavement upon which we walk daily, there are secret things which we don’t even suspect. Dr. Fu-Manchu has made it his business to seek out these secret things …”[59]

Paranoia in the form of unseen sinister threats within an urban world familiar to his readers formed the basis of his fiction. However, reassurance through the existence of a higher cosmic moral force, the existence of a divine Providence, is always offered – at least until the next story. Thus, Sterling and Smith survive the furnace through the “intervention of a Higher Power.[60]” On another occasion Sterling reminds Smith, after a failed assassination attempt by one of Fu Manchu’s “religious assassins:”[61]

“That knife was meant for me, Sterling,” he said, grimly, “and Dr. Fu-Manchu’s thugs rarely miss.”

“It was an act of Providence-the protection of heaven!”[62]

“No Possible Escape”: Rohmer and the Film Serial

Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories began as magazine short stories or serials. Serialization, of course, preceded Rohmer’s stories and the film serial. In the United States, where Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories attracted an enormous following, there was a long history of magazine and newspaper serials and the relationship between the newspaper/magazine serial and the film serial was closely intertwined from the beginning. Literary models, as Ben Singer points out, “exerted a tremendous influence on the film industry because popular fiction constituted the dominant entertainment medium throughout the decades surrounding the turn of the century.”[63] In 1915, for example, when the population in the United States was less than two-fifths the size of today’s population, there were, at least, fifty-seven national magazines and syndicated Sunday newspaper supplements that featured serials and short stories.[64]

The first film serial What Happened to Mary emerged from a meeting between Charles Dwyer, the editor of The Ladies’ World, and Horace G. Plympton, the general manager of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope Company, in the summer of 1912. Both Dwyer and Plympton were interested in the cross-promotional possibilities of a film/magazine tie-in and The Ladies’ World exploited the commercial possibilities of the film serial by publishing stills from the film. The Adventures of Kathlyn (1913), the next major film serial, and The Perils of Pauline were both joint productions between newspaper and film companies.

The “filmic” basis of Rohmer’s fiction is readily apparent. To take one from a hundred or more possibilities. This excerpt comes from Rohmer’s serialized short story,”The Silver Buddha,” first published in Collier’s on May 15, 1915, and expanded to chapters 18 to 20 in Rohmer’s second Fu Manchu novel, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu. The story begins with Dr. Petrie searching for his Arab lover, and Fu Manchu’s slave, Káramanèh in an antique shop on Museum Street in London. However, after he comes face to face with Fu Manchu, Petrie is rendered unconscious by a blow to his head. He wakes up with his wrists handcuffed in Dr. Fu Manchu’s laboratory where the Devil Doctor plans to ship Petrie, while under the influence of a new drug, to his facilities in Kiang-su in China to help him establish a New World Force. After Fu Manchu leaves, Káramanèh quietly slips into the room and, once again, rescues Petrie. She sets him free and takes him into another room where he can see Museum Street, and freedom, from the window. She also shows him a wooden crossbar attached to a cord looped over the telegraph poles that will carry him from his first floor prison across the street to another apartment on the ground floor. She explains that the “length of rope is just sufficient to enable you to swing through the open window opposite, and there is a mattress inside to drop upon.”[65] However, as he draws her towards him (“My very soul seemed to thrill at the contact of her lithe body …”),[66] he looks out of the window into the “upturned face of Fu-Manchu”[67] on the street below:

Wearing a heavy fur-collared coat, and with his yellow malignant countenance grotesquely horrible beneath the shade of a large tweed motor cap, he stood motionless, looking up at me. That he had seen me, I could not doubt; but had he seen my companion?[68]

It turns out that Fu Manchu did not notice Káramanèh with Petrie and to protect her from Fu Manchu’s fury he handcuffs her wrists and tears a strip from her dress, places the “fabric over the girl’s mouth and tied it behind, experiencing a pang half pleasurable and half fearful as I found my hands in contact with the foamy luxuriance of her hair.”[69] While this takes place Fu Manchu is racing from the street to his laboratory to stop Petrie’s escape. In the reader’s mind this approximates the same effect as cross-cutting between two locations to generate suspense. After Fu Manchu arrives in the room, Petrie hurls the bunch of keys used by Káramanèh to free him into the villain’s face and grabs the crossbar to make his escape. However, as he is about to jump from the window, Fu Manchu’s gang, “the entire murder-group composed of units recruited from the darkest places of the East,”[70] attack Petrie. He saves himself by holding onto the crossbar and swinging back into the room where he kicks the man holding him in the head, splitting his skull. He then leaps through the window while holding the crossbar, “sweeping through the night like a winged thing …”[71] However, as he speeds towards the open window across the street he spies a “Burmese dacoit, a cross-eyed, leering being,”[72] clutching “a long curved knife [as he] waited-waited-for the critical moment when my throat would be at his mercy!”[73] To escape certain death Petrie throws his body back and extends his legs as he goes through the opening, striking the face of the dacoit. Although he suffers a leg wound (“I knew that the dacoit’s knife had bitten deeply”),[74] he escapes by dropping into Museum Street where he hails a taxi to take him to the police pathologist at Harley Street. The story ends with Petrie’s exclamation that “Merciful Providence had rung down the curtain; for tonight my rôle in the yellow drama was finished.”[75]

Rohmer’s “Cliffhangers”

Many early film serials did not include the traditional cliffhanger to end each chapter. For example, in What Happened to Mary most chapters are complete with only one incomplete ending. However, as these early serials contained continuing characters spread over 12 or more chapters, veteran serial scriptwriter Frank Leon Smith concluded that this did not jeopardize their status as serials.[76] With regard to What Happened to Mary, the incomplete episode (Chapter Nine, “A Way of the Underworld”) prompted one critic to complain that the serial continues “to grow more melodramatic; this one is very lurid, and, moreover, it is incomplete, leaving the action hanging in the air.”[77] However, by the late teens[78] the cliffhanger ending was norm in the film serial. There are two main types of cliffhanger endings, as Frank Leon Smith[79] points out with regard to The Adventures of Kathlyn. The first he describes as “situation” endings, endings that are unresolved during moments of high tension. This occurs at the end of the first chapter after Kathlyn is crowned “queen” and the villain Umballah is brought forward as her husband. This “situational” ending usually involves a major revelation. Its impact was emotional and character related rather than physical. The more familiar type of cliffhanger, the action based closure, usually involved placing the hero or heroine in grave peril leaving them no possible means of escape. Smith describes this type of cliffhanger as “holdover suspense.”[80]

Rohmer employed both types of cliffhangers. There are many examples of “holdover suspense” — such as the predicament of Alan Sterling facing death in Fu Manchu’s furnace in The Trail of Fu-Manchu. Ordered to work in the inhuman conditions of the furnace room, Sterling finally succumbs. His only hope is a message smuggled out by an old friend from Uganda, Ali. Chapter 35 (“The Furnace”) ends with Sterling, in bondage, taken by a “Burman, a ‘short yellow man’ who was built like a baboon,”[81] to the furnace pit, a “place [that] quivered and roared as white hot flames were whipped up under a forced draft.”[82] All appears lost when Sterling discovers two other men lying near him in front of the furnace entrance. One was Ali, thereby dashing Sterling’s hope of a rescue, the other was the bound body of Nayland Smith, the only man capable of rescuing Sterling. Rohmer concludes the chapter succinctly with: “It was the end.”[83]

In the subsequent chapters he cuts between the plight of Sterling and Smith facing “certain death,” and the actions of the police and other characters desperate to locate them. Rohmer expertly maintains, and even intensifies, the suspense for a further eight chapters, especially after Fu Manchu murders a recurring character, his daughter Fah Lo Suee, by forcing her to drink poison and then ordering the Burmans to dispose of her body in the furnace — with Smith and Sterling to follow. This follows the decapitation of Ali. Providence, in the form of an explosion caused by the police, saves them in the nick of time by unleashing waters from the Thames.

TrailAn example of Rohmer’s use of the “situational” ending, again from many possible examples, occurs at the end of chapter 33 (“Daughter of the Manchus”), after Nayland Smith has been captured by Fu Manchu. In a totally unexpected revelation Fah Lo Suee, who has schemed and battled against Nayland Smith over four previous novels, tells the old misogynist that she loves him. The chapter ends with her declaration:

“I have had many of those experiences which are ridiculously called ‘affairs,’ but the only man I could ever love, was the only man I could never have. You would never have known, for I should never have told you. I tell you now, because, although we could not live together, we are going to die together.”[84]

The importance of the cliffhanger in both the film serial and Rohmer’s fiction is highly significant — formally and ideologically. Formally, it represents the essence of melodrama’s clash between polar opposites. Ideologically, it exposes the moral values underpinning the story. As Brooks points out with regard to French theatrical melodrama:

What we retain from any consideration of melodramatic structures is the sense of fundamental bipolar contrast and clash. The world according to melodrama is built on an irreducible manichaeism, the conflict of good or evil as opposites not subject to compromise. Melodramatic dilemmas and choices are constructed on the either/or in its extreme form as the all-or-nothing. Polarization is both horizontal and vertical; characters represent extremes, and they undergo extremes, passing from heights to depths, or the reverse almost instantaneously. The middle ground and the middle condition are excluded. … Polarization is not only a dramatic principle but the very means by which integral ethical conditions are identified and shaped, made clear and operative.[85]

The cliffhanger follows logically from events within the chapter as the tension intensifies as the characters continue their pursuit of the “weenie,” the narrative device described by Pearl White as the essence of the film serial.[86] It is the coveted object in the narrative. In Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories it is Nayland Smith’s battle against the aim of Fu Manchu to eradicate western interests in the East on behalf of a vague secret organisation known, on different occasions, as a “futurist group in China,” “The Sacred Order of the White Peacock,” “The Seven,” and the “murderous cosmopolitan group known as the Si-Fan.” Occasionally, Rohmer provides some details as to its origin in the Chinese province of Ho-Nan while at other times he acts independently of this “secret society” and, on occasions, appears to be at odds with it.

These details mattered little to Rohmer. It was the clash of polar opposites that generated the suspense, the thrills and the sensational spectacle in his stories. This back and forward narrative pattern, involving the capture and recapture, and liberation, of Nayland Smith is also a characteristic of the film serial as the hero/heroine fought the villain for the possession of the weenie, a map, military formula, commercial invention, mineral deposit, destructive weapon, secret inheritance and so on. The narrative in both forms is repetitive by nature and seemingly chaotic. It represents a major deviation from the classical structure so favored by critics.


Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories represent, as I have argued, the epitome of Peter Brooks’s conception of the melodramatic imagination, most noticeably in their “irreducible manichaeism.” The moral dimension, or the moral context, of his fiction, not surprisingly, conveys Edwardian moral values as Rohmer was an Edwardian author. This explains, although it does not condone, his recurring imperialist use of the Yellow Peril. There is also, as author William Patrick Maynard and others note, a tension in his fiction with regard to his presentation of “the East.” While Fu Manchu is cruel, sadistic, and obsessive, he is also intellectually superior and, within his moral terrain, honorable. For example, at the end of one of Rohmer’s most atmospheric stories, “Redmoat,” which was published in The Story-Teller in December 1912 and revised to form chapters 7-9 in his first Fu Manchu novel, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, Fu Manchu withdraws his attack on the Norfolk estate of the Reverend J. D. Eltham after Eltham, a “hero” in the Boxer Uprising, abandons his plan to return to China to resume his missionary work in Ho-Nan. Maynard concludes that:

Dr. Fu-Manchu acts with honour and shows himself superior to the imperialist British heroes … It is Reverend Eltham who most clearly represents the proponents of the Yellow Peril even more than the colonialist Nayland Smith for it is Eltham who lacks empathy that is essential for bridging cultures. It is deeply ironic that Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu stories, long-derided as racist and jingoistic, actually represent a more enlightened view of the East and beneath the exotic mystery and thrills, their author repeatedly demonstrates that the differences between East and West are reconcilable.[87]

I am not as convinced as Maynard that Rohmer’s presentation of Fu Manchu is as unequivocally positive as he argues. There are too many acts of cruelty and sadism, including the killing of his daughter and the impersonal despatch of her body into a fiery furnace in The Trail of Fu-Manchu as well as the gleeful slaughter of police in The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, to offset his limited acts of honour. But it is a point worth making. I believe that this argument is much stronger in Rohmer’s depiction of the major female character, and Dr. Petrie’s love interest, in the first three novels, Káramanèh. She is Fu Manchu’s slave born of Egyptian and European parentage and she functions, at various points in the first three novels, as femme fatale, a victim of a real-life social problem (slavery) who suffers from Fu Manchu’s penchant for the whip and a constant saviour figure rescuing Smith and Petrie on many occasions. Within the context of Edwardian values she is a complex, fascinating character. None of the Hollywood film versions had the courage to include her and they resort to presenting Petrie’s lover as white, anglo-Saxon and utterly conventional. Rohmer, on the other hand, defied reader expectations as an early chapter in the first Fu Manchu novel sets up a conventional heroine, Greba Eltham, Reverend Eltham’s daughter, as Petrie’s likely partner. Rohmer quickly subverts these expectations and instead focuses on Káramanèh. She appears in Rohmer’s first Fu Manchu story, “The Zayat Kiss,” as a mysterious woman, somehow connected to Fu Manchu. After handing Petrie a perfumed envelope as part of Fu Manchu’s scheme to kill Nayland Smith, she warns the young doctor “not [to] go near him [Smith] any more tonight.”[88] Smith, however, is alert to Fu Manchu’s machinations and explains to Petrie that the envelope has been saturated with the heavy perfume of a rare species of orchid that attracts a venomous, six inch centipede. Smith’s initial reaction to Káramanèh provides a clear contrast between the values of ageing misogynist (Smith) and Petrie, the young romantic. Smith tells the doctor that:

She is one of the finest weapons in the enemy’s armoury, Petrie. But a woman is a two-edged sword, and treacherous. To our great good fortune she has formed a sudden predilection, characteristically Oriental, for yourself. Oh, you may scoff, but it is evident. She was employed to get this letter placed in my hands.[89]

Petrie, on the other hand, is immediately aroused by the exotic “otherness” of Káramanèh:

A girl wrapped in a hooded opera-cloak stood at my elbow, and, as she glanced up at me, I thought I had never seen face so seductively lovely nor of so unusual a type. With the skin of a perfect blonde, she had eyes and lashes as black as a Creole’s, which, together with her full red lips, told me that this beautiful stranger whose touch had so startled me was not a child of our Northern shores.[90]

Later, in the second Fu Manchu short story “The Clue of the Pigtail,” Petrie learns that Káramanèh is somehow involved in the death of a young policeman’s death (Cadby) after forming a sexual relationship with Cadby. This, unusually for Rohmer, leads to a degree of inner torment as Petrie admits:

It is with some shame that I confess how her charms enveloped me like a magic cloud. Unfamiliar with the complex Oriental temperament, I had laughed at Nayland Smith when he had spoken of this girl’s infatuation. “Love in the East,” he had said, “is like the conjurer’s mango-tree; it is born, grows and flowers at the touch of a hand.” Now, in those pleading eyes I read confirmation of his words. Her clothes or her hair exhaled a faint perfume. Like all Fu-Manchu’s servants, she was perfectly chosen for her peculiar duties. Her beauty was wholly intoxicating. But I thrust her away.[91]

At this point in the narrative Petrie is utterly conflicted:

At that moment I honestly would have given half of my worldly possessions to have been spared the decision which I knew I must come to … she was an Oriental, and her code must necessarily be different from mine. Irreconcilable as the thing may be with Western ideas … there remained that other reason why I loathed the idea of becoming her captor. It was almost tantamount to betrayal! Must I soil my hands with such work?

Thus, I suppose, her seductive beauty argued against my sense of right.[92]

As William Patrick Maynard notes, Káramanèh is “no English rose.”[93] To this end, Rohmer deserves a lot of credit as he carries his Edwardian readers through the pros and cons regarding Káramanèh. Importantly, he resolves their affair not in the conventional way — by killing off either Petrie or Káramanèh. This would have appeased readers familiar with the dictums of censors such as the Lord Chamberlain’s office in the United Kingdom, who regularly prohibited productions that endorsed miscegenation. Importantly, Petrie resolves his inner conflict in the Arab slave’s favor by marrying Káramanèh and settling down in her city, Cairo, not London.

Rohmer’s love, or at least, fascination with the East, especially Cairo, is undeniable. This is a recurring theme in his fiction, as this passage from his third Fu Manchu novel, The Hand of Fu-Manchu, reveals. It details Rohmer’s narrator, Dr. Petrie, in a dreary London hotel, longing for the colour and excitement of the Egypt, as represented by Káramanèh living in Cairo:

Oppressed with an unaccountable weariness of spirit, I stood within the lobby looking out upon the grayness of London in November. A slight mental effort was sufficient to blot out that drab prospect and to conjure up before my mind’s eye a balcony overlooking the Nile – a glimpse of dusty palms, a white wall overgrown with purple blossoms, and above all the dazzling vault of Egypt. Upon the balcony my imagination painted a figure, limning it with loving details, the figure of Káramanèh; and I thought that her glorious eyes would be sorrowful and her lips perhaps a little tremulous, as, her arms resting upon the rail of the balcony, she looked out across the smiling river to the domes and minarets of Cairo – and beyond, into the hazy distance; seeing me in dreary rain-swept London, as I saw her, at Gezîra beneath the cloudless sky of Egypt.[94]

Similarly, Phil Baker and Antony Clayton argue:

Exoticism “is the real driver in Rohmer, with his cultic Eastern secrets and his elaborate murders involving essential oils from rare Burmese orchids, and it is noticeable that if his racist Yellow Peril comments seem trowelled on to the point of insincerity, his exoticism has total conviction.[95]

While Rohmer’s fascination with the East is undeniable, the editors’ speculation regarding the author’s “insincerity” with regard his use of the “Yellow Peril” is, on the other hand, unconvincing. Even less convincing is their speculation regarding the function of Fu Manchu in his fiction:

Superman, aristocrat, and — and not least — gentleman. Along with the suave urbanity of his reparteee, one of Fu Manchu’s distinguishing characteristics is that he always keeps his word, a trait associated with the powerful period idea of the English gentleman. The emphasis on the fact that Fu Manchu keeps his word is an early indication of the books’ most powerful paradox, contributing largely to their survival: the fact that Fu Manchu is, of course, not the villain of the books but their true hero.[96]

While it possible, even likely, that readers returned again and again to Rohmer’s stories because of their fascination with its powerful villain, he is not the hero. His function as a strong, powerful villain capable of the persistent violation of innocence, has a long tradition in melodrama and makes him the most important character, but not the hero. As Peter Brooks argues:

In the clash of virtue and villainy, it is the latter that constitutes the active force, the motor of plot. If to what we have said about drastic structures we add a consideration of affective structures, our starting point must be in evil. When contemporary audiences baptized the boulevard du Temple, site of the principal houses of melodrama, as the “Boulevard du Crime,” they gave evidence of a recognition that, despite the ultimate triumph of virtue, it was the moment of evil triumphant that fascinated. The villain had the beau rôle, the one played by famous actors. The force of evil in melodrama derives from its personalized menace, its swift execution of its declarations of intent, its reductions of innocence to powerlessness. Evil is treachery in that it appears to unleash a cosmic betrayal of the moral order and puts all appearances into question.[97] The villain in melodrama drives the plot and creates excitement. Christine Gledhill reiterates Brooks point by arguing that it is the villain … [who] taps into the unthinkable, bringing it to the surface. That is what is exciting about melodrama: the villain breaks open the arena of moral certitudes, he challenges what is presumed to be the ethos by which we live; he challenges the moral order; he embodies the danger to it. In this respect, he’s iconoclastic. And, I think that is what makes melodrama, what makes you sit at the edge of your seat.[98]

While Fu Manchu is more intelligent, ruthless, and resourceful than Nayland Smith, the British officer possesses the one attribute that renders him the hero in any melodrama — resilience. He struggles and struggles to overcome Fu Manchu’s brilliance and, occasionally, enjoys limited success as Fu Manchu never succeeds in his ultimate aim of destroying white civilisation. Providence always, ultimately, rescues Smith, as he reminds Alan Sterling in The Trail of Fu-Manchu:

It was fate, I suppose, that made me an officer of Indian police. The gods — whoever the gods may be — had selected me as an opponent for-

“Dr. Fu-Manchu,” said Sterling.

He [Smith] brushed his hair back from his forehead; it as a gesture of distraction, almost of despair.

Nayland Smith crossed to the buffet and from a tobacco jar which stood there, began to load his briar.

“Dr. Fu-Manchu. Yes. I know I have failed, Sterling, because the man still lives. But he has failed, too; because I have succeeded in checking him, step by step.”

“I know you have, Sir Denis. No other man in the world could have done what you have done.”[99]

Fu Manchu is the villain. He is a sadist who whips his daughter, an opium addict and exploiter of young men and woman (Káramanèh and her brother Aziz), and, at times, a madman. In the first Fu Manchu novel, the aptly titled chapter “The Fungi Cellars,” the police carry out a raid on Fu Manchu’s Limehouse operations. As usual, the Devil Doctor outsmarts the police as Nayland Smith, Dr. Petrie and Inspector Weymouth watch in disbelief and horror as the Scotland Yard police officers walk into a trap in the fungi cellars where poisonous spores envelope the police officers and they die a painful death. As the men perish Fu Manchu, “the greatest fungologist the world had ever known, … a poisoner to whom the Borgias were children,”[100] gleefully responds to their suffering:

Like powdered snow the white spores fell from the roof, frosting the writhing shapes of the already poisoned men. Before my horrified gaze, the fungus grew; it spread from the head to the feet of those it touched; it enveloped them as in glittering shrouds … “They die like flies!” screamed Fu-Manchu, with a sudden febrile excitement; and I felt assured of something I had long suspected: that that magnificent, perverted brain was the brain of a homicidal maniac — though Smith would never accept the theory. “It is my fly-trap!” shrieked the Chinaman. “And I am the god of destruction!”[101]

Rohmer and Hollywood

After the third Fu Manchu book, The Hand of Dr. Fu-Manchu, published in 1917, Rohmer had no interest in continuing the character until the announcement by Paramount that they were buying the rights to his first book and would produce a film version, The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu (1929). This was followed by The Return of Fu Manchu (1930) and Daughter of the Dragon (1931), all starring Warner Oland as Fu Manchu. Rohmer’s publisher, Collier’s, were keen for more stories and he signed a contract to renew the series.[102] However, the author’s first attempt to rework the series into a contemporary thriller involving a self styled Emperor of Crime who is ultimately revealed to be Fu Manchu’s daughter did not satisfy Collier’s and all traces of Fu Manchu were removed in the subsequent book, The Emperor of America.[103] The fourth Fu Manchu novel, Daughter of Fu Manchu, was published in 1931 and this was quickly followed by The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and The Bride of Fu Manchu (1933). In the gap between 1917 and Daughter of Fu Manchu fourteen years later, Rohmer made significant changes to his formula. This included a shift in the locale away from their English settings to more global locations, such as Egypt and Persia. Similarly, the deep seated, but largely insular, sense of paranoia in the early novels is broadened to more global threats. The motivation for this was, at least in part, the success of his books in the United States.

MysteriousUnfortunately, Hollywood, with the exception of Republic’s 1940 serial, largely botched their adaptations of his novels. Both Paramount and MGM emphasized the demented, albeit brilliant, side of his character but failed to develop a more subtle, more covertly sinister and multi-faceted villain Paramount, particularly, was keen to eliminate the political and cultural aspect of Rohmer’s fiction and any suggestion that Fu Manchu was connected to the Chinese Government. Hence Fu Manchu was transformed from an anti-colonialist zealot in their three films to a patriarch driven insane by the loss of his wife and son. Predictably, Káramanèh is nowhere to be seen as each film substitutes a conventional heroine – Jean Arthur in the Paramount films -as the love interest for Dr. Petrie.[104]

In 1929 Paramount cast Swedish born Warner Oland as Fu Manchu in the first talkie adaptation of a Rohmer novel. It was also filmed as a silent and it was released on August 10, 1929. Filmed during the awkward transition from silent to sound films, it is a dull, static and overly talky film, qualities never evident in Rohmer’s novels. It begins in Peking during the Boxer Uprising where Fu Manchu is presented as a genial family man and scientist. During the Uprising he agrees to look after a young baby, Lia Eltham, after her father dies. Fu Manchu, at this stage, is a supportive of the imperial relief force and their attempts to quell the Uprising (“Do not fear, the white men are kind and generous”). However, after some retreating Boxers take refuge in Fu’s garden and over zealous Allied troops inadvertently kill Fu’s wife and young son, he becomes a demented, vengeful scientist vowing to murder officers of the Allied Expeditionary Force in order to compensate for every blood stained scale on his sacred dragon tapestry. This includes the entire Petrie family (“I have been blind. These whites are barbarous, devils, fiends!”). In this manner, screenwriters Lloyd Corrigan, Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Florence Ryerson, along with the uncredited George Marion Jr., basically strip away the Yellow Peril ethos and replace it with a revenge melodrama.

The film is also notable for introducing the moustache that is never found in the novels as well as inserting a degree of generic knowingness rarely evident in a classical Hollywood production. After Fu Manchu gleefully traps Petrie (Neil Hamilton), Lia (Jean Arthur) and Nayland Smith (O. P. Heggie) near the end of the film he tells Petrie that:

I’m afraid my somewhat weird and oriental methods may have misled your occidental mind into believing that this is nothing but a gigantic melodrama in which the detective’s arrival at the last moment produces the happy ending.

Of course, the ending is both conventional and melodramatic as Fu Manchu, seemingly, perishes after drinking a cup of poisoned tea. At this point he chuckles and points out to Nayland Smith: “after all, inspector, out story ended in the usual way.”

Paramount quickly put a sequel into production, with Warner Oland returning as Fu Manchu, Neil Hamilton as Jack Petrie, Jean Arthur as Lia Eltham and Australian born actor O. P. Heggie as Nayland Smith. The Return of Fu Manchu opened on May 2, 1930. A special potion that placed Fu Manchu in a state of cataleptic suspension revives the Devil Doctor during his funeral ceremony. Again, there is little of Rohmer’s second novel in the film as the vendetta against the Petrie family continues. The only (slight) reference to Rohmer’s novels occurs at the end when Jack Petrie is forced to operate on Fu Manchu after he suffers a bullet wound in a scene reminiscent of an incident found in the third Fu Manchu novel, The Hand of Fu-Manchu (1917). The film, however, closes in a similar manner to the first film with Fu Manchu’s “death” following his fall into the Thames holding an exploding grenade.

While the first two Fu Manchu films for Paramount were directed by Rowland V. Lee, screenwriter Lloyd Corrigan took over the direction of the third film, Daughter of the Dragon, released on September 2, 1931. This is the best of the three Paramount films. The studio paid Rohmer $20, 000 for the screen rights on March 23, 1931[105] for his 1931 novel, Daughter of Fu-Manchu. Although the story had been serialized the year before in Collier’s, and on radio between March and May 1930 in The Collier’s Hour, Paramount’s screenwriters Lloyd Corrigan, Sidney Buchman and, uncredited, Jane Storm took nothing from Rohmer’s novel. They even changed the name of Fu Manchu’s daughter from Fah Lo Suee to Ling Moy, as played by Anna May Wong. They also jettisoned Nayland Smith, who was replaced by the incompetent Basil Courtney (Lawrence Grant) of Scotland Yard while introducing a Chinese detective Ah Kee, played by Japanese born actor Sessue Hayakawa in one of his last major American roles before leaving Hollywood. To make matters worse, they kill off Fu Manchu, for real, less than half way into the film!

The plot continues Fu Manchu’s machinations against the Petrie family from the previous films and the film is enlivened by the casting of Anna May Wong. Following Fu Manchu’s death, she promises to keep her vow to kill Ronald Petrie (Bramwell Fletcher), the last of the Petrie’s. This is complicated by the fact that Petrie, although he has a fiancé Joan Blackwell (Frances Dade), becomes besotted with Ling Moy. While this has some parallels to the fourth Fu Manchu novel, Daughter of Fu-Manchu, published in 1931, when Nayland Smith’s new assistant Shan Greville, who is engaged to Lionel Barton’s niece Rima, has a sexual relationship with Fah Lo Suee, Ronald Petrie’s infatuation is much less interesting as he comes off as a buffoon. The plot also complicates his relationship with Ling Moy by the fact that Ah Kee also falls in love with Ling Moy.

The film’s melodramatic ending takes place in a basement when Ling Moy puts aside her feelings for Petrie and threatens Joan with acid unless Ronald kills her. The politically correct ending sees Ah Kee murder Ling Moy before she can kill Petrie and then perish alongside her. Warner Oland also made one other appearance as Fu Manchu in a short comedy segment titled “Murder Will Out” in the portmanteau film, Paramount on Parade (1930). The comedy skit also featured Clive Brook as Sherlock Holmes, William Powell as Philo Vance and Eugene Pallette as Sergeant Heath. Oland has great fun with lampooning the Devil Doctor and he shoots Vance in the bottom, Holmes in the heart before flying off screen. Oland thereafter left Paramount for Fox where he appeared in his most remembered role, Charlie Chan, beginning with Charlie Chan Carries On (1931). He went on to appear in another fifteen Chan films before his death in 1938.

Rohmer’s next novel, The Mask of Fu-Manchu, was serialized in Collier’s from May to July 1932 and MGM bought the film rights. In what was described by its star, Boris Karloff, as a chaotic production, the studio clearly wanted to push the limits of the 1930 Production Code with as much aberrant sexuality and sadism as it could get away with. The script signals its conception of Fu Manchu from the very first image of Boris Karloff, his distorted face mirrored in a “nebularium,” a large concave mirror. This grotesque introduction is reinforced by the sound of crackling electricity and a beam of light projected from his eyes. He subsequently drinks a bubbling concoction and Karloff then gives the audience an insane, knowing, grin.

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Production of the film, from August 6 to October 21, 1932, virtually paralleled the serialization of the novel. While MGM retained the novel’s basic premise regarding Fu Manchu’s desire to acquire the magical scepter from El Mokanna’s tomb in Persia to unite people in the East against the West, scriptwriters Irene Kuhn, Edgar Allan Woolf and John Williard made substantial changes that included shifting the locale from Persia to mountains on the edge of the Gobi Desert and Shanghai and substituting the more well known Genghis Khan for El Mokanna. The half caste Shan Greville in the novel became all-American Terry Granville (Charles Starrett) in the film and Myrna Loy as Fah Lo See (as it was spelled in the film) was transformed from Fu Manchu’s duplicitous daughter to, in her words, a “sadistic nymphomaniac” who shares her father’s taste for sexual sadism.

The emphasis in the film was on sadism with multiple torture scenes filmed in the brightly lit MGM art deco style. This includes Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) suffering the “torture of the bell,” a constant clanging in his ears while deprived of food and water — at one point Fu Manchu offers him salt water. The archeologist Von Berg (Jean Hersholt) is nearly impaled by protruding metal spikes attached to two walls (“the silver fingers”), Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) is left on an unstable plank in a crocodile infested pit, and the heroine Sheila Barton (Karen Morley) is about to be sold in an auction to the highest bidder. In an infamous scene, which encouraged Myrna Loy not to accept anymore roles playing Orientals, she becomes aroused at the sight of young Terence Manville, stripped to the waist, being whipped at her orders by two large black men. When he resists the whipping his clothes are removed, except for a brief towelling costume around his waist, as she continues to seduce him. He is then manacled to an operating table and injected with a special serum that removes his resistance to commands, sexual and otherwise, from both Fu Manchu and Fah Lo See.

The film climaxes in the Hall of Gods as Sheila is carried onto the stage in a “sacrificial bridal bed” while Fu Manchu extorts the “frenzied Orientals”[106] with the question “would you all have maidens like this for your wives?” When he receives loud affirmation from the excited men, he orders them to “conquer and breed! Kill the white man, and take his women!” However, Smith breaks free from his crocodile infested prison, frees Terry and Von Berg, and they redirect Fu Manchu’s electricity machine onto the screaming Orientals below. Terry then decimates Fu Manchu with Genghis Khan’s sword. On the ship back to England, Nayland Smith throws the sword overboard.

According to Elizabeth, Sax Rohmer’s widow, her husband did not like the film as he thought it crude and obvious.[107] It was, however, a commercial success, grossing $625, 000 domestically and internationally. However, when the studio considered a sequel, there was opposition from the Chinese Consulate, and others.[108] The strict imposition of the Production Code after mid 1934 made a sequel impossible. When the film was re-released in 1992 on video a number of scenes involving racism and acts of sadism were deleted. They now have been restored on the DVD release.

Republic’s Drums of Fu Manchu

 On June 16, 1939 Republic signed a contract with representatives of Sax Rohmer for a serial based on Fu Manchu. Rohmer was paid $10,000 for the rights which prohibited a separate feature film. The contract gave the studio access to Rohmer’s novels, including his 1939 novel The Drums of Fu Manchu. The exceptions were the 1931 novel The Daughter of Fu Manchu (which was filmed by Paramount) and the 1932 novel The Mask of Fu Manchu which was filmed by MGM. An additional cost of $1,000 allowed television exhibition of the serial as well as an option for four subsequent serials at the cost of $10,000 each.

Scriptwriters Franklin Adreon, Morgan Cox, Ronald Davidson, Norman S. Hall, Barney A. Sarecky and Sol Shor, with uncredited work from Rex Taylor and W. P. Thompson, borrowed liberally from Rohmer’s stories although, by far, the greatest influence on their script was MGM’s 1932 feature The Mask of Fu Manchu. A notable absence, however, was the sexual sadism displayed by Fu Manchu’s daughter. In the 1940 serial Fah Lo-Suee (Gloria Franklin) lacks any sexual interest in the equivalent male figure, young American archeologist Allan Parker (Robert Kellard). This was due to the fact that the censorship climate in 1940, compared to 1932, was more rigidly enforced and Republic’s characteristic aversion to overt displays of romance in their serials, let alone aberrant sexuality.

The credits acknowledge Rohmer’s overall influence by noting that the serial was “suggested by stories by Sax Rohmer,” not one specific novel although the importance of the MGM film is easily discerned as both the 1932 film and the 1940 serial focus on Fu Manchu’s plan to conquer Asia and eradicate Europeans after establishing that he is the true heir to Genghis Khan. To unite the tribesmen Fu Manchu (Henry Brandon), and his secret terrorist organization the “Si-Fan” society, must acquire the Lost Scepter of Genghis Khan which, in turn, invokes relics such as the Dalai Plaque. This artefact, however, is in the possession of an American, Dr. James Parker (George Cleveland).

Drums of Fu Manchu (1940)
Drums of Fu Manchu (1940)

Fu Manchu’s nemesis, Sir Dennis Nayland Smith (William Royle) of the British Foreign Office, is aware of Fu Manchu’s master plan after recounting details to his friend Flinders Petrie (Olaf Hytten) of his recent visit to Asia where he noted that the Nihala Hills Tribesmen were waiting restlessly for the arrival of a new messiah in the person of Fu Manchu. Parker is murdered by one of Fu Manchu’s dacoits, lobotomized warriors who serve Fu Manchu, and his son Allan joins Nayland Smith to stop Fu Manchu acquiring the Sacred Scepter from the tomb of Genghis Khan. Mary Randolph (Luana Walters) also becomes involved after her father, Professor Edward Randolph (Tom Chatterton), is kidnapped.

There are many unusual, even unique, aspects of the Drums of Fu Manchu and it is a little wonder that co-director William Witney considered it his favorite serial. Yet Witney and fellow director John English had to work hard as it was the second longest serial (269 minutes) produced by Republic with the longest filming period which stretched from December 22, 1939, to February 7, 1940. Although it was the studio’s costliest serial in 1940, with a final budget of $166, 312, the budget was not unusually high for the period (The Lone Ranger Rides Again cost $213, 997 in 1939). Also, when the budget for the Drums of Fu Manchu and its running time of 269 minutes are compared to MGM’s $322, 627 for The Mask of Fu Manchu with a running time of only 68 minutes, one can appreciate the skills of Witney, English, associate producer Hiram S. Brown, Jr., cinematographer William Nobles, art director John Victor Mackay (especially the sets for the Temple of the Sun and the tomb of Genghis Khan), editors Edward Todd and William Thompson and the Oriental themed musical score by, primarily, Cy Feuer with assistance from Paul Sawtell, Karl Hajos and William Lava. A feature of the soundtrack is the use of the drums to mark the beginning of each cliffhanger. Nayland Smith expresses this aspect effectively in the brilliant ending to chapter 5 (“The House of Terror”) when he refers to the sound as Fu Manchu’s “death signal”. Each chapter, except chapter 13 (“The Devil’s Tattoo”), concludes with the sound of the drums, a supernatural throbbing that emanates from Fu Manchu and rises in tempo as the threat from the Devil Doctor intensifies.

Aside from its length and extended shooting period, the unique aspects of the serial belong primarily to the ability of the writers and directors to capture the spirit of Rohmer’s novels and in the characterization of Fu Manchu. He is more than just ambitious and evil. As played by the highly talented 28 year-old Henry Brandon, the writers and actor combine to present Rohmer’s villain within his own moral context. In chapter 3 (“Ransom in the Sky”) Fu Manchu is offended when Mary Randolph breaks the gas line of a plane after he has given his word that no harm will come to Mary if Allan exchanges the Dalai Scroll for her freedom. He tells Mary that: ”May I remind you that among my people honor is a sacred thing and those who defile it can expect no mercy.” As a consequence, he and his Dacoit depart from the plane on the only parachutes. Minutes earlier, before Mary’s deception, he was prepared to let Mary and Allan use the parachutes. The chapter ends with Allan forced to make a crash landing in the disabled plane in rugged terrain.

Brandon’s nuanced performance includes an effective use of body and voice that rises in cadence, but not volume, to berate or deliver a condescending line. In static shots Brandon wears five-inch heels on his shoes to add to his six foot two inch height so that he can tower above the other actors. His cat-like movements, without heels, are in accord with Rohmer’s description and these qualities are seen to great advantage in chapter 5, (“The House of Terror”), a near perfect serial chapter.

The early part of “The House of Terror” chapter is dominated by an excellent sequence in the Historical Museum when Fu Manchu’s dacoits suddenly burst into action and attack Allan Parker and the museum’s director, Professor Anderson (Dwight Frye) after posing as wax dummies. The exuberance of this sequence, with David Sharpe (doubling Robert Kellard) bringing his usual acrobatic skills along with fellow stuntmen for a series of rolls and tumbles amidst the fisticuffs, is followed by a prolonged period when atmosphere replaces raw action. Nayland Smith visits the remote estate of Professor Ezra Howard (John Dilson) during a violent storm to borrow the Kardac Segment, an artefact that will assist in the location of Genghis Khan’s tomb. Despite Nayland Smith’s warning to Howard that if “Fu Manchu knew you had the Segment, this is precisely the sort of night he would select to move against you,” the eccentric professor dismisses Nayland Smith’s anxieties (“I don’t fear the Fu Manchus of this world. My home has been specially built to thwart them”). Sitting in a semi-darkened room, with the sounds of wind and lightning, Howard’s confidence (“Fu Manchu is welcome to attempt an entrance”) is quickly exposed as foolish. After boasting that his grounds are patrolled by vicious dogs, the serial undermines the professor by cutting to the image of a dead dog. A Dacoit silently enters the room after violent gust of wind blows open the doors. Howard’s servant Cardo (John Lester Johnson) and another dog are killed while Fu Manchu confidently strides through the rain and wind towards Howard’s mansion. His arrival is signalled by the sound of the drums. Hearing the drums, Nayland Smith, in a moment of British understatement, utters: “We’re in for it.” The chapter ends not with overt action but a wonderfully malevolent atmosphere conveyed through lightning, sound and composition. It concludes with Fu Manchu, body in shadow and face in the lighting, surveying the carnage around him with satisfaction.

The first seven chapters, almost, match the atmosphere of this sequence in scenes involving dark streets, museums, living rooms, a cabin berth and a Si-Fan temple in Branapuhr as the serial moves from California to Asia. The race between Nayland Smith’s party and Fu Manchu’s cohort to the Temple of Blind Dragon and Genghis Khan’s scepter occupy the next five chapters and the serial falters, relative to the excellence of the first seven chapters, in the final two chapters as both parties battle for control of the scepter. The atmospheric scenes filmed in the controlled environment of the studio, with regard to lighting and composition, in the early chapters give way to location filming on the Iverson Ranch and Corriganville.

This shift diminishes Fu Manchu’s status as an omnipotent figure. Similarly, the cliffhangers are more conventional in the latter portions of the serial. Highlights in the early chapters include chapter 2 (“The Monster”) with Allan falling into a pit containing an octopus beneath Fu Manchu’s headquarters. Chapter 4 (“The Pendulum of Doom”), on the other hand, borrows, as the evil doctor acknowledges, from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1842 short story “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Allan Parker is strapped to a table while Fu Manchu demands the location of the Kardac Segment. When Parker refuses, the table rises higher and higher towards an oscillating pendulum blade. Chapter 6 (“Death Dials a Number”) concludes with Allan tied down next to a booby–trapped telephone designed to detonate following an incoming call. In chapter 7 (“Vengeance of the Si-Fan”), after Allan’s exposure at a Si-Fan meeting, he leaves the room walking backwards, unaware that two Dacoit guards are about to cut him down with upraised sabers.

The Republic serial was also the only film version to include one of Rohmer’s most infamous sequences involving the “Six Gates of Joyful Wisdom” from chapter 29 of his second Fu Manchu novel, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu. After Petrie and Smith, again, are captured by Fu Manchu, they learn that Smith is to be tortured by the barbaric Six Gates of Joyful Wisdom. To this end he is secreted in a cage with moveable doors placed over his body. The first gate, the Gate of Joyous Hope, contains four starving rats able to feast on Smith’s feet. If he survives this the second (the Gate of Mirthful Doubt), third (the Gate of True Rapture), fourth (the Gate of Gentle Sorrow), and fifth gates (the Gate of Sweet Desires) will sequentially release more rats to devour his body. The sixth, and final, gate, the Gate Celestial, contains something even more sinister, although it remains unnamed. To end Smith’s suffering Petrie is given a samurai sword to put his friend out of his misery. Smith then pleads with Petrie to use the sword once the first gate is raised.

Just as Petrie is about to hack Smith to death, Providence, in the form of Káramanèh, rushes into the room and, once again, saves the two men. She shoots Fu Manchu in the face and with blood streaming over his eyes he falls across the Six Gates and inadvertently releases the rats as the police raid the premises. Chapter One of Drums of Fu Manchu reprises elements of this sequence when Fu Manchu threatens Edward Randolph (Tom Chatterton) with a similar device renamed “The Seven Gates of Paradise.” Bizarrely, Joseph Breen, the head of the industry censorship body The Production Code Administration, did not request the removal of this gruesome scene, merely the deletion of the word “rats” which was changed to “my small hungry friends.”[109] Fortunately the rats are not released after Randolph’s colleague Dr. James Parker provides the information that Fu Manchu requires.

The serial’s limited budget was assisted in the second half with the inclusion of footage from Republic’s 1938 feature film Storm Over Bengal although the Lone Pine filmed scenes from the feature film do not readily assimilate with the Iverson filmed material for the serial. Jack Mathis also notes that the Tartar village in the Drums of Fu Manchu was filmed on leftover sets from the 1939 United Artists feature film Real Glory while the Fort Branapuhr scenes at Iverson were completed on the sets erected for the 20th Century Fox film Wee Willie Winkie, directed by John Ford and starring Shirley Temple.[110]

Perhaps the most startling aspect of this unique serial is the ending. Towards the end of chapter 15 (“Revolt”), Fu Manchu drives away as his followers falter. Allan leaps on Fu Manchu’s car and the evil doctor seemingly dies, while Allan jumps to safety, as the car rolls off a mountaintop. This ending was used to signal Fu Manchu’s death in the 69 minute edited version released as a feature film in 1943. The serial, however, presents a less conventional ending. After the customary epilogue where the High Lhama (Joe De Stefani) celebrates the victory over Fu Manchu and accepts the restoration of the status quo, the return of British rule, by praising the efforts of Nayland Smith and Parker (“It was their heroism that prevented the holy scepter from falling into the hands of the false prophet”), the serial, surprisingly, includes another scene where Fu Manchu makes a pledge to his idol, Genghis Khan: “My plan to conquer this land, even as you conquered it, has been buried away in the rifle fire of alien soldiers. But there will be another day, another reckoning … when the forces of Fu Manchu will sweep onto victory. This I pledge you.”

The serial’s ending was obviously predicated on the expectation of a sequel, tentatively titled Fu Manchu Strikes Again, where the evil doctor would direct his attention to the Japanese. Pressure, allegedly, from the Chinese Government and the American State Department may have terminated this possibility although, as Jack Mathis notes, an equally likely reason involved protests from parent’s and civic groups that the serial terrified children while offending Asians.[111] However, it was surprising that one of Republic’s greatest serials was not included in the package of 14 serials edited for television in 1951 or the 26 serial Century ’66 package in 1966. Instead, in 1955, William Witney and Franklin Adreon worked on a short-lived (13 episodes) television series titled The Adventures of Fu Manchu with Glen Gordon as Fu Manchu. Witney directed six episodes, Adreon seven.

In 1965 producer Harry Alan Towers began a series of five Fu Manchu films starring Christopher Lee. The first film, The Face of Fu Manchu, ended with the apparent death of the evil doctor after he is caught in an explosion. However, the film concludes with his voice on the soundtrack, “the world shall hear from me again,” a device that was employed in the next four films. In 1980, Fu Manchu was resurrected for the dismal comedy The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu with Peter Sellers as both Fu Manchu and Nayland Smith.


While Sax Rohmer was not overly impressed by MGM’s (relatively) big budget production of his 1932 novel, although the popularity of the film did boost sales of the novel making it his best selling novel, it is probably fair to say he would not have been impressed by any of Hollywood’s adaptations of his stories. Certainly the Paramount films and the MGM film completely miss out on conveying his defining characteristic, the pervasive sense of everyday paranoia that permeates his fiction. Only Chapter Five (“The House of Terror”) of Republic’s Drums of Fu Manchu come anywhere close to capturing this aspect of his fiction.

The low budget Republic serial, with its fifteen chapter cliff-hanger format, approximates the narrative rhythm of his fiction, its ability to move clearly defined characters quickly through one action set piece after another, mirrors Rohmer’s characteristic style. Ingenious murderous inventions, such as gelatinous dart, a bomb designed to be detonated by a telephone ring, an underwater cavern beneath Fu’s office containing a large octopus, a scented pillow that attracts a poisonous lizard (similar to Rohmer’s first Fu Manchu story “The Zayat Kiss”), and a magic crystal that magnifies the power of the sun, would not have been foreign to his fiction. The cliffhanger to chapter 14 (“Satan’s Surgeon”) which closes with Fu Manchu, scalpel in hand, about to operate on Nayland Smith and turn him into a mindless slave resonates in his stories as well as the cliffhanger to chapter 7 (“Vengeance of the Si Fan”) with Allan Parker, after infiltrating a Si Fan meeting, backing out of the room with a gun in hand unaware that two Dacoit guards are waiting behind him with upraised sabers.

With regard to the characterisation of Fu Manchu in these films, Warner Oland’s benign chuckling patriarch is totally wrong. Similarly, Karloff’s demented sadist is merely a caricature of an Oriental villain, as Karloff readily admitted when confronted with questions regarding the racist basis of his characterization. On the other hand, Henry Brandon’s presentation of Fu Manchu, with his five inch shoes to add to his six foot two inches height, costume, make up, body language and, especially, the stylized delivery of the dialogue, captures Sax Rohmer’s conception of the Devil Doctor:

He came forward with an indescribable gait, catlike yet awkward, carrying his high shoulders almost hunched. He placed the lantern in a niche in the wall, never turning away the reptilian gaze of those eyes which must haunt my dreams for ever. They possessed a viridescence which hitherto I had only supposed possible in the eye of a cat — and the film intermittently clouded their brightness — but I can speak of them no more. I had never supposed, prior to meeting Dr. Fu-Manchu, that so intense a force of malignancy could radiate – from any human being. He spoke. His English was perfect, though at times his words were oddly chosen; his delivery alternately was guttural and sibilant.[112]

Jack Mathis, Republic’s unofficial historian, points out that Brandon, “whose youth belied that of his ancient-though-ageless prototype, the serial Fu Manchu nevertheless, fulfilled Rohmer’s description of a tall, catlike individual possessing a Shakespeare-yet-Satanic countenance, close-shaven skull, and magnetic feline eyes.”[113] These qualities are immediately apparent in the serial’s prologue at the start of the first chapter. The dark background to the written prologue (“ruthless, ageless, holding himself above human law …”) dissolves to show a sinister Oriental figure, Fu Manchu, filmed in chiaroscuro (high contrast with deep shadows) lighting and a low angle composition to highlight Brandon’s prominent cheekbones. After looking directly into the camera (at the audience), he slowly fades into the darkness.

No other film version comes close to presenting Rohmer’s Devil Doctor in such a subtle, sinister manner. Certainly not MGM’s one-dimensional presentation. A palpable sense of paranoia, combined with unfathomable evil, periodic insanity and a righteous sense of honour are the necessary ingredients to recreate Rohmer’s Devil Doctor. Republic, despite the budget limitations compared to the Paramount and MGM films, came closest to capturing Nayland Smith’s warning to Petrie at the start of Rohmer’s series of stories: “Imagine a person, tall, lean, feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan … Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race … and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.[114]


[1] Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, 126.

[2] “Interview with Christine Gledhill, in Scott Loren and Jörg Metelmann (eds.) Melodrama After the Tears. New Perspectives on the Politics of Victimhood (Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2016), 297.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination. Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995), 42.

[5] Phil Baker and Antony Clayton (eds.), Lord of Strange Deaths. The Fiendish World of Sax Rohmer (London, Strange Attractor Press, 2015), vii.

[6] Julian Symons, Bloody Murder. From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History (London, Penguin Books, 1974) 220.

[7] Ibid., 229.

[8] Ibid., 150.

[9] Ibid., 229.

[10] Christopher Frayling, The Yellow Peril. Dr Fu Manchu & The Rise of Chinaphobia (London, Thames & Hudson, 2014).

[11] Frayling writes of his early childhood memories in a Sussex boarding school where “Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories were a popular feature.” Ibid., 12.

[12] See Baker and Clayton (eds.).

[13] Ibid.

[14] See Nathan Vernon Madison, Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books (Jefferson, McFarland & Company, 2013), online version, 18.

[15] Ibid., 82.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 30.

[18] Ibid.

[19] See Frayling, 259.

[20] Ibid.Shiel followed with The Yellow Danger in 1905 and The Dragon in 1913.

[21] Leslie S. Klinger, “Appreciating Dr. Fu-Manchu” in Sax Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (London, Titan Books, 2012), 287.

[22] Sax Rohmer, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu (London, Titan Books, 2012).

[23] Ibid., 64.

[24] Frayling, 247.

[25] Maynard.

[26] Quoted in Frayling, 252.

[27] Ibid., 134.

[28] See Frayling, 59.

[29] Sax Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu (London, Titan Books, 2012), 25-26.

[30], Ibid., 93.

[31] Sax Rohmer, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu (London Titan Books, 2012), 237. The book was published in Britain as The Devil Doctor.

[32] See Ruth Mayer, Serial Fu Manchu. The Chinese Supervillian and the Spread of Yellow Peril Ideology (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2014), chapter 1.

[33] Frayling, 282.

[34] Ibid., 281.

[35] Baker and Clayton (eds.), vii.

[36] Ibid., ix.

[37] Quoted in Ibid., 201-202.

[38] See Ibid., 202.

[39] Brooks, 48..

[40] Ibid., 41.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., 151.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid., 164.

[45] Ibid., 165.

[46] Quoted in Ibid., 12.

[47] Ibid., 167.

[48] Ibid., 192.

[49] Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1992), 86.

[50] See Frayling, 59.

[51] Frayling, 64.

[52] Ibid., 60.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Frayling, 275.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Sax Rohmer, The Trail of Fu-Manchu (London, Titan Books, 2013), 140.

[59] Ibid., 141.

[60] Ibid., 212.

[61] Ibid., 64.

[62] Ibid., 65.

[63] Singer, 211-212.

[64] Singer, 211-212.

[65] Rohmer, The Return of Dr. Fu-Manchu, 165.

[66] Ibid.,166.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid., 167.

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid., 168.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid., 169.

[75] Ibid., 170.

[76] See Ed Hulse, Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders: Cliffhanger Serials of the Silent-Silent-Movie Era (Morris Plains, NJ, Murania, 2014), 13.

[77] Quoted in Singer, 210.

[78] Singer argues that by late 1914 or early 1915 “virtually all episodes culminated in suspenseful cliffhanger endings.” See Ibid., 210.

[79] Hulse, 28.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Rohmer, The Trail of Fu-Manchu, 179.

[82] Ibid., 180.

[83] Ibid., 182.

[84] Ibid., 175.

[85] Brooks, 36.

[86] See Jon Tuska, The Vanishing Legion. A History of Mascot Pictures 1927-1935 (Jefferson, NC, McFarland & Company, 1982), 3.

[87] William Patrick Maynard, Blogging The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer, Part Four – “Redmoat,” in http://setisays.blogspot.com/2010/04/

[88] Ibid., 22.

[89] Ibid., 23.

[90] Ibid., 21.

[91] Ibid., 41.

[92] Ibid., 42.

[93] Maynard, ‘The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu by Sax Rohmer – Part Three – “The Clue of the Pigtail” in http://setisays.blogspot.com/2010/03/

[94] Sax Rohmer, The Hand of Fu-Manchu (London, Titan Books, 2012), 43-44.

[95] Ibid. xiii.

[96] Baker and Clayton, xx.

[97] Brooks, 34.

[98] Gledhill, 302.

[99] Sax Rohmer, The Trail of Fu-Manchu (London, Titan Books, 1934), 36.

[100] Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, 239.

[101] Ibid., 239-240.

[102] William Patrick Maynard, Sax Rohmer’s Daughter of Fu Manchu, in http://setisays.blogspot.com/2012/08/blogging-sax-rohmers-daughter-of-fu.html

[103] Ibid.

[104] Only the British film production company Stoll Picture Production retained Káramanèh, although played by white British actress Joan Clarkson, in their 1923 serial The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu as the love interest for Dr. Petrie.

[105] Frayling, 293.

[106] Ibid., 308.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Ibid.

[109] Jack Mathis, Valley of the Cliffhangers (Northbrook, Illinois, 1975), 138.

[110] Jack Mathis, Valley of the Cliffhangers (Northbrook, Illinois, Jack Mathis Advertising, 1975), 138.

[111] Jack Mathis, Republic Confidential. Volume 1. The Studio (Barrington, Illinois, Jack Mathis Advertising, 1999), 297.

[112] Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, 127.

[113] Mathis, Valley of the Cliffhangers, 137.

[114] Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, 25-26.

Geoffrey Mayer teaches film studies at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Encyclopedia of American Film Serials (McFarland, 2017), Historical Dictionary of Crime Films (Scarecrow, 2012), Encyclopedia of Film Noir (with Brian McConnell, Greenwood, 2007), and Roy Ward Baker(Manchester University Press, 2004).

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