L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Beautifully abused - Charles Starrett in The Mask of Fu Manchu, 1932

Charles Robert Starrett (28 March 1903, Athol, Massachusetts – 22 March 1986 March 22, 1986, Borrego Springs, California), American actor. From a well-to-do family, while playing football for Dartmouth College in 1926, he was hired as an extra and caught "the acting bug". Soon, he was playing minor roles in film and leading roles on the stage. He graduated to leading roles in film by the early Thirties. Though handsome, he was rather limited as an actor, and from 1935 he was cast - almost exclusively, to his disappointment - in B westerns. In 1940 he first starred as "The Durango Kid". Five years later, there was a sequel which was well received and quickly led to a very popular series, eventually totaling sixty-five episodes. He retired from films at the age of forty-eight and, independently wealthy, he and his wife traveled extensively until his death in 1986, six days short of his eighty-third birthday.


In 1932, before he became a constant cowboy, he played the love interest of the female lead in MGM's gloriously decadent "The Mask of Fu Manchu", which starred a rather crudely "orientalized" Boris Karloff. This was a decidedly "Pre-Code" film, controversial ever since its release for its hostile portrayal of the Chinese, and heavily censored. At least as alarming as the outrageous racism is the overt and violent sexuality - with Starrett its main victim. Starrett's performance is rather wooden and, on top of that, his character doesn't seem overly bright. Which somehow makes me feel rather bad for him when he is captured by the evil doctor. He is tortured first for the enjoyment of Fu Manchu's daughter, Myrna Loy in her early "evil Asian temptress" phase. Gagged, handcuffed, strung up by his wrists at the same time his shirt is being ripped off, he's then savagely whipped by black slaves while Loy looks on in a sadistic frenzy. 

With Myrna Loy: "Faster, faster!"

We next see him shirtless, whip-lashed, and unconscious in Loy's bed, while she kisses and fondles him. Before she can get too far, though, her father has other uses for him.

With Myrna Loy.

He's discovered next in a glamorous nightmare of an operating theater, naked except for some sort of diaper, securely pinned to a table. Karloff makes a potion out of all sorts of unseemly things and prepares to inject the poor young man with it - this part's actually useful to the plot - but not before the evil doctor gives the squirming Starrett a little caress, as well. Did the filmmakers not know that this extended torturing of the handsome young man was frankly homoerotic? It's certainly obvious enough to us now. And it's quite the most interesting part of the film. 

With Boris Karloff and Lewis Stone.


  1. "The Mask of Fu Manchu" was shown on Turner Classic Movies a few months ago (I think as part of a Boris Karloff festival). It's fascinating, distasteful, intriguing..."disturbing" probably best sums it up. Disturbing in the way many Pre-Code sound films are! And an extremely odd film to be watching at 6:00 AM EST.

    1. Yes, 6:00 am - does - seem a little early for all that kind of debauched nonsense. : )