Drums of Fu Manchu (1940) Poster

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Another Great Republic Serial!
bsmith55523 January 2004
"Drums of Fu Manchu" is another of the great serials turned out by Republic Pictures in the early 40s, in the days before the studio started relying on extensive stock footage in order to cut costs. This entry though, has the look of a big budget. It contains the expected superior Republic stuntwork and action sequences. It includes a spectacular train wreck (with no apparent sympathy for those who would have been killed), a giant realistic looking octopus and the swinging pendulum torture device borrowed from Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum". The story involves the diabolical Fu Manchu's (Henry Brandon) efforts to secure the long lost scepter of Genghis Khan with which he hopes to gain control of various Himalayan tribes which in turn will lead him to eventual world domination. Opposing him are his long time nemesis Sir Nayland Smith (William Royle) and his young partner Allen Parker (Robert Kellard).

Fu Manchu is aided by his sinister daughter Fah Lo Suee (Gloria Franklin) and a band of "Dacoits", who are lobotomized zombie like creatures (complete with fangs) that obey Fu Manchu's orders without question. Over the course of 15 action packed chapters, Fu Manchu and Sir Nayland and Allen follow the clues to the location of the scepter from America to the Chinese mainland. Each foil the other's attempts to find the scepter at every turn. Finally, the scepter is found and Fu Manchu and his adversaries try to outsmart each other amid several exciting chapter ending cliff hangers until justice is finally served in Chapter 15.

Henry Brandon's career dated back to the Laurel and Hardy 1934 comedy "March of the Wooden Soldiers (as Henry Kleinbach). He makes a perfect Fu Manchu. He was a tall and imposing figure and with the aid of oriental makeup, was a truly menacing figure. Although a sequel was planned to this serial, it was shelved when the U.S.A. entered WWII. Brandon enjoyed a long and varied career playing mostly villains until the late 80s. He is perhaps best remembered for his role as the Indian chief "Scar" in John Ford's "The Searchers" (1956).

Robert Kellard was along to handle the action as Sir Nayland Smith was a middle aged character, The fact that Kellard resembled Republic's ace stuntman David Sharpe was no coincidence either. Sharpe visibly doubled Kellard in the action scenes. Also in the cast are George Cleveland as Parker's father, John Merton (barely recognizable as a fang-toothed Dacoit) and Dwight Frye (underutilized again) as a museum director.

An excellent serial. Too bad they never got to make the sequel.
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The Drums of Death and Thrills
Mike-7647 November 2004
Dr. Fu Manchu is searching for the tomb of Genghis Kahn in order to obtain the conqueror's scepter, where Fu Manchu can become messiah of the numerous tribes in Asia, as prophesized, and then conquer the western world. Fu Manchu's eternal nemesis, Sir Nayland Smith, arrives in America to track down Fu Manchu and with the help of Dr. Petrie, Allan Parker (whose explorer father was killed by one of Fu's dacoits), Prof. Randolph, and Randolph's daughter Mary, and prevent the keys to the location of Khan's tomb from falling into the hands of Fu Manchu. A very good serial, helped out by directors Witney and English who took advantage from a larger Republic budget and great cinematography from William Nobles. Brandon is probably the best Fu Manchu seen on screen, but still couldn't capture the evil portrayed in the Rohmer novels. I don't understand why Republic decided to make Sir Nayland Smith older than he was in the books (as well as Dr. Petrie, limiting his role), but Royle is very good in the role. Kellard is listless at times as Parker. Franklin is at times unconvincing as Fah Lo Suee (using a thick city accent most of the time) and Walters is missing much of the times as Randolph. My real beef with this serial is when the serial shifts from Los Angeles (or San Angeles as pointed out in the serial) to the Asian hills of Branaphur, the serial starts to shift down in excitement and becomes a run of the mill Republic fare with nothing standing out. Still this is among Republic's best efforts of the 40's and worth watching. Rating, based on serials, 9.
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Fu Manchu seeks the scepter of Ghenghis Khan so he can rule Asia.
bobbloom18 July 2002
One of the best serials ever made because of superior acting, especially Henry Brandon as Fu Manchu, the atmospheric photography and the script, which is superior than the usual simplistic scripts associated with cliffhangers. Some great special effects, especially the chapter one cliffhanger, as well as the sinister ending to chapter 5, which raises goosebumps. This movie is available on VHS and DVD, and is well worth the time.
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tomwal18 February 2002
Without a doubt,this is one of the top three serials from Republic.Along with "Adventures of Captain Marvel" and "Adventures of Red Ryder"[my top three],this is one of the few serials where the villian is more dynamic than the hero.Henry Brandon IS FU Manchu.William Royle and Bob Kellard are adequate as the heroes,but Brandon draws the most attention.Chapter endings are believable,same for the resolutions.Photography by William Nobles,Music by Cy Feuer,and direction by Whitney and English,all add up to 15 chapters of great serial action.
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The Best Serial Ever.
paul panzer30 May 2001
Atmospheric, exciting, and with a sequential storyline (no!), this serial, IMHO, edges out Flash Gordon (Space Soldiers) and Hawk of the Wilderness as best serial of all time. Some prefer caped comic book heroes, but we have here a coherent plot, a hugely sinister villain (not to mention his dreadful daughter, Fah Lo Suee), and unforgettable cliffhangers, one after another. If you haven't seen this, you don't know what a serial can be.
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I've seen most and have a small collection of serials and thus write of them.
crow-349 May 1999
I saw this serial years ago. It was one of the first seen as a child of eight. It was unique. It fits of course, the formula of Republic Pictures Studios and was a welcome change to the many plots seen in those days, so often repeated and used over and over. Many suspenseful moments. We enjoyed going back the next week to the movie matinee. The swinging pendulum was a big part of the suspense as it got closer and closer. I searched for years to buy this for my collection and still don't have it. I was clearly one of the best saturday cliff-hanger serials.
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Possibly best serial ever
rljones-87 November 2007
I still enjoy Zorro's Fighting Legion and Perils of Nyoka more, but the story, acting and international atmosphere( the scene on the China Clipper is straight out of James Bond) make this serial a class A production. The final scene suggests a sequel as does the mystery of whether Fu Manchu's daughter was actually killed. But WW2 changed our racial profiling, shifting from China to Japan. No more Chinese bad guys, but Pearl Buck movies. But, if a Fu Manchu seemed far fetched at the time, 911 changed that. The Islamic world has several.This may actually be an insult to Fu Manch whose determination and sincerity almost arouse our admiration. Or maybe it is Brandon's brilliant acting.
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The Yellow Peril In Serial Style
gftbiloxi18 October 2005
Sax Rohmer (1883-1859) was among the most popular novelists of the early 20th Century. He was particularly well known for his creation of the character Fu Manchu--a truly diabolical Chinese scientist who, along with his equally evil daughter Fa Lo See, sought world domination through the most vicious means possible. In the process, Rohmer virtually created the idea of "the yellow peril" in the American and European mind, and his distinctly racist characterizations would color Western concepts of the far East for half a century.

Rohmer's Fu Manchu has reached the screen on several occasions, perhaps most notably in an unexpectedly sadistic 1932 THE MASK OF FU MANCHU, starring Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy. The 1940 serial was directed by Republic Studio's reliable team of John English and William Witney, and at the time it was felt to propel the genre to a new height; in hindsight, however, it seems fairly obvious that English and Witney's SPY SMASHER and THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL are really the high water mark of Republic serials. Whatever the case, the directing team does indeed give this tale considerable style and drive.

The story is very linear: Fu Manchu (Henry Brandon) is aided by lethal daughter Fah-Lo-Suee (Gloria Franklin) and a host of mind-controlled henchmen in an effort to secure the scepter of Ghengis Kahn--and thereby fulfill an ancient prophecy that will cause all of Asia to rise up under his leadership and get rid of those wretched Anglo-Saxon types for once and all. Needless to say, the Anglo-Saxons, both English and American, take an extremely dim view of the whole thing and set out to thwart his evil designs.

The serial starts out extremely well, with a host of imaginative visuals bolstered by a host of equally imaginative tortures. Unfortunately, Henry Brandon's Fu Manchu proves considerably more interesting than any of the good guys who oppose him, and in consequence the whole thing looses steam long about the fifth chapter and doesn't really regain it until the final third. But Brandon's memorable performance, the often remarkable visual designs, and the impressive fight choreography does make it entertaining throughout--even if you do wind up rooting for Fu Manchu instead of Sir Dennis Naylund Smith (William Royle) and his incredibly tiresome friend Allan Parker (Robert Kellard), who are supposed to be the heroes of the piece.

The whole thing, of course, is just as racist as it can be, and the final chapter is appallingly so. But even though it may cause you to roll your eyes it remains a fun sort of thing for hardcore serial fans, who will likely enjoy it quite a bit. As for the DVD--the film has been remastered, but the picture is rather fuzzy and the sound occasionally muddy as well. The package contains a brief but entertaining and enlightening documentary (described as a commentary) by Richard Valley and a handful of cast biographies for good measure.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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One of the Three Best Serials ever made
SeñorAl25 December 1998
As I said, Drums of Fu Manchu is, in my opinion, one of the three best Serials ever made.

I always wonder,why Republic never filmed the second part. Some experts told me it was because of the WW-II were the Chinese were America's allied and Fu was the king of villains.

They made The Adventures of Captain Marvel in 1941. In 1953 they Re-released the same film under the name of The Return of Captain Marvel
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Good Effort, But Three (3) Chapters To Long...
xerses137 January 2010
Sax Rohmer, author and creator of FU MANCHU conceived the enduring Criminal Master-Mind aided by Super-Science. One whose ambitions ranged further then Sir Arthur Conan Doyles, PROFESSOR MORIARTY or later Norbert Jacques, DR. MABUSE. Continental, if not World conquest was his objective. His descendent's can be traced to Flash Gordon's THE EMPEROR MING along with Marvel Comic-Book Super-Villains THE MANDARIN and THE YELLOW CLAW. FU MANCHU's primary goal is to drive out "THE WHITE DEVILS" and reward his minions with their 'WHITE WOMEN'. Sounds like some current minority political opportunists or those athlete's with their 'White Trophy Wives'!

The best known version, THE MASK OF FU MANCHU, M.G.M. (1932) featured all these concepts since it was pre-code. Actor Boris Karloff firmly setting the pattern of how a would be Conquerer should act. DRUMS OF FU MANCHU, Republic (1940) continued in a somewhat toned down manner being a code film. Henry Brandon ably handled the role though barely recognizable under his make-up and altered voice. Unfortunately his supporting cast was not up too his level and the script stretched the serial three (3) chapters to many. Though as was typical of Republic product of the time it featured plenty of fast paced action.

This is still a enjoyable Serial but would not rate it as high as the FLASH GORDON franchise. Nor Republics best efforts like the ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941), G-MEN vs THE BLACK DRAGON (1943) or THE MASKED MARVEL (1943). Our copy came courtesy of VCI ENTERTAINMENT. The DVD is satisfactorily remastered, but not restored. Some of the early chapters are very soft and the sound quality is uneven. It is obvious that original masters were not used or were in very poor condition. To see the difference, compare D.O.F.M. with their 70th Anniversary Edition of BUCK ROGERS, Universal (1939), which we rate the same. B.R. though went through a significant restoration and it shows it.
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"I don't fear the Fu Manchus of this world"
hwg1957-102-26570414 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Dr. Fu Manchu seeks the lost tomb of Genghis Khan as it contains a sacred sceptre which he will use to unite all of Asia and drive out the British etc and then conquer the world. Assisted by the secret Si-Fan organisation and his trusted Burmese dacoits he battles with his old nemesis Sir Nayland Smith. Will he succeed in his nefarious plan? It takes fifteen serial chapters to find out. Based on the stories by Sax Rohmer the six screenwriters put together an exciting serial, full of action and intrigue.

Henry Brandon is perfect as Fu Manchu, a villain but with a sense of humour and genuinely grieved when he accidentally blows up his daughter. William Royle is solid (perhaps stolid) as Nayland Smith and Olaf Hytten is ever reliable playing his friend and colleague Dr. Flinders Petrie but he isn't in it as much as Petrie was in the original stories. The assistant role goes to bland Robert Kellard as Alan Parker. I'd have preferred more Olaf. Carl Sepulveda plays 'Mustachio'd Villainous Native' and does it very well.

The ending sets things up for a sequel which unfortunately was never made.
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Fun serial, but it can be a bit stodgy
Leofwine_draca29 August 2015
THE DRUMS OF FU MANCHU is a classic Republic-era serial in which Nayland Smith and his co-horts do battle with the ever-fiendish Dr Fu Manchu and his endless 'dacoit' army. This overlong serial clocks in at no less than fifteen chapters (with the first chapter being particularly lengthy), meaning that it has a sluggish pace. The slow and repetitive nature of the production sees it pale in comparison to the likes of RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON, for example.

Still, fans of the era will find much to enjoy here, not least the endless fisticuff action between the good guys and the bad guys. Lengthy fist-fights are the order of the day here, along with shoot-outs and knife-throwing. At least a couple of henchmen are bumped off every chapter, while the action roves around the globe and takes place in planes, trains, cars, clifftops, and hidden underground temples.

The simplistic storyline sees Fu Manchu in search of the tomb of Genghis Khan, which is said to contain a magical artifact allowing him to control the whole of Asia. A white actor, Henry Brandon, plays the villain, and he looks very sinister; the rest of the cast are a little dull, though, aside from an ever-fun Dwight Frye in a minor villainous role. Come chapter seven or eight, I couldn't help but feel this was all very repetitive and dragged out; there are only so many times you can put up with Fu Manchu being captured and escaping, for example. Still, the cliffhanger scenes are ever fun, and it's still worthwhile escapism.
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