Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mooning Over Myrna - 2: So Long, Anna May Wong

For some reason, in the late 20’s and early 30’s, producers looked at future I-embody-the-modern-socialite Myrna Loy and said “Slant her eyes, darken her pancake, and give her a brown wig—she’s an exotic temptress!” Specifically an Asian temptress. Go figure. When she was cast in the lead role of a Chinese woman sold into slavery in 1928’s The Crimson City, she got the part over Anna May Wong, who got relegated to a supporting role. After which Wong said “Fuck this!” in Cantonese and left LA to try her hand at making movies overseas.

Screw this--I'm going to Paris!

After that, Loy found herself typecast as an Asian tramp, and played a bunch of bit-parts in yellowface, among them the exotic temptress in John Ford’s version of King of the Khyber Rifles, The Black Watch, and (most notably) Fu Manchu’s "ugly and insignificant" daughter Fah Lo Suee in 1932’s Mask of Fu Manchu:

Like a lot of Pre-Code movies, Mask of Fu Manchu is subversively kinky and blatantly racist. Boris Karloff plays the Doctor as a lisping sadist who's having the time of his life insulting Christianity and Caucasians, and Loy pretty much finds her G spot by watching large black men whip the white hero in the scene below, which was censored and cut from the final distribution print almost immediately. I leave it to your imagination what Fah Lo Suee's "customary procedure" is. As well as the source of that orgasmic eyes-closed look of thanks that Loy gives just as the crossfade starts:

Because she's the vamp, Myrna's character disappears once the seduced hero comes out of his Fu-Manchu-induced trance and asserts his love for the bland blonde heroine, who spends most of the movie with her right hand to her lips and a look of horror in her eyes. When she's not doing that, or screaming about something, she's doing this, in the movie's most famous (or infamous) expression of what the Yellow Peril meant to the white middle class of America in 1932. And I'm not talking about the Carmen Miranda headgear, either:

To quote Myrna's priceless reaction on first reading the script: "Say -- this is obscene."

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